Armenian Culture in America: Dead or Alive?
Armenian Culture in America: Dead or Alive?
by C.K. Garabed
Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.
When the fallen heroes of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg were to be memorialized at a special commemorative ceremony, the main speaker was noted orator, Edward Everett. As President, Abraham Lincoln had been invited to merely add a few remarks. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Everett approached Lincoln and said, “You said in two minutes what I tried to say in two hours.”
As I wrote in my column, ‘Uncle Garabed’s Notebook’, “A good speech is a short speech, but a short speech is not necessarily a good speech. However, if it’s not a good speech, at least it has the virtue of being mercifully short.” How many times have we sat and listened to a speaker without any idea of how long he intends to speak? We hope for the best, but that doesn’t prevent thirty minutes from becoming one hour, and one hour from becoming two hours. Well, you can rest easy. I’m here to tell you that I intend to speak for approximately 45 minutes, to be followed by questions and answers, so put your watches away.
Armenian Culture in America: Dead or Alive?
First of all, what do we mean by culture? Perhaps a set of values or view of life embraced by a people. My definition is: the aggregation of elements that expresses the soul of a nation. And what are those elements? The full range of possibilities comprises: Language (including an alphabet), literature, music, dance, art (including painting and sculpture), architecture, drama, cuisine, religion (including a Divine Liturgy), and history. There are some Spenglerian students of History who would identify eight high cultures in the recorded history of mankind: the Egyptian, the Assyrian/Babylonian, the Indian (Hindu), the Chinese, the Classical, which comprises Greece and Rome, the Arabian, the Native American, which comprises Aztec, Mayan and Incan, and finally the European or what we are pleased to call Western Civilization. Where does that leave Armenian culture, which contains all the previously mentioned elements? Many scholars would insist that it’s part of Western Culture. If we put it to the test, we must account for the first beginnings of Western Culture, which, of course, is identified with the European continent.
What connection does that have with the Armenians? Well, the only tongue that is even remotely related to Classical Armenian is a dead language referred to as Thraco-Phrygian. Thrace and Phrygia were part of the Ancient Greek World, and it is believed that the forerunners of the Armenians came from those locales. This makes the Armenians a European people, which may help explain how it came to be that the Armenians embraced Christianity along with the rest of Europe. Can a case be made for considering Armenia to be the forerunner of Western Culture? Perhaps. Scholars and students of History generally acknowledge the stirrings of Western Civilization about 1000 A.D. But Armenian culture was pretty well established long before that. Armenia enjoyed its Golden Age of Arts and Letters when Europe was going through what has come to be called the Dark Ages.
If we have such a great cultural history, why are not Armenia and Armenians better known to the world? I have a simple answer to that question. The European historians observe that Armenia is located in Asia Minor, as it was known, so they steer clear of it. The Asian historians see the Armenians as a European people, and for that reason do not treat extensively of them. And so, the Armenians fall through the historical cracks.
Lucy Der Manuelian, Professor of Art History at Tufts University in Massachusetts, in her lecture on Armenian Architecture, tells how a French tourist visiting the ruined Cathedral of Ani, looked up inside at the arched ceiling and observed that a French architect undoubtedly designed this Gothic-like structure, but had to be reminded that the Cathedral had been built two centuries before the Gothic style of architecture made its first appearance in France. It seems a case can be made for adjudging Armenian architecture to be the forerunner of Gothic architecture.
Every school child is taught about the Magna Carta, the Great Charter, so called, because it was a constitution guaranteeing rights, to which the English barons forced King John to affix his seal June 15, 1215 at Runnymede; and the echoes of which were to be heard centuries later in the U.S. Constitution concerning the fundamental rights of man.
But how many people, even among Armenians, know about the Treaty of Nvarsag between the Persians and the Armenians, which is also a constitution guaranteeing rights to the Armenian nobility, that predated the Magna Carta by some seven or eight centuries? It would seem then that the Armenians arrived at that socio-political evolutionary step long before the rest of Europe. When we celebrate Vartanantz we do so with religious freedom in mind. We are told that at the Battle of Avarayr, the Armenians fought the Persians so fiercely and so tenaciously that the Persian king desisted from trying to convert the Armenians to Zoroastrianism. But there’s more to it than that. The struggle of the Armenians to preserve their way of life involved several conflicts, known as The Vartanantz Wars; and they stretched over a period of time; and they culminated in the Treaty of Nvarsag, the forerunner of the Magna Carta.
What we’ve been addressing are the formal cultural elements, which are emphasized and fostered by institutions. But there are the informal elements of the culture that are the folk forms: folk tales, folk songs, folk dances, folk art, folk sayings, folk foods, folk medicine and folk lore. The family and the close-knit community emphasize and foster these informal cultural elements. In other words, the formal elements form the superstructure and the informal elements form the base, which supports the superstructure.
A national literary tradition, an example of a formal element, which serves as a mainstay of a national culture, has its counterpart among the informal elements in the form of the oral tradition in the art of story-telling. Every great nation has its national epic, a narrative praising the heroic exploits of its historical or legendary characters, and Armenians are no exception. The national epic of the Armenians is David of Sassoun, a series of heroic tales that rival those of Homer and Vergil. Just to give you a taste of the magnitude of the strength of one of its heroes, let me cite a passage from the epic: “David snatched the mace and hurled it into the sky. The mace is still going . . .” For over two thousand years, this epic was handed down by word of mouth by illiterate minstrels until, in the late nineteenth century, the entire tale was made a matter of written record.
Can you imagine what prodigious memories the carriers of this great tale possessed when you consider that the written form runs to almost 400 printed pages?
What a comment on formal education, when you realize that the more people learn to read and write the less they rely on memory. So much so that the learned person can’t remember people’s names and sometimes not even a simple telephone number.
David of Sassoun serves as a prime example of an informal element being converted to a formal element. Another notable example is the work of Gomidas Vartabed, wherein he took folk songs in their primitive form and transcribed them into musical masterpieces.
Where can Armenian culture be found today? Armenia and Karabagh; Syria and Lebanon; Iran, Turkey, Israel, Iraq, Egypt, Greece, France, Australia, South America, Canada and the U.S.A. In many of these areas some degradation of the culture has taken place, notably in the U.S.A.
In order to understand what has happened and the reasons for it, we need to take a look at where we were, where we are now, and where we are likely to be going.
Although Armenians immigrated to the U.S. prior to the twentieth century, the largest migration came after the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923. These survivors lived in close proximity to each other and could, therefore, interact on a daily basis. They established a number of institutions in an attempt to foster Armenian cultural activity within which they could lead their lives in familiar patterns of community interaction. There were religious institutions, Armenian language schools, literary societies, dance groups, and just plain old-fashioned hanteses. But, as their economic conditions improved, they tended to follow the American dream; to buy a house in the suburbs, away from the ghetto-like existence they had known until then. Sure, they continued to participate in the life of the community, but only on a part-time basis. Their children associated with non-Armenian children five or six days a week, and associated with Armenian children one or two days a week, when attending church Sunday School or Saturday Armenian School. Thus there ensued the fragmentation of the community.
Because English figured prominently in everyday discourse, Armenian was to be heard less and less. And the young people were becoming estranged from traditional folk songs and folk dances that should have been their rightful inheritance.
There was another wave of migration following World War II comprised of displaced persons who could find a home in the U.S. But the succeeding wave, one of the largest, took place during the upheavals in the Middle East, such as the Lebanese Civil War, and the Iranian Revolution.. The Armenians of Lebanon, Syria and Iran came in droves, and it’s a good thing that they did, otherwise, the Armenian-American community had practically been played out. If it weren’t for the Beirutsis, Halebtsis and Barsgahais, many of our churches would have folded. The irony of it all is that there were among us, Armenian-Americans who were offspring of the previous waves of immigrants, and who were well on their way to being assimilated, who could find no better way to describe the newcomers, with whom they did not always share identical social and cultural attitudes, than to refer to them as boat-jobs,
I remember some of my relatives, who were among the newcomers, asking me,“Where are your cultural institutions?” All I could do was talk about the old glory days and lament their passing. But implicit in my explanations was a warning. It could happen to you. And, sure enough, today, in our neck of the woods, we can’t even float or sustain a Hamazkaine choral or dance group for very long. The only ones we can attract are the old people, not the young. Where have we failed? I’ll tell you. Armenians from the Near and Middle East, and even Armenia today, never had to work hard at being Armenian. They were surrounded by alien cultures. They assumed the same conditions would exist in America. But they have since found out otherwise, and they weren’t prepared for it.
The latest wave of immigrants have come from Armenia and have settled predominantly in the Los Angeles area of California. In fact, Glendale is a veritable little Armenia. Everywhere you go you see signs in English and Armenian. You hear Armenian spoken by the man in the street. Six months ago, when I was visiting there with my family, we had just come out of a French restaurant whose proprietor turned out to be Armenian, when a young black boy came riding by on a bicycle. No sooner did he spot our very Armenian-looking daughter when, as he passed, he called out to her, “Inch bes es?” That’s the up side of the influx of Armenians from Armenia. The down side is that their values are not always what we traditionally expect of Armenians. They don’t exactly enjoy a uniformly good reputation among their fellow-Californians.
I can remember during my growing up years, when we Armenians were proud of the fact that there were virtually no Armenians in prison. And I think we know what serious problems face our people in Armenia who are genuinely interested in nation-building. It makes you wonder if we can rely on the Armenians of the mother country to carry on the perpetuation of our culture. Is it possible that the true burden rests on the Armenians of the Diaspora?
What is it that the Armenian communities in some of the countries that I mentioned have that we in the United States, with the exception of Glendale California, do not have? What they have, that we no longer have, is a repository of informal cultural elements. And how have these others been able to retain the informal cultural elements? Simply by living in a ghetto environment, as we once did when Armenian refugees first migrated here. That eventually changed, but not in the Near and Middle East.
At this point, you may well ask, “How were the Armenians of Syria and Lebanon able to continue to live in close-knit communities and resist assimilation? My answer to that is: It all depends on how one views one’s culture in relation to that of the host country. If you perceive that your culture is superior to the host’s, then you are apt to embrace your own. That is what happened in the Near and Middle East. In Western countries, however, such as England, France and the United States, one can very easily be persuaded that the host’s culture is superior and, of course, the consequences are easily predicted.
A colony of Armenians settled in Manchester, England and built a church there, but despite their desire to endure, they went the way their bishop said they would. In his own words, “A culture that finds itself under a foreign sun will fade and eventually disappear.”
When I worked at the New York Public Library for a short time many years ago, I became acquainted with a lady who was descended from a colony of Armenians who had migrated to Poland hundreds of years earlier. She said that she remembered attending Sunday mass when she was a young girl, but did not understand what was being said in the Armenian language. She stated that she belonged to a clan whose last name was prefixed with the name Boghos. such as, Boghos-Kowalski or Boghos-Urbanovich. Some time ago, ARARAT, the literary publication of the AGBU devoted an entire issue to Polish writers of Armenian extraction. And, two years ago, the AGBU magazine also in one of their issues addressed the centuries-old presence of Armenians in Poland. All very interesting, historically, but not much more; unless you are alert to the message and warning implied: Except for the more recent arrivals, The Armenians of Poland have been virtually assimilated.
All dispersed communities established their institutions, yet the culture of some became degraded or vanished completely. Why?
There is little doubt that what threatens Armenian culture in the diaspora is assimilation. But, we are all assimilated to some degree. In extreme cases individuals have removed themselves from the Armenian community physically, intellectually and emotionally; even sometimes to the point of changing their names. Many, however, have tried to hang on as best they could. They have participated in community life by joining church auxiliary bodies such as, men’s clubs and ladies guilds, political and cultural organizations, and have supported Armenian causes and gatherings for solemn observances, and so on. But have you taken a look at the age composition of these aggregations? They are mostly adults; and these adults get older and older. There is no significant membership of young people to swell the ranks or even maintain the existing numbers. We see less membership and poor attendance. We see organizations disbanding. The Armenian press, once a vital part of community life has fallen on hard times. Armenian language newspapers that used to be published daily are now published weekly, instead. Even in our English language newspapers, paid news reporters have been replaced by press releases serving as articles, and subscriptions are steadily going down. Books are no longer being published in Armenian. Armenian literary societies have declined or vanished. So, no matter how hard we try, we lose ground with each succeeding generation. Even if we address only our own generation, do we carry on the elements of our culture in our daily activities? Do we speak Armenian to each other? Do we sing Armenian songs? Do we use Armenian expressions, such as: Asdzoo parin, achkut looys, vartskut gadar, kheruh anidzem; klookhn oodeh; vai, vai; aman Asdvadz; Der voghormia? Or have we supplanted them with: Oh Boy, Gee Whiz, and Holy Mackerel?
Where are the hakyats, and the Nasreddin Khoja stories that our parents would exchange with each other? Everyone knew many of these tales and a significant number of old-timers were adept at telling them. One of my favorites is the following, and I can’t tell it in English without its suffering in translation. (Hokejash).
(The story was orally delivered but is here rendered in English transliteration in order that it may be consistent with the basic English text.)
Or muh Nasreddin Khojan kesh vijagi mech guh kudnuvi. Haidni eh vor shad zhamanag ch’uh mnatz abreloo. Bargadz deghen dughoon g’uh g’ancheh yev g’useh, “Dughas, mairigit nor epvadz kadayifin anoush hoduh g’arnem. Kunah iren hartsou ki buzdig gudor muh dah oodem vor koneh hamuh peranus mnah yeteh hangardz megen mahanam.” Dughan g’useh, “Ayo, Hairig,” yev guh tsukeh gertah. Kichmuh verchuh yed g’oukah barab tserkov. Khojaan g’useh, “Inch eh?” Dughan guh badaskhaneh,”Mairiguh g’useh vor ches gurnah oonenal.” “Hokit sirim, inchoo cheh?” “Vorovhedev, usav guh baheh hokejashou hamar.”
(Note: For those who don’t understand Armenian at all, I will relent and for publication purposes translate the Khoja story into English, as follows: One day, Nasreddin Khoja falls gravely ill. It is apparent that he hasn’t long to live. From his deathbed he calls his son to him and says, “My boy, I smell the sweet odor of your mother’s newly-baked kadayif. Go tell her to give me a little piece to eat so that its delicious taste will be in my mouth should I suddenly die. The boy says, Yes, father,” and he departs. A little while later he returns empty-handed. Khoja says, “What is the matter?” The boy replies, “Mother says you can’t have any.” “For the love of your soul, why not?” “Because, she says she is saving it for the memorial supper.”
Do we teach our children the Armenian prayers our mothers taught us? What is more beautiful than the following, which my mother taught me?
Shnorhig door intz, ov Der artar, Yeghir indzi misht hokadar. Vor aravod yev irigoon, Orhnem ko Soorp Anoon.
Where are the proverbs or couplets, very often using Turkish, Arabic and Persian words? We ought not to be ashamed of the admixture of foreign words in our language, if they serve to enrich it. Many of our dearest folk sayings use terms such as yar and jan, which are borrowed from Turkish, but which in turn were borrowed from Persian. Look at English. It is basically a Teutonic language which uses a vocabulary that is 75% French-Latin. How many of us count in Armenian, or even think in Armenian? Fewer and fewer, I’ll wager, as time moves on.
We Armenians have a lot to be proud of. But, if we indulge in idle self-flattery, then it becomes a false pride, and false pride is worse than no pride. But if we make a conscious decision to participate in the cultural life of our nation, then we are being true to ourselves and to our posterity.
I learned a long time ago that Virtue is not self-evident. By that I mean that our progeny are not going to absorb our culture by osmosis, nor by merely passively observing what is going on. To be appreciated, our culture must be promoted. The younger generation needs to be taught by example and by being deeply immersed in all elements of our culture. They would need to be exposed to many activities that are not now available in our Armenian communities but which we are sorely in need of. I’m referring to activities that would engage their interest and attention ; activities such as drama, literary gatherings, music appreciation, active participation in choral groups and dance groups, language clinics, history lectures and classes.
The local parish of the Armenian Church is, of course, a focal point for the Armenian community. Besides its religious mission, it has patriotic and cultural value, and therefore, serves as a training ground for young Armenians. As in many parishes, opportunities for active participation exist in the form of altar service, church choir, Sunday School, Saturday Armenian School, youth organization and sports activity. Singing in the church choir is an excellent way to prepare for subsequent activity in all aspects of Armenian Church life. In my time, the choir served as preparation for later participation in Armenian Choral Societies. Unfortunately, parents don’t give the choir as much emphasis as they do to Sunday School. In the competition for the child’s time on Sunday mornings, the choir gets second place. This is unfortunate, because singing in the choir can imbue in the child the spirit of the Badarak and awaken an appreciation and love for the Armenian Liturgy, which can help one to understand better what is taught elsewhere. As it stands, the way Sunday Schools are operated, they may make good Christians of our children, but they don’t necessarily make them more Armenian! Of the hundreds of children who attended Sunday School, how many are active now in Armenian church affairs or even attend church services regularly? Not that many, I’m afraid. If, however, Sunday School were to be postponed until our children had fully absorbed the spirit of the Badarak by singing in the choir, later, when they have been properly prepared, certain subjects could be profitably addressed, particularly because of their Armenian aspect, such as Maundy Thursday and Theophany.
Now, I go to church fairly regularly. And when I see a fellow Armenian American from the old days who may happen to drop in on a particular Sunday, I ask him why he doesn’t come more often. That’s when I hear a familiar complaint, to wit: “The church is full of noregs (nor egoghner), I don’t recognize anybody.” My response is: “Of course you don’t recognize anybody. That’s because other Armenian Americans, like yourself, make themselves scarce. If you and they came more often, you would see each other.” It is patently an attempt at self-justification on their part. They don’t want to admit the true reason for their estrangement from the church, which is probably that their children and grandchildren are not active any longer in the Armenian community.
As if that isn’t bad enough, there’s the problem of language. These same Armenian Americans complain that not enough English is used in church. They reason that, if there were more English, there’d be more young people in church. This is false reasoning. If English were to be used more extensively, what incentive would there be for these young people to come to the Armenian Church when they could get the same thing in any non-Armenian neighborhood church? Besides, what is behind the complaint is actually a poor excuse. And that is, that the children of these older Armenian Americans have, in many cases, married non-Armenians, but have not made the effort to bring the odar partner into the Armenian fold. And so, the church doesn’t function as a magnet anymore. And if there are grandchildren in the picture, the demand for English stems from their total ignorance of the Armenian language. What these reformers do not wish to face is the real problem, and that is, the steady erosion of the Armenian identity. Isn’t it likely that the same route was followed by the former Armenians of Poland, who are practically non-existent?
There are those who say, “You have to speak the language in order to be a good Armenian.” However, I know many who don’t speak the language, yet are what I consider good Armenians because they have the Armenian spirit and believe in perpetuating it. I also know many who speak the language but who I don’t consider good Armenians because they either lack the spirit or don’t believe in perpetuating it. Even so, I think we have to admit that the spirit may last only a few generations if the culture is not put into practice.
A couple of months ago, I heard someone remark that such and such church was overflowing with parishioners on a particular Sunday, which presumably betokens a healthy condition for the Armenian community. I thought to myself, at the time, that it all depends on one’s point of view. And one’s point of view is dictated by one’s position. That is, are you looking up or looking down in surveying the Armenian scene? If you don’t speak, understand, read or write in Armenian; if you don’t belong to any Armenian organizations; or attend Armenian political, cultural or social gatherings of the community; in short, if you only show up at church once in a blue moon, then you are at the bottom of the ladder and looking up. But if the opposite is true of you, then you occupy a position at the top of the ladder and are looking down; and what you see isn’t very heartening.
If we have degenerated, what will it take to bring about regeneration? And do we have the will to cause it to happen?
I don’t know if I am in a position to give advice. What I can do is to tell you what my wife and I, and other like-minded friends and relatives, have done that seems to have gotten desirable results in our cases. There’s no guarantee it will work for everyone.
I’d like to set the stage by telling you something about my wife. When she was a little girl, and would patiently endure her mother’s painstaking method for putting her newly-washed long hair up in curls using strips of cloth and winding the hair around them, she would ask her mother to tell her a story. Not being a literate woman, she told her daughter the only stories she knew, which were about her own life experiences. Starting with what life was like in Sepastia, she would continue right up to and including the Genocide. She narrated factually how her own mother died on the forced journey through the Syrian desert; and how she buried her mother’s dead body with her own hands. So, of course, all this was not lost on my wife’s consciousness. She knew the value of a mother to her children. And she was not about to deprive her children of their mother, neither by neglect nor by permitting them to be cared for by surrogates, which is what baby-sitters are. In addition to this, my wife along with her family learned to live frugally during her formative years. So, it was not a departure from her lifestyle for us to live on one income and forego luxuries for the children’s sake. She reared them herself, and the only time she took a job during their school years was in the public school system where her working hours coincided with the children’s school hours.
So, what happened after we were married and we were blessed with children? First of all, my wife and I made Armenian the language of the home. It was not easy, as both of us were born in this country. But our efforts were reinforced by close and frequent association with relatives and friends of like mind. The children initially conversed in Armenian. That was to change later, but the seeds had been sown. We attended, as a family, as many Armenian religious, social and political convocations as we could.
When my wife and I decided to relocate our family from Hudson County to Bergen County, we obtained the name of a pediatrician near our new locale to whom we could take our children. The new doctor was non-Armenian and when, during one of our visits, he heard our son speak to us in a foreign language, he turned to me and said, “I see you are a two-language family.” I concurred. He then proceeded to give me advice. “You should speak more English to your son, otherwise he will develop a speech problem.” Note that he said, not a language problem, but a speech problem. I merely replied, “I don’t think so.” And he didn’t mention it again. Well, his fears never materialized. He recognized this in short order because he observed first hand how well our son eventually expressed himself in English; perhaps better than some of the doctor’s other patients.
Let me tell you a story concerning our daughter. Once, when she was in the company of her non-Armenian schoolmates, my wife, not wishing to embarrass her in front of her friends, spoke to her in English. Well, without any semblance of self-consciousness, she replied in Armenian, as was her custom. Now, that’s not the way it was with our generation and our parents. We were very self-conscious about our parents appearing foreign to our odar friends. I can only conclude that, because my wife and I were born in the United States, and had no trace of any accent in our use of English, our children felt secure enough to embrace both Armenian and English without reservations.
On the subject of integration in lieu of assimilation, listen to what our daughter had to say recently when addressing a group of young Armenians:
“I and others like me often led two parallel lives.
· I went to ballet class in the afternoon, and to an Armenian dance group at night. · I rehearsed with the Madrigal Singers by day, and went to Armenian choir rehearsal after dinner. · I had cross-country track after school, and the Armenian basketball league after church on Sunday. · There was French class during the week, and Armenian language class on Saturdays. “
I’m happy to report that our children have surpassed their parents, which is a goal every Armenian parent should strive for. They speak, read and write far better than we do. And a curious thing has taken place over the years. It has progressed to the point where in our home English is spoken horizontally and Armenian is spoken vertically By that I mean to say that my wife and I speak English to each other and our children also speak English to each other. However, the language that is spoken between parents and children is Armenian, regardless of who initiates the conversation.
In my youthful years, Armenians in America still lived close together, so it was easy and natural for us to associate on a regular basis. Everyone walked to church or to any place where Armenians were to congregate. Summers were spent in the Catskill Mountains in New York State or at the New Jersey shore, where many couples were to meet and eventually marry. You might say we lived in a ghetto and, of course, that word is normally used pejoratively. But it doesn’t have to be. Up where I live, in Teaneck, New Jersey, we have a section called West Englewood, where many wealthy Jewish people live. It has been referred to by some as the Golden Ghetto. This suggests that ghettoization may not be a bad thing if it is voluntary and not forced. There’s a big difference between wanting to and having to. Armenians don’t mind being identified by an IAN ending to their family names. But they do mind that in the old country malevolent neighbors put a mark on their doors so that the marauding Turks would know which homes were inhabited by Armenians. So, too, the Orthodox Jews of Teaneck can be seen parading around with yarmulkes on their heads, and don’t mind being identified accordingly. That’s a far cry from the yellow badges that Jews were required to wear in the Nazi concentration camps.
Traditionally, the ghetto denotes a way of life, in addition to being a habitat. It promotes human warmth and mutual help, but also jealousy and narrowness of outlook. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I believe it is possible by conscious striving, to embrace the advantages and avoid the disadvantages.
Is it so unthinkable that Armenians should go back to living in the neighborhood of their churches? Are they afraid of being accused of being clannish, as they once were?
What has happened in America is that the family has abandoned its role as the bearer of the culture and delegated its responsibilities to the institutions: the church, the schools, and community organizations.
The most important part of our national culture is our own particular family. We develop in the basic culture of our family and our parents are our culture leaders. Moreover, it is not so much what our parents say that determines our national view as it is the unique world they create for us by their behavior.
Because institutions address formal elements, and the community is dispersed, the burden of addressing the informal elements falls on the family. The family unit is the only one that facilitates daily interaction among its members. For this reason, it is imperative that the language of the family, in the home, be Armenian - so that these informal elements may be transmitted. The Armenian educational institutions can then address the formal elements more productively.
What is the trend, if any, that we can observe in the progress of Armenian culture in America? For my part, I see a steady deterioration. We are hanging on by our toenails! Do I sound pessimistic? Of course! How can it be otherwise?
Is it possible to turn things around? I can only point to an example. Up until the 1950s, Hebrew, like Latin, was considered a dead language. With the advent of the State of Israel in 1948, and the adoption of Hebrew as its official language, the progress has been such that today Hebrew is considered a living language.
Yet, we do struggle against the odds. Life without struggle is meaningless. Even the man who has everything must find some reason to struggle; otherwise, that dynamic tension which is at the root of life is absent or missing. And without dynamic tension all life withers and dies.
In a sense we are fortunate. We are born with a mission. We do not need to look around as to what great cause we are to identify with. Our identity is our cause; and our cause is just. We need merely to temper the American Dream with the Armenian Dream!
You can set up all the institutions you like, but the everyday contact of people is what keeps a culture alive.
Our salvation lies in our ability to cohere; to live together in close-knit communities, and to restore the family as the primary culture-bearer of the nation.
It is our sacred duty to compensate for the sufferings of our martyrs, not by the shedding of more blood, but by the consecration of our blood through the propagation of our kind, and thence, our culture.
The critical question is: Do we have the will?
Lecture sponsored by Armenian Cultural Association of Atlanta, Georgia, March 31, 2001
Lecture given to students of Khrimiam Lyceum, NYC November, 2011