BY GAREN YEGPAIRIAN
I had originally titled this piece “Identity, Trauma, Epigenetics, & Openings” but was told that might scare readers off, so I went with the esses.
Dictionary.com has chosen “identity” as its word of the year. A lengthy explanation is given as to why, including the sex change operation that yielded Caitlyn Jenner, the controversy over Spokane NAACP president Rachel Dolezal – a white woman who passed herself off as black, and a number of gender and race related words that were looked up frequently on that website.
Related to this is the growing body of research in epigenetics indicating that trauma can be transgenerational. Epigenetics is the study of genes that are turned on and off in response to environmental stimuli, impacts, and stresses. These changes, it is being learned, can then be passed on to the next generation, so their manifestation in the individual is essentially the same as it was in the parent(s). These are not mutations, i.e. changes, in our genetic makeup. These are activations or deactivations of genes that we already have BECAUSE OF events that happen in life. Naturally, some of these changes are in the psychological realm, and therefore impact identity, how we see ourselves.
These studies have involved mice, rats, Swedes in the village of Överkalix, Holocaust survivors and their descendants, and in a way – Native Americans, too. An article in “Indian Country Today Media Network” sardonically asks “what took scientists so long to find out what our elders have been saying all along” and lists the various problems observed on reservations.
Now we can be fairly certain that some part of the personal and, I would argue, collective/national problems Armenians have stem from this trauma. Let’s not forget, our trauma is not limited to our experience with the Genocide, but has been ongoing since at least the founding of the Ottoman Empire. Half a millennium of massacre, rape, kidnapping, forced religious conversion, and generally living in constant fear certainly make for trauma. After this long, I have to wonder if these yet-to-be specifically identified problems have become a permanent part of our genetic inheritance.
And what about the trauma of our compatriots who had to live with the rapists, murderers, and looters? What impact has that had on the current crop of Armenians living in Western (Turkish occupied) Armenia, our second and third cousins? Remember that even the criminals that they had to form families and continue to be neighbors with are likely the descendants of Armenians who had been forcibly Islamicized (and thereby Kurdified or Turkified) in earlier centuries. What epigenomic scars did those people carry with them?
What of all the Armenians living in and around our homeland, be they now “identified” as Alevis, Arabs, Hamshentzees, Kurds, Turks, other sub groups, or amazingly even Cherkez (Circassian) as reported in a recent article by Aris Nalci (Naljee)? What do they bring to our nation by way of not only trauma, but identity? How will we integrate them and their experiences into our national consciousness and narrative? What are their expectations? Are we talking to one another sufficiently to even tackle these and a host of other questions that will undoubtedly be asked and require answers before we can return, as a nation, to a “normalcy” that we can live with?
Truly, with all the stories about our hidden relatives that came out in 2015, it was a year of identity for Armenians, too.
What do you think? It strikes me that this topic of our identity really needs to be reevaluated, restructured, reimagined, discussed, assessed, etc. Hopefully, all this can be done without the self-hate and cluelessness demonstrated by some writers addressing these issues who seem to be getting promoted by the establishment in the United States, to the detriment of Armenian interests.
Let’s talk, this is the opening, the start, of a new era for us.