Today was the graduation/promotion day for children of Armenian and Sunday schools at our church. I sat in the back enjoying the whole event and thinking about the difficult challenge of maintaining an Armenian community and culture far from Armenia. Some of the children have Armenian first and last names, others only have the last names, and some have neither. Some are bilingual, others speak English only and are getting introduced to Armenian through the Armenian school. This diversity also reflects the overall church parish with first, second, and even third generation Armenians, many with non-Armenian spouses or themselves children of mixed marriages. Thankfully, the church family has a wonderful accepting atmosphere of love, friendship and fellowship. But the question of survival of that which uniquely identifies us remains as relevant as ever.
Also this week I read an article about the oldest leather shoe discovery in Armenia. From the oldest shoe to often being an old-shoe, what do Armenians have and what can Armenians do to preserve and enhance what Armenians have? The basics are our religion, the spoken language, our cuisine, the annual habits and traditions. These we seem to maintain more or less. Unfortunately, it takes enormous efforts to maintain and pass along the basics. Many families do not have an Armenian church nearby and must travel miles to get to one. We speak Armenian at home but our son would rather answer in English (extremely painful for me personally). We cook Armenian foods but even those are under constant attack and argument about actual origin, the real recipe, etc. If the basics are challenging, conversation about the complexities is meaningless.
For example, how does an Armenian mother raise a daughter with the same strong family devotion and sacrifice qualities in this individualistic, self-centered culture where over half of marriages result in a divorce? What qualities would it require to raise children who not only spoke but also read and wrote freely in Armenian? What gargantuan effort would it take to teach these children enough of the language for them to actually understand the literature? And would it even be possible for them to contribute to that literature? So even if we are able to get through the simple and complex challenges, what do we do for our children to repeat the process for another generation? Is the problem completely hopeless when only one spouse is of Armenian descent? Each family struggles in its own ways with these issues. Unfortunately, the kids grow up to struggle themselves as they try to establish families in the context of their bi-cultural upbringing.
Perhaps the answer is in our struggle. While we may disagree how a word should be pronounced or what the right way to make խորոված (Armenian BBQ) is, we all share the burden of our historical struggles and sufferings. Why not unite around our current struggle to preserve and enhance our culture and use that as the single source of agreement even when we disagree about everything else. Second, we need to ask and learn from our Jewish friends who have persevered despite their distance from a homeland and despite their struggles. While books could be written about the differences between the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide, the struggle of survival after devastation of that magnitude with majority of people living outside the homeland is certainly something we have in common.
Do we (Armenians living outside Armenia) have more in common with other cultures (or the current host culture) than we do with one another? What about a generation later? It is fascinating to see a different struggle (whether a set of schools in Armenia should be converted to be completely foreign language based) evolve in the homeland where they seem to be oblivious to these issues.