BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
The distinction between citizenship and nationality (or ethnicity at it is currently, and I think inappropriately and often pejoratively, referred to) is important for those who, like the Armenians, have been exiled. Questions and issues related to this distinction often arise in conversations and even in comments posted on-line to some of my articles.
A nation is a group of people with a shared history, language, culture (in its broadest definition), consciousness/awareness of this connection, and homeland. Unfortunately, we’ve lost a good portion of the last qualifier to Turkish brutality. But the remaining qualifiers still apply, and departing the collective called “Armenians” is a CHOICE people make.
Citizenship is, at the risk of sounding crass, the result of a “contract” between the individual and the state (the administrative structures governing a country). Previously, individuals used to be “subjects” of the state (and in some places still are). But even that entailed a “contract.” The individual gives loyalty, taxes, participation in civic life, etc. to the state, and the state provides protection, services, roads, etc. to the individual.
Nations (ethnicities) exist with or without states, e.g. the Irish under British rule, Arabs under Ottoman rule, or the peoples subjugated by the Aztecs.
These distinctions are particularly relevant to countries such as the U.S. where the overwhelming proportion of the population is immigrant, or descended from immigrant. Plus, the whole system is based on the individual’s relationship to the state as spelled out in the U.S. Constitution, its amendments, and the laws enacted by both levels of government born of that document— federal and state. At least as yet, there is no U.S. nation. There is an largely Anglo-Saxon/Germanic based culture because those were the largest percentage of the population at the founding of the United States of America, and this is often confused and conflated with being “American.” Thus, being a “good” Italian does not preclude being a good “American” because the latter is a reference to citizenship. I know many people who are proud fill-in-the-nationality and do far more for the civic life of the U.S. than the hot-air machines who spew hate on the airwaves in the name of an “Americanism” that largely does not and has not existed, except for brief blips such as the internment of the Japanese.
Every citizen of every country has obligations to fulfill. These have nothing to do with the national belonging of those citizens.
Hopefully, this piece will provide answers to those who, like me, occasionally feel the derogatory air adopted by our neighbors for whom anything other than what they define as the “right” kind of American, Peruvian, or Lebanese is an abomination.