BY TAMAR KEVONIAN
One of the features of growth is the chance for introspection based on a body of experience; taking a deep hard look at ourselves no matter how difficult it may be. Learning from our past to improve our future is sign of maturity.
The Armenian community in the United States, particularly in Southern California, has expanded in leaps and bounds in the last few decades. Our evolution from mere immigrants focused on daily survival to socially, politically and artistically active communities is cause for much self congratulations.
But we must not stop there.
Living in self contained communities, like Glendale or Watertown, or being deeply entrenchment in organizations creates a false sense of complacency. There is the danger of living in a bubble of our own making, where nothing outside the immediate needs of ethnic identity and its struggles overshadows the actuality of where we live and removes it from the forefront of our consciousness. Problems of poverty, homelessness, drugs, gangs and education plague the greater non-Armenian communities in which we live. But most of us simply shake our heads, giving it the merest passing attention and dismissing it with statements similar to “Americans don’t value anything,” without realizing that those exact issues have already seeped into our ethnic existence while we were busy congratulating ourselves for being lucky enough to be born Armenian.
This week’s editorial is two-fold and is in response to a comment made by Christo who rather rudely wrote, “Tamar, all you seem to write about is how bad, how mismanaged, misguided, disorganized Armenians are. What is your problem. You don’t like being Armenian, be American, or maybe you might even want to consider yourself Turkish. If you don’t like the race you were born with, get out and disappear. GO TO HELL ALREADY” (his use of capitals) to a recent column of mine entitled Losing the War. The entry raised the question of how our outreach efforts into the general population are too narrow because they focus on a single issue (the Genocide) while those we struggle against (the Turks) present themselves in a much more agreeable way that appeals to the tastes of the general public; winning over their hearts and thus winning the war of public opinion.
I must first address Christo’s implied message of Armenians being the best by saying that although we have made great strides in pushing forward out political agenda of Genocide recognition in countries such as the U.S., France and Sweden and finally have a republic to call our own, even though it’s only a fraction of the lands we once occupied, it is foolish to believe that this is the epitome of our purpose and existence in the Diaspora.
The adversary’s persistent counter-efforts to stymie Armenia’s validity in the global awareness are not confined to politics but expand into other areas such as education, history, societal and public relations. It’s important to acknowledge their accomplishment because each of their achievements highlights a failure of ours. Every person they win over and who believes the Turkish culture is appealing because of their whirling dervishes, lokhoum (a sugary confection) and colorful history, is another person who we have to spend twice as much effort to convince that the Genocide actually happened and those “cultured” Turks were the ones who committed it.
Being self-congratulatory and myopic in our approach to the general public will cause more harm than good to the Armenian cause in the long run because what identifies us besides the Genocide.
And that brings me to the second part of Christo’s message: not liking being Armenian. It is painful to look at something you love and admit to its faults. It is because my ethnic identity is important that I care enough to want to make it better and take on the difficult task of looking at its faults. Armenians – and their communities – are far from being perfect and it would be arrogant to think that they are. There are myriad examples of community projects that have fallen by the wayside or not succeeded because of ego, greed, ignorance and unyielding dogma of an organization.
An open exchange of ideas and opinions is healthy for our ever growing interests and must be encouraged, not stymied with anonymous personal attacks. Share your thoughts, listen to those on the other side, adjust your view, expand your horizons, study the competition, know your history, know the other’s history and, with that, work together, find a solution and build upon what you’ve learned. Because no matter which group one belongs to or what beliefs one holds, ultimately we’re all working for the same cause: being the best that Armenians can be.
Christo’s statement is short sighted, to say nothing of its crudeness or mean spirit. Rise above personal petty beliefs, blind adherence to ethnic pride and take a look at the big picture. What you see may surprise you.