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On Being Armenian (but not Very)


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#1 zackaw

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 12:35 AM

Hello,

I am Zack Aslanian-Williams, a 21 year old black Armenian from Northern California. My maternal family, the Armenian side, is large, supportive, and close, but I have little direct contact with Armenians outside of the family. I want to remedy this, but I'm honestly not a big fan of California Armenians. Many have adopted white perspectives on black and brown people and are therefore hostile toward me. It seems that the other half of the Cali-Armenian community that is not racist has gone to the other extreme and embraced ghetto black culture, which I find amusing.
My plan for getting in touch with my Armenian-ness is to volunteer in Armenia this summer. There's a program called Armenian Birthright that works, with affiliate organizations like the Armenian Volunteer Corps, to get people in Diaspora back to Armenia help the people of Armenia in their quest for stability and prosperity.
The application process for these programs is highlighting for me serious deficiencies in my Armenian-ness. For one, I don't speak, read, or write Armenian. I love my mother and grandmother -one gave me life and the other taught my classical piano- but they were straight negligent in this regard. Iím not too worried about this one. I learn languages pretty easily. I just need a good textbook and some time with my elders.
My other deficiency is tougher; itís my pretty unorthodox perspective on Armenian heritage. I don't care that Hayasdan converted to Christianity before Rome did, because I donít care much for Christianity. I am a serious historical scholar (as much as a 21 year old undergraduate student can be) and in my scholarly opinion, Armeniaís heritage is not tied to Europe or Russia but to the Middle East and Central Asia. When I look at Armenian history, I look to the Persians, Arabs, Mongols, Mamelukes, and Ottomans as our most important historical neighbors, while most Armenians look to Greece, Rome, Byzantium, Crusader Kilikia, and Russia. I know the Genocide was a horrible thing and so was the 1990ís war with Azerbijian. However, Iím tired of smart and educated Armenians downplaying loads of historical interaction with the East to exaggerate their Christian, white, and European credentials because such credentials (especially white and European) are not valuable to me.
I know that Iíll do a good job and have a great time in Armenia. I donít intend to spark-up theological and historical debates. I intend to be contributory and productive in the community, to meet people, to learn a lot, and to have fun. Iím going to help Armenians and hopefully come home feeling more Armenian.
As is typical of people of my generation, Iíve written an essay-long rant and donít really know what Iím asking for in response. I guess Iím just looking for advice, both in general and also regarding how I should respond to this prompt from the AVC application:

Please write a statement (500-800 words) explaining your reasons for wanting to volunteer in Armenia, how these reasons are related to your past experience (living/studying in a foreign country or in the Armenian community in your home town), and how they might fit in with your future goals. Comment on what you expect to contribute to Armenia through your service and what you expect to receive. Please provide an example of a significant experienceódrawing from school, work, home or abroadóthat illustrates your ability to adapt cross-culturally and to overcome difficulties. If necessary, attach a separate sheet of paper.
Thank you!

#2 shaunt

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 11:04 AM

If I was responsible for admissions, and your first post here was your response to the prompt, I would have immediately accepted you.

"explaining your reasons for wanting to volunteer in Armenia"

That's evident from your post.

"how these reasons are related to your past experience"

Also evident.

"how they might fit in with your future goals."

Somewhat evident. Elaborate.

"Comment on what you expect to contribute to Armenia through your service and what you expect to receive."

Somewhat evident. Elaborate.

Please provide an example of a significant experienceódrawing from school, work, home or abroadóthat illustrates your ability to adapt cross-culturally and to overcome difficulties."

Clearly evident; you're Black Armenian. But I am certain you have more particular examples you could list.

Despite having serious "deficiencies of Armenianness," whatever "Armenianness" may be, you are concerned for the welfare of our folk, and that's what matters. Don't get caught up with what it means to be "Armenian."

And plus, you made controversial statements regarding our identity; that's as Armenian as one can get, haha.

#3 Anoushik

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 11:49 AM

Pretty well said Shaunt, I agree.

Hello Zack, and welcome to Hyeforum. I wish you much luck in your endeavors :)

#4 Fadix2

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 01:53 PM

I think you have more learning to do. First thing first, your worst deficiency is not the second point. Your worst deficiency is that you don't know Armenian.

As for the rest, if you visit Armenia, you will see that it's historic architecture is closer to Byzantium Europe, Greece, Serbia etc. You seem to think that religion is only about the sort of god someone believes in. It's also a cultural heritage, architecture, art etc.

#5 MosJan

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 03:04 PM

Hello & welcome to Hyeforum

#6 Yervant1

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 04:00 PM

Dear Zack welcome to Hyeforum, you seem like a good smart person once the community gets to know you, you will be accepted.

Hint: Learn few Armenian words and start using them with interest, it will help a lot. :)

#7 MosJan

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 05:52 PM

word #1 - Barev - Բարև


Good Luck :ap:


#8 MosJan

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Posted 24 February 2010 - 05:54 PM

word #2 - Im An Armenian - hye em - Հայ եմ

#9 Boghos

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Posted 25 February 2010 - 03:38 AM

Hello Zack, welcome to Hyeforum. I hope you do get to go to Armenia and that you have a good time there.

Edited by Boghos, 25 February 2010 - 01:56 PM.


#10 zackaw

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 02:34 PM

I think you have more learning to do. First thing first, your worst deficiency is not the second point. Your worst deficiency is that you don't know Armenian.

As for the rest, if you visit Armenia, you will see that it's historic architecture is closer to Byzantium Europe, Greece, Serbia etc. You seem to think that religion is only about the sort of god someone believes in. It's also a cultural heritage, architecture, art etc.



Regarding architecture, Armenia had churches before Byzantium, Serbia, etc did. The churches that are most similar to Armenian ones, in my opinion, are in Syria, Palestine, Egypt. I can show you pictures if you don't believe me, or you can just do research. And there's an 11th or 12th century mosque smack in the middle of Ani.

Some of the jewels or Islamic architecture, like the Ummayad Mosque in Damasq and the Sulemanye in Istambul, were designed by Christian born people. The Sulemanye was designed by an Armenian, Sinan.

Armenians fought in the Armies of the Caliphates and in Mongol and Turkish armies, they served in their beauracracies. Islamic countries weren't like they are now; Christians could serve and Armenians of certain Christian sects were better treated by Muslims than by Byzantium or Crusader states, and anyway, many Armenians converted to Islam.

Don't forget that they Middle East is the birthplace of Christianity. Christianity than shifted west and then reimposed itself on the east. In Russia, there were wars between "old believers" and those who wanted to westernize the Russian Orthodox liturgy. In the Crusades, Armenians resisted Byzantine reconquest (because the Armenian church was sitll monophosyte (ie anti-trinity) which is kind of Islam's gripe with Christian theology as well. The Byzantines themeselves resisted Latin Christian invasion. The French and Venetians sacked Constanstinople as badly as the Turks did.

The Kilikian crusader state ended when Orthodox Armenian priests and peasants decided they'd rather be ruled by Muslim Mamelukes than by Latin French crusaders.

To me, these ties to the Middle East are what make the Genocide such a betrayal. In response to this betrayal, Armenians have aligned themeselves with Europeans. It's like European Jews going back to Palestine and trying to be Middle Eastern again, because everything they did for Europe was shat on by their neighbors' betrayal during the Halocaust.

I apologize for not writing this with any sense of coherence and for not citing any sources. This is just a starting point for discussion.

#11 zackaw

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 02:42 PM

Just to clarify (I don't use parenthesis very well), I meant that monophosyite Christianity and Islam have the same theological gripe with mainstream Christianity,which is that it (Latin/Orthodox Christianity) divides the identity of God into three parts. Medieval Armenian Christians were often not Orthodox, but monophysite, which was considered heretical.

Latins and Orthodox had their own gripes with each other, but both considered Armenian monophosyites (I really don't know how to spell that word, but it means "oneness" I think) heretics.

By the way, does anyone know anything about the history of Protestant Missionaries in Armenian communities? Was their conflict between them and the Orthodox church? Because my maternal grandmother is Armenian and her family has been Protestant for centuries. My grandpa still doesn't like this, lol.

#12 zackaw

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Posted 06 March 2010 - 02:44 PM

Thank you, guys, for your support and advice.

I surely need to learn Armenian. I didn't mean to imply that learning Armenian wasn't necessary, just that I am confident it will happen.

Does anyone know any good resources or strategies? My mom forgets, and I don't kick it with family all that much.

Mos Jan, how do you type in Armenian? Keep it coming with the lessons.




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