Diaspora and Armenian Identity (Part 2)

As I said in (Part 1) the  Armenian Communities in Canada and United States (USA) were revitalized by immigrants mostly from Middle East and I should add also that a sizable number came from Republic of Armenia after the fall of the Soviet Union. (The immigrants from Armenia congregate more with each other and with the Russian immigrants, and seldom get involved with community activities. They have not yet form their own associations to help keep their Armenian identity.

The leadership of the new immigrants from Middle East that had played an important leadership role in Aleppo, Beirut, Cairo, Tehran Istanbul, etc. recreated their middle eastern culture, the way the first generation of immigrants created the Airgeer culture. The newcomers were more fortunate to utilize the already existing well organized churches, Community Centers, community owned newspapers, etc. (In Canada I would say that they started almost from the “scratch”)

The Canadian Armenian community of about fifty thousand is rather well organised and unnecessarily highly politicized like most of Old Diasporas “Հին գաղութներ”. They are concentrated mostly in the cities of Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Cambridge, Vancouver etc. All this cities have multi ethnic population of sizable amounts and the Armenians might be one of the smallest. It does not seem that, the Armenian communities in this cities are in danger of complete assimilation in near future.

The two opposing “conventional wisdom” about the preservation of the Armenian identity in Canada and USA is that of, “It it is in perfect order”, or, “It is a perfectly lost cause”. The first “wisdom” is mostly supported by the leadership and membership of the very active old Armenian organizations who are working very hard to keep their own distinct, if not tribal identities, and in a way they do self preservation “Ինքնապահպանում”. They blame the vast majority of the young generation that is absent from their organisations, schools, churches etc, and chastise them in their absence, at any occasion that arises while continue “preaching to the converts”.

The second “wisdom” is supported by almost every “wise” Armenian, specially by those self marginalized inactive side liners, who consider diaspora a lost cause destine to total assimilation within next 25 to 50 years, and the only solution is to migrate to Armenia. (Needless to say, despite all the rhetoric and sloganeering, the migration to Armenia “Դեպի Եերկիր” never happened, and only very few migrated, after the Republic of Armenia became independent 25 years ago. Need I say again that, with many shortcomings and challenges, Armenia today, is as free and as democratic as ever been in his history).

The key issues that all ethnic communities are facing in Canada and USA is the same “trio”. MIX MARRIAGES, the loss of their ethnic LANGUAGES, and the loss of their ethnic CULTURES. (Here the definition of culture means to include, loss of their traditions, culinary, literature, music dances, etc. In short their ethnic way of life)

The MIX MARRIAGES that has reached about 80% in Armenian community in Canada and USA, is the least complicated issue of the “trio”. Young people meet, fall in love, and get married and nobody can do any thing about it. All our lamentations about the loss of the Armenian identity through the mix marriages is just self justifications of our failures.

The issue is that, we have failed to accept the reality that, the mix marriages are the norm in multi ethnic societies, and accordingly, we have not developed ways and means to help integrate our none Armenian “Օտար”  brides and grooms in our families and introduce them to our culture, while at the same time be prepared to accommodate their culture. Need I say that the ones that are best prepared and knowledgeable of his or her culture stands to be more successful.

The challenge is how to raise our children and grand children in a home with not only two but three cultures. Let us not forget that majority of our young “pure lain” marriages are not being able to keep their language and Armenian identities either, in this case with only two cultures, that of Armenian and Canadian. This identity issue might be easier to solve than “Hy Tad” but never got a fraction of the attention that “Hy Tad” got and the trend is continuing.

So far, and primarily through our schools, we have concentrated our efforts to “save” the few that are the least vulnerable due to the fact that, they come mostly from families that are fluent in Armenian language, while ignoring the majority that does not, or partially speak Armenian. At best we have been able to train few “die hard” generation Պահանջատէր սերունդ that are continuing to celebrate and over glorify the past, while still parroting the same old warn out slogans, and continue the lamentations and blaming the majority of the “lost” ones “Այլասերածներ” and continue to “preach to converts”. Let us not be pessimistic, and look for some better solutions for keeping our identity.

Zohrab Bebo Sarkissian

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