Commentary: The Matter of Truth - 2001
There is a great deal of misinformation parading as truth which has been, and continues to, be promulgated by so-called leaders of the Armenian community in America. The most egregious is that the Armenian Revolutionary Federation is the stumbling block to church unity, and that if only the Prelacy and the entire Cilcian See were to dissociate themselves from the ARF, church unity would be assured. What the advocates of such a course of action fail to understand is that there are fundamental differences in outlook between the rank-and-file parishioners of the Diocese and the Prelacy.
The Prelacy people have generally been ardent nationalists who taught their children to revere many things: the memory of our fedayee heroes who tried to protect their fellow Armenians from the depradations of the Turks; the First Armenian Republic and the celebration of that independence on May 28 of every year; symbols of that republic, such as the National Coat of Arms, the Armenian Tricolor, the Armenian National Anthem. They sang nationalistic songs and taught their children Armenian political history and to be politically active. They encouraged their children to join the highly nationalistic AYF, and/or HMEM (Hai Marmnagrtagan Enthanur Miutiun, better known as Homenetmen, meaning Armenian General Physical Training Union).
The Diocesan people, on the other hand, discouraged in their children any feelings that even smelled of nationalism. They were taught to either ignore or denigrate the very symbols that the nationalists revered. If reference was made to the tricolor, it was as “that Tashnag rag.” They made sure that their youth organizations were “neutral,” meaning anti-nationalistic. Without the anchor of nationalism, the AGAU (Armenian General Athletic Union, presumably the American version of HMEM) was destined to drift away and that is what has happened. The regular organization, which was strictly athletic and social, is now defunct (with the exception of the AGAU Alumni Association).
The only military hero the Diocesan people acknowledged was General Antranig, and chances are that it was partly because Antranig, an ARF member, came to a parting of the ways with that organization. Not only did the Diocesan people not honor the first republic but they never took an active role in advocating a free and independent Armenia. They left that to the nationalists who took a lot of heat for their stand. There were many in the Diocesan camp who even went so far as to excuse the communist tyranny as being in the best interests of Armenia. In the late forties, Haroutiun (Artin) K. Shalian, an erudite writer, editor, translator, and musicologist, as Choir Director of Holy Cross Church in Union City, New Jersey, received his marching orders to teach the members of his choir the Armenian National Anthem; no, not “Mer Hairenik,” but the Soviet Armenian National Anthem, “Sovedagan Azad Ashkharh Haiasdan.” The music, by Aram Khatchaturian, was innocuous enough, but the words were another matter. What continues to stick in my craw fifty years later is the phrase “soorp dashinkov Stalinian,” (by or with the Stalinist pact).
Since the adoption of the “Tashnag” symbols by the current Republic of Armenia, the Diocesan people have had no choice but to go along, and it is a source of great humor to see them struggling to learn “Mer Hairenik” and salute the Armenian Tricolor.
Where you have many ardent nationalists among your church members, you are going to have just as many ARF members. So what’s so unusual about their distribution among all levels of church activity and organization?
The Armenian church is a National Church, and until the “Haga-Tashnags” themselves become committed nationalists, there’s not going to be common ground between the Diocesan and Prelacy people, and that’s a fact!