BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
Back in April when I read that month’s issue of National Geographic, I learned a new word, solastalgia, which described phenomenon that resonated within me.
According to the article – “A World Lost” – in which it appeared, an Australian environmental professor, Glenn Albrecht, coined the term meaning “the pain of losing the solace of home” according to him. He had to make up this word to describe the feelings of people living in a rural setting as coal mining overtook the region and scarred the landscape. They had not been able to verbalize well what they were feeling.
Wikipedia defines it as “a neologism that describes a form of emotional or existential distress caused by environmental change.” yourdictionary.com has this to say about it “Noun:
(plural solastalgias): (environmental change) A form of homesickness one gets when one is still at home, but the environment is changed: Origin: Coined by Australian philosopher and researcher Glenn Albrecht of the roots Latin sōlācium (comfort) and Ancient Greek algia (pain). Given this etymology, I’ll venture an Armenian translation of “սփոփախտ/spopakhd/spopakht” (Western/Eastern Armenian) from spopel (to console) and akhd/t (sickness).
The article gives the American Indians’ response upon the arrival of European invader/settlers as an example of a solastalgia producing experience. Another, 19th century, example provided is the felling of forests along the Hudson River (New York) as agriculture and a thriving tanning industry moved in. The author also cites his own mother’s experience with the real estate development of Long Beach Island (the narrow strip of land separating the Atlantic Ocean from Barnegat Bay on the eastern edge of New Jersey) as a lesser case of the same feelings, engendered as wilderness gave way to structures and pavement.
It struck me that we Armenians have lived with the grand-daddy of all solstalgias! Not only did we go through the Genocide, but as a consequence, we were forcibly removed from our millennial environment, landing in multiple foreign countries. That certainly qualifies as a “change” in people’s environment. And it has certainly engendered the same kind of longing for what has been lost. And just as certainly, it has taken generations for us to even begin to verbalize and express in various forms of art and political action the depth and sorrow we experience.
You may have noticed that I did not use the past tense in the preceding sentence. Nor did I write “lived through” where I have “lived with” in the first sentence of the preceding paragraph. That’s because four generations on, the anguish is still with us. And, this is a human, biological, physical reaction, not just the emotional one of the first survivor generation. Studies of other groups have demonstrated that these massive traumas cause changes in DNA that are then passed on to succeeding generations. This is courtesy of the relatively young science of epigenomics.
I suspect this concept/phenomenon/term will resonate with any Armenian.
All this is why I felt compelled to coin the Armenian word, despite the very understandable and laudable (though overly optimistic) hope expressed by Pete Muller (author of the National Geographic article) that it remain within the confines of English where it is currently used for the most part.
It’s also why the time has come to add “solastalgiology” to the list of fields we should be encouraging our college/university students to study and build a career in.