By Any Means: Non-Exclusively Christian Armenianness

BY GAREN YEGPARIAN

We were all raised to believe that “Armenians are Christians”, which of course begs the question, “Are ALL Christians Armenians?” Logically, it would have to be so, but that’s a fun little game of logic that can be played separately.

This truism has informed, guided, perverted, shaped, and in countless ways impacted our national existence for centuries.

It’s likely your response to the question in the first paragraph was “Of course not! Don’t be silly!” But, what about the Catholic and Protestant Communities among us? I know of at least one circle in which the referents were “Hayeruh, gatogheegeneruh, yev Poghokaganneruh” (the Armenians, Catholics, and Protestants). That is, to be Armenian, you had to be Armenian Apostolic. So maybe it’s not enough to be “Christian” to be Armenian, you have to be a certain KIND of Christian. But is even this enough? Do you have to go to church every week? Only at Easter & weddings? Does it count if a priest doesn’t come and bless the bread, salt, and water (you wouldn’t believe what it took to confirm my memory of this triplet) of your home? Where’s the cut off?

Of course these exclusionary lines tend to diminish us in number, though they may have had some utility in centuries past. Today, how many people, given the level of enlightenment humanity has achieved, take items of faith at face value? If someone has trouble stomaching the concept of the nature of Christ as defined by the Armenian Apostolic Church, does that exclude them from being Christian, ergo Armenian? What about agnostics and atheists?

We’ve built an Armenian identity to which Christianity has been made central. The flavor of what it was to be Armenian has been so heavily overlain and intertwined with being Christian, that we have extreme difficulty even conceiving of segregating the two.

Obviously, our Christianity has cost us dearly as a consequence of Turkish governments, Ottoman and Republican, using religious antipathy to arouse hatred against us, leading to massacres and the Genocide. Yet that’s hardly an argument for giving up something we have cherished for so long. But we’re faced with a far more pressing national problem and an associated opportunity for some recuperation.

I would hope no one disagrees that for the purposes on national survival, numbers matter. We have lost the current-numerical-equivalent of millions of Armenians because of not only the Genocide or its precedent massacres, but also due to emigration (and ultimate assimilation into host country cultures, the best example being Poland), and forced-conversion to Islam and its attendant de-Armenianization (and subsequent Turkification, Kurdification, and limbo-ification of the converts’ descendants).
With the ever so painfully slow process of Turkey’s cultural, political, and ethical maturation, we have an opportunity to reclaim some of our lost, or at least semi-lost, compatriots. These come in five categories, to my mind, though some admittedly overlap: 1- cryptoArmenians-Christian, 2-cryptoArmenians-Moslem, 3- Hamshentzees, 4- Kurdified Armenians, 5- Turkified Armenians.

The first group, Christian crypto-Armenians, is easiest to address. We don’t have the religion obstacle I’ve presented above. Many of these people have pretended to be Moslem, while maintaining Christian traditions in the secrecy (not just privacy) of their homes. Or, they have kept a very low profile. They have lived in our homeland. Over the decades, significant jumbers leave Armenia and head to Turkey’s “Armenian capital”, Constantinople. Or they head directly to Europe. It’s my understanding that there’s a significant Sasoontzee (non-immediate post-Genocide arrival obviously) community in Holland. With just a little bit of an opening, they would rejoin our national existence.

The Moslem crypto-Armenians are a different circumstance. Here, we have at least two obstacles. One is what I implicitly described above— our collective hesitancy to conceive of an Armenian as anything but a Christian. The other is this group’s likely inability to easily fit in with out predominantly Christian culture. Yet they are also shunned by the “real” Moslems, and marry largely only among themselves and maintain their awareness of being Armenian, or at least not being Turkish or Kurdish.
The Hamshentzees are a large population of Islamicized Armenians who inhabit the Black Sea coast area, both in Turkish-occupied Armenia and the Caucasus. In a very quick internet search, I found no population numbers. But in the past, I’ve seen estimates in the multiple hundreds of thousands. These compatriots have maintained their language (one of the many Western Armenian sub-dialects that used to exist) and awareness of being Armenian, or at least Hamshentzee as different from their Turkish and other neighbors, for two centuries, this despite their conversion away from Christianity. This group is similar in its challenges to the second. However, there has been some movement over the last few years in reestablishing our sundered connection.

Kurdified Armenians are a very interesting group. Given the still somewhat tribal nature of Kurdish society, clan memory has persisted and some openly remember that their ancestors were Armenians. Others simply continue ancestral traditions which mark them as Armenian— going to Armenian (Christian) shrines, etching a cross in dough before baking it as bread, or carrying tribal names such as Hyedoonli (Armenian home) or Mamgon (Mamigonian). These too are our long-lost cousins. Should we not reintegrate? Here, besides the religious factors, exists a nationality, identity obstacle. But if we can make returning to their roots appealing, we all win.

Turkified Armenians, I would break down into two groups, those who by geography or lineage can be identified as originally being Armenian, and still living in our homeland and those who are just discovering and/or revealing one or more Armenian ancestors, usually Genocide survivors, who got adopted by Turkish families or married and became “Turks” but passed or are now passing on the knowledge of their true nationality to their progeny. This pair of groups, like the Kurds, would be the most difficult to reconnect with. They have their own awareness as Turks now. And, to a large extent, unfortunately, being Turkish and being Armenian are still antithetical propositions. There is an ingrained disdain and hatred towards us coming from the Turkish side that beggars imagination particularly since we’re not the ones who have wronged them and there have has been precious little contact between us for three generations now. Nevertheless, particularly the group who’s “coming out” with revelations of Armenian grandparents deserves an extended hand, particularly in the interest of making progress towards achievement of our national goals.
The Turkish and Kurdish examples above also prompt the issue/question of what I like to call “historical justice”. The de-Armenianization of their ancestors was/is a great loss to the Armenian nation. It was coerced, not voluntary. How is this to be corrected? Obviously, you can’t force someone to “become” a different nationality. Yet the injustice is perpetuated down the generations impacting the present via the consequent distorted demography of our homeland.

Returning to the theme of reintegration and reconnection with these forcibly alienated branches of our family, no doubt you’re wondering, “How can people who have gone down such a different socio-religio-hist
oric path be integrated into our nation?” Habits, culture, language, self-identification, experience of Genocide, etc. are all different. No doubt but that this will be an extremely difficult and lengthy, multigenerational process closely intertwined with Turkey’s evolution into a truly modern, democratic, non-hate-based state.

But let me close with an example of the commonalities that can help us bridge the chasms created among Armenians as a result of Turkish racism. Since a huge area of difference, and the theme of this article, is religious, take this example. I remember vividly, from a lecture about Middle Eastern rugs I attended while in college, the notion of the “sky hole”. This is something the ancient Mesopotamians noticed when charting the course of the stars. They ended up with concentric circles filling in their maps of the night sky… except, there was a gap, a hole, in the middle. This prompted the notion of the sky hole, the access way to the heavens and figures into the design of rugs that depict a center. It also looks to me a lot like the domes on churches and mosques. So here we have something that not only is common to both Christianity and Islam, but predates both and is native to our Middle Eastern forebears.

I have no doubt that many more such, and even more life-relevant, commonalities exist, can become known and shared, and can pave the way to restoring a huge chunk of our nation currently lost to us. But, we have to get over ourselves and our “Armenian=Christian, period” hang-up. Let’s do it.

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19 Comments

  1. David Deranian said:

    Garen,
    Very insightful article.  It makes one wonder how the Armenian national dynamic could change dramatically if these ‘hidden Armenians’ were to claim their Armenian identity.  Once again there could be a significant Armenian presence within Turkish state borders and with that, a justifiable demographic argument for Western Armenia.
    David Deranian
     

  2. mark said:

    Actually, the more urgent question is what is a Christian, your eternity depends on it.  A Christian is someone who repents and believes in our Lord Jesus Christ.  This involves realizing our sin in light of Gods righteous.  Believing in the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ—That Christ was both God and Man, lived a perfect life, died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, rose from the dead on the 3rd day, sits at the right had of God awaiting the day of judgment.  This faith in Christ is accompanied with turning from your old life and following Christ.
    John 3:16-18 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.   “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
     
    Rather than encouraging our Armenian brother’s and sister’s to abandon faith in Christ, You should be encouraging them to hold fast to it.  And pass it on to their children.
     
    For his Glory
    Mark
     
     

    • Hgp said:

      Dear Mark
      I join your statement except one point. Jesus Christ was not a sacrifice but Martyr. How do I know this? In Matthew 9:13 He said
       
      “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’
       
      Do you think is he contradicting himself? I do not think so. After Apostolic era he was accepted as a sacrifice to god through the church fathers (St. Augustine) who was influenced by Judaism. (Old Testament)
       
      Who needs Judaism anymore? Today’s Christianity is not the followers of Jesus Christ. We used to be called ‘followers of the way’ up until Constantin the Great since than we became deceived Christians by doctrines and dogmas of the church. (Universal)
      If he is in me and I am in him who needs Christianity (John 15:5). Political arena, where we need Christianity!
      Krisdos Znav yev Haydnecav, Tzezi Mezi Avedis.
      Hgp

      • Mark said:

        Dear Hgp
         
        The context of Matt 9:13 is that Christ is directing this statement “I desire mercy, not sacrifice….” to the Pharisees, who thought that they were saved by their adherence to the Mosaic Law.  Christ was disabusing them of the idea that their sacrifice (i.e. their adherence to Mosaic Law) would save them, given that they showed no mercy for others.   This does not contradict the Gospel message of salvation through repentance & faith in Christ, It supports it.
         
        Martyr’s do not and cannot save anyone.  All they can do is die.  If Christ was not a sacrifice, then there is no salvation, and we remain dead in our sins Eph 2:1. 
         
        The New Testament teaches in many places that we are saved thru Christ’s blood…Ephesians 1:7 “In Christ we have redemption through his blood, and forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.
         
        The article is correct, in that Armenians are not Christians & thus saved, just because they are Armenians.  Just as Jewish Pharisees were not saved just because they were Jewish, and outwardly religious.   I sincerely pray that their will be true Christian revival in the Armenian communities around the world:  A revival that glorifies Christ as Lord and Savior.
        I wish you peace my Brother
         
        For His Glory
        Mark

  3. Papken said:

    “We were all raised to believe that “Armenians are Christians”, which of course begs the question, “Are ALL Christians Armenians?” Logically, it would have to be so, but that’s a fun little game of logic that can be played separately.”
    This is a terrible fallacy and your rebuke is totally illogical. All apples (Armenians) are fruits (Christians), are all fruits (Christians) apples (Armenians)? Logically speaking, there is nothing nonsensical about saying all Armenians are Christians.
    Also, before you throw Christianity under the bus, realize that its cultural impact on Armenianess is indelible. I mean the primary reason we even have a unique alphabet is because of this religion. Being atheist or agnostic is really more of a theoretical difference from Christianity rather than a practical one. This is because the actual faith part of Christianity only forms one aspect of what it means to be Christian. There is a whole lot of cultural, social, national, etc. baggage that goes along with it. Put another way, there is still a world of difference between an atheist who comes from a Christian background and an atheist who comes from a Muslim background, all else being equal.
    Additionally, your quote of Armenians, Catholics, and Protestants isn’t fair. The context matters and here it looks like the people talking clearly assumed everyone involved was Armenian. It would be like some white guy coming up to former California Governor Deukmejian and asking, for example, “are you Greek or Armenian?” Now unless the guy asking is some kind of white supremacist, he obviously knows Deukmejian is an American, but that is not what is he inquiring about. I’d also like to point out that the traditional church of Armenia is known as the Armenian Church. What else would those interlocutors refer to it as? Apostolic? Maybe, but then again the Armenian Church, the Catholic Church, and Orthodox Church all claim to be universal, catholic, apostolic, orthodox, and anything else that implies that their faith is the correct version of theology in general and Christianity in particular.
    In any case, you make some very good points about trying to reclaim lost Armenians. I would only add that as important as numbers are, quality matters too, and Armenianess should not be diluted to some common denominator so that all these subgroups could identify as Armenian. How this can best be done is difficult to say, but I would not rule out attempts at re-Christianization, regardless of how much of a believer any of you may particularly be, or even if some former Armenians may remain that way because of this.

  4. John K. said:

    I don’t think it is up to us to decide who is Armenian and who is not Armenian.  It is up to the individual; regardless what relegion he or she may be, if they feel that they are Armenian then we should welcome them.  We are a small nation and we should not make ouselves even smaller by creating artificial qualifiers.  Regarding our relegion, some say our relegion kept us Armenian.  I challenge this type of thinking.  We were Armenians before we became Christian.  I have a map that shows Armenia extending from the Caspean sea to the Black sea and to the Mediterranian during the first century BC which included today’s  Anatolya (Eastern Asia Minor), the Caucasus, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and part of Palestine.   We were powerful nation then and had a great culture which was destroyed by Krikor Lousavorich and we went downhill after that.  The Christianity converted our people to a flock of sheep.  It destroyed our will to fight (if someone slaps you on one chick turn the other chick and our people took that literally).   Instead of developing weapon systems to defend ouselves, we were building thousands of churches.  And the rest is history.

  5. Mego said:

    Thank you for a well written article ,  I can’ t waite for the day that all my Armenian brothers and sisters from all religions will unite under one nation and country , obviusly this is Gods plan for us ,  Jesus’s nationality was not Christian , it was Jewish, and ours will always be Armenian .

  6. Pingback: By Any Means: Non-Exclusively Christian Armenianness | Asbarez … | armeniatoday

  7. Panos said:

    Being Armenian means being Armenian Apostolic Orthodox.  Our Church is a national church, which means that it is the mother church of the Armenian people.  Armenian Catholics and Protestants are a scam creation of the 18th and 19th centuries and are not a core part of being Armenian.  How should Armenian Catholics reconcile with their current Pope, who will not recognize the Armenian Genocide?  The Armenian Catholic Church does nothing to help Armenianness or Armenia.  Its sole purpose is to deepen the pockets of the Vatican, and unfortunately, some Armenians fell under that spell due to the Genocide, evangelism, etc. 
    We have been Armenian Apostolic Orthodox for over 1700 years and this is what makes us true Armenians.   

    As for these Muslim Armenians, they should convert to Armenian Apostolic Orthodox, or we do not need them.  Everyone knows that Armenians are Christian.  Why taint that image and have people say that some are Muslim?  Disgusting…..

    As far as your initial argument about deducing that all Christians should be Armenian because we say all Armenians are Christian, go back to school and learn logic.  Your thesis is seriously flawed and non-sensical.

  8. ermeni said:

    Clearly, this article is written from an atheist perspective.  “we have to get over ourselves and our “Armenian=Christian, period” hang-up. Let’s do it.”  Please, Christianity is what makes us strong and has kept us together.  I would like to see a rebuttal to Garen’s viewpoint from perhaps one of the vartabeds in the diaspora/diocese or even the srpazan.  Maybe even as a regular commentator than the usual ones from Asbarez????

  9. Haro Mherian, Ph.D. Mathematics, UCLA said:

    Garen jan,
    Armenian = Hay = Araratian = Khalt = Hurrian = Hittite = Proto-Armeno-European = Apostolic Christian = Mihr Pagan
    But Armenian does not equal to “Moslem Armenian”, because this later term is a propaganda term invented by Turks to destroy our identity.
    It all depends on what “Apostolic Christian”, “Mihr Pagan”, “Araratian” (Urartian), “Khalt”, “Hurrian”, “Hittite” or “Hay” means. Not only that, there is also a time dimension involved in the definition of each of these terms. By the way, there is no such thing as Proto-Indo-European, it should be corrected to Proto-Armeno-European.
    As is the case with any word in any language, meanings are all fuzzy and depend on ones imagination. But when we get back to a scientific definition, we need to distinguish a mouse from a rat or a cat, which, does not of course imply that a rat is more evil than a cat or a mouse. It simply defines their properties.
    Similarly, there must be a limit where a person is no longer an Armenian. So, I have been through this story once in one of Tamar’s article, I don’t want to wake up every morning and sound like a broken record. To save people a lot of thought, I want instead to point the following:
    DON’T ASK WHAT OR WHO IS ARMENIAN? RATHER, ASK WHAT OR WHO IS NOT ARMENIAN. And by identifying what Armenian is not, you will have a much larger and fair subset of the definition of what Armenian is.
    For example, a Turk that committed the Genocide is definitely not Armenian, even if his father and mother were Armenians (i.e. he is Armenian by blood).
    The examples and scenarios are numerous and will definitely turn ones head upside down. In the old days, there were a group of philosophers called sophists. If we want to be like them and waste our lives by practicing sophism, then go head and write such articles every day. Otherwise, let’s save our efforts and concentrate on the real issues that are threatening Armenia and the Armenian Nation.

  10. Haro Mherian, Ph.D. Mathematics, UCLA said:

    Try to ask the question: “Who is a rat?”. You will see exactly the same problems as when you try to answer the question “Who is Armenian?”. My point is that these kind of questions are designed to alienate one’s feeling and identity. And Turks know such things, because they have perfected the concept of assimilation (e.g. recall their Yenichery force, a perfection of the concept of assimilation. No other nation had ever constructed such a force).

  11. Haro Mherian, Ph.D. Mathematics, UCLA said:

    Mr. Garen,
    I hate to start a new year’s eve with such a nonsensical subject full of amateurism and/or fallen to the enemy trap plots. I thought you were much wiser than this and should not have fallen to this Turkish trap. But alas, every day I am bearing witness of why Armenian leaders are all bunch of amateurs and/or crooks.
    We the people are being herded like sheep, while our elite behave like shepherd dogs imitating their enemy masters.
    Now, with your example, it becomes clear why 80 years of pursuit in Genocide Recognition is nothing but an Ataturk foreign policy trap, and the West along with USA as fallen bait to it, after which the ANCA has fallen in this same trap.
    The problem is very clear. Turks invent the propaganda machine and pass it to European. Then from the highest European universities it is passed to Diaspora. The Diaspora leaders mimic the West, and take these same traps and pass it to the Armenian people, and exhaust the Armenians for many years to no avail. The Genocide Recognition diplomacy is such a trap invented by Ataturk himself. The Armenian history revisionism is another trap invented by a Turkish professor (I forgot his name). The “Moslem Armenians” is yet another trap recently invented by the Turks, and again as usual, it goes to the West, and from the West to Diaspora leaders, and then these later leaders write article like yours to brainwash the Armenian people.
    I know enough to prove that Genocide Recognition agenda is a Turkish trap. You can call me on an open debate, and I will convince everyone how it is so (both historically and mathematically).
     

  12. Still Dedicated to the Armenian Cause said:

    This article makes a lot of sense. Why should religion alone define one’s nationality. One of my great-grandfathers single-handedly financed the restoration of the Armenian-Apostolic church in his city.  Another great-grandfather was a major benefactor of the Armenian Catholic Church. My brother and I were raised as American Protestant Christians, but my brother has embraced Judaism and I am now a Zen Buddhist. Yet, we still consider ourselves Armenians and support Armenian Causes.

  13. vatche said:

    Being inclusive will strengthen us, being exclusive will weaken us. A nation is more then just one religion, it has room for freedom of thought.

  14. Armenag said:

    Certainly, the fact that our people were Christian (and so different in religion from the Turkish nation), has been used by Turkish governments to arouse hatred against us. So one can say that Christianity has cost us dearly, but once one goes deeper into history, another truth is revealed.

    The current conflict in Turkey, between it and the Kurds, a minority, proves that it is not solely difference in religion that encourages a strong nationalist country like Turkey to pressure its minorities, since Kurds share the same religion as Turks. In the end, it is a battle for stability and power, which is kept most effortlessly if the country is not divided in different races, religions, etc.
                This conflict proves that even if our Armenian-Christian ancestors had sacrificed their religion in order to live peacefully in Turkey, it would not have guaranteed that peace, since the Turks could have continued their harassment and hatred driven massacres by question of our different racial identity. What then…? Should we also sacrifice our racial identity, language and culture in order to live in peace?   Kav Litsi.
     
                Glory to our ancestors who endured hardship instead of peace, in order to keep their Armenian heritage, mother language and the faith of their forefathers.
               
     

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