The Armenian Youth...
or The Truth? (continued)
By John Semerdjian
- Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved.
E- The Importance of Our Customs
Interestingly enough, all respondents
seem to agree that our customs and traditions are very important to us.
Even those few who were not so keen on maintaining the Armenian language,
which is very much part of our cultural heritage.
A nation's customs, traditions and
language distinguish it from others, giving it a sense of pride and uniqueness
amongst the multicultural societies we live in. Maintaining one's true
customs and traditions will add richness to one's family and community
life. It will encourage harmony and comradeship between the members of
the community. This is what a respondent said about this, "I think that
maintaining a sense of cultural pride is very important and because so
much of family and community centres around traditions, it is important
to keep those going."
But how easy is it to maintain these
customs and traditions in the diaspora, and how much dose the young generation
really know about them to be able to do this successfully? Here are couple
of comments made by our respondents:
Since the Armenian Genocide almost a
century ago (by the Ottoman Turks and later by the Young Turk regime) Armenians
lost not just 1.5 million human lives and billions of dollars of land and
physical assets. We also lost many of our priceless customs and traditions.
Every Armenian village, town or city in Turkish Armenia had its own unique
customs and traditions. Their inhabitants were proud of their food, costumes,
arts etc. and would willingly practice them during religious and social
occasions. People could tell where individuals came from just by looking
at their colourful costumes or even by tasting their delicious Armenian
"Very important [Armenian customs
& traditions], but seems more difficult to maintain as the mainstream
society finds many of our customs strange, superstitious, etc. For example,
traditional Armenian weddings involve the groom and his family to come
with musicians to receive the bride. People don't do this any more. Armenian
brides are wearing white dresses and the grooms tuxedos instead of our
traditional dresses. I guess we've changed many of our traditional ways
due to the non-acceptance of our traditions by the mainstream society.
It's too bad that many Armenians feel they need to change their traditional
ways to fit in to the dominant norms of the society they live in. The Vietnamese,
Cambodian, East Asian Indians, etc. have managed to maintain their wedding
and other traditional customs without assimilating - why can't we? Are
we embarrassed of being Armenian?"
"Our customs and traditions has been
very important and still is important, however most of us Armenians do
not understand those customs and traditions."
Those who survived the horrors of
the Armenian Genocide managed to find refuge in all corners of the world.
Today's Armenian communities in the diaspora are the descendants of those
proud people who despite their tragic and traumatic past managed to pass
on what they remembered of their customs and traditions to their children.
Trusting them with this priceless heirloom with the hope that one day they
themselves will pass the torch on to future generations and preserve our
true Armenian identity.
From personal experience I realise
that Armenians who are not familiar with their history, culture, customs
and traditions do not have the same proud feeling as those who do. They
are more prone to be attracted and absorbed by native cultures in search
of that sense of belonging and pride, which is a natural human feeling.
Many, myself included, believe that
our Armenian educational, religious and social institutions are not doing
enough to educate the members of the community about the true values of
our customs and traditions. How many of us can confidently say that he
or she knows the true meaning of our religious and social traditions? How
many of us really know what our customs and traditions are? Why should
we keep on practising them without feeling embarrassed of who we are?
There are many questions that need
to be answered. However, none of these can be resolved if our religious
and social leaders stop practising these traditions. For example, one of
the oldest traditions of the Armenian Church is to do house blessing around
Easter time. Part of the religious meaning of this tradition is to bless
the people in their homes and thereby strengthen and bring the Holy Spirit
into their lives and at the same time ward off evil spirits and diseases.
But there is a social significance to it as well. This is an opportunity
for the Church to touch base with the members of the community and discuss
any concerns or issues they may have and try to offer them comfort and
support. In return the priest or the deacon receives traditional Armenian
hospitality and a small monetary offering for his duties.
Unfortunately, in recent years this
simple but important tradition has been disappearing. Here in Sydney, the
Armenian Church no longer practises this event. A deacon will only perform
a house blessing if specifically asked to by a community member. The reason
for this apparently is because in the past some people have refused to
have their house blessed whilst others offered no or very small amounts
of money. It's worth mentioning that many others have been more than generous
in this respect.
This is a typical example where our
traditions are sacrificed and lost for the material greed of our leaders
and representatives. In the above example, it is the responsibility of
the Church and its representatives to educate people about their duties
towards the Church (financial offerings, traditions and customs). Yes,
you may argue that the Church has its own expenses and it can not afford
not to be properly compensated for its services. That doesn't however mean
they should stop practising our age-old traditions and deny the majority
of the community (who generously support the Church) the true values of
our culture and heritage.
In order to attract today's young
generation and ensure the survival of our cultural heritage, religious
and social leaders need to educate their members about the riches of our
customs and traditions. They themselves should continue and encourage these
activities and become role models for the youth to look up to and feel
F- Armenian Social and Political
Organisations in the Diaspora.
I think a brief historical background
about this subject is appropriate before we examine this category.
Some time in mid to late 19th century,
political and social unrest was taking place in the Ottoman Empire (current
day Turkey), paralleled by cultural and political revival among many of
its subject nations. This unrest lead to the decay of the Ottoman Empire
and ultimately to its destruction.
Armenians (living in the Ottoman
Empire) were one of those nations who had passed through a long period
of cultural revival. In late 18th and during the 19th centuries, many young
Armenians travelled to Europe for higher education. They returned home
imbued with the ideas of Enlightenment and the French Revolution to engage
in teaching, journalism, and literary criticism.
Gradually, after centuries of oppression
and domination by foreign powers, Armenians started to rediscover their
own identity. The increasing government administrative corruption and the
repression of Christian subject nations paralleled by self-discovery and
the demand for security of life gave rise to the Armenian Question (Hay
Tad). Some Armenians gave up hope that reforms could ever be achieved peacefully.
They organised underground political parties and encouraged the population
to learn to defend itself.
After the Armenian Genocide and the
annexation of the first Republic of Armenia in 1920 by the Russians (which
lasted 71 years), the three main political parties, commonly known as Hunchag,
Tashnag and Ramgavar, found refuge in the diaspora.
The events that led to the Armenian
Genocide and ultimately the loss of the first Republic of Armenia has created
a bitter dispute amongst these political parties and their followers, who
accused each other for the unfortunate outcome. This gave way to unnecessary
in-fighting and in some extreme cases to bloody murders.
Today, the wounds have somewhat healed,
but the scars are still visible. The old school of thought is still present
and being taught to young minds. Fortunately, many are realising this and
wish to express their opinion in the hope that others will join them in
the fight to put an end to such ignorance and power abuse.
The following are comments made by
some of the respondents. It is worth mentioning that the majority of the
respondents to this survey express similar opinions regarding this subject.
In principle, these political parties
were created to help the Armenian public, to free them from the shackles
of centuries of foreign domination and oppression, and in some cases they
were successful. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line they lost the
plot and turned against each other creating a division amongst the population,
not to mention within the Armenian Church.
"Political organisations are pathetic,
useless organisations who do nothing but breed in-fighting and rivalry
"Social Armenian organizations are
great. They encourage and maintain our ways in countries where Armenians
live in the diaspora. As for political organizations, as long as all the
separate groups work together to further the Armenian Cause, including
culture, language, history, etc. it is needed. However, if many of the
political organizations are fighting amongst each other how can we advance
our Cause? Aren't they hurting us instead of helping us?"
"My child is not good enough to belong
to this organization [ARF], BUT my money is good enough to ask for. I don't
think you should ask what makes these kids tick without first asking the
leaders of the various organizations what makes them tick."
"As for political groups in the diaspora,
I believe they are irrelevant. Armenian politics is only relevant in Armenia.
The diaspora should focus on lobbying their own country's governments."
"The political parties are only concerned
with glorifying themselves rather than the community."
As pockets of Armenian communities
were being established in the diaspora (after the Genocide), the need for
survival and the preservation of our identity was of utmost importance.
Thus, Armenian political organisations, instead of joining forces, took
it upon themselves to establish schools, sports and social centres, etc.
for their followers. In time some of these social centres developed into
larger cultural associations with many sub groups and chapters all over
the world, as we know of today. Even though these volunteer based cultural
associations managed to preserve our Armenian identity (part of it anyway)
they were and are still plagued with the same ideologies of their respective
political parties, which is the main source of division amongst the Armenian
communities in the diaspora.
There are two main political groups
or divisions in the Armenian diaspora today. One is the dominant "Tashnag"
party and its followers and the other is everyone else who dose not support
their [Tashnag] ideology, including non-politically inclined groups or
The following is another quotation
from one of our respondents in regards to this subject,
Today, the majority of the young educated
generation are sick and tired of seeing our leaders still trying to settle
old, childish disputes amongst themselves. It's time for our leaders to
show true leadership and put the nation's interest before their own personal
and political aspirations. Building new cultural centres or renovating
old ones will not bring the youth back. Promoting and enforcing one's own
political ideologies in the name of Armenianism will only create more divisions
and eventually lead to the loss of our true Armenian identity.
"I feel that, in general, Armenian
institutions are run by politically motivated individuals that are placed
in important positions due to their affiliation to the organization and
not necessarily due to their competence. Our institutions should be run
like business units and strive to become the best in their respective categories
in comparison with other non-Armenian institutions. This may be by hiring
experts or out-sourcing certain elements of the day to day.
You can't just profess Armenianism without having a certain structure and
environment that will encourage people of all walks of the community to
participate. Unfortunately, the more educated Armenians are shying away
from Armenian organizations (schools, cultural associations, etc.)
due to their lack of openness and vision.
It is time that the young affluent Armenians take charge and replace the
old school of thought present (though less today) in our organizations."
The answer is in our unity and mutual
cooperation! Today we are blessed with a second chance. An independent
second Republic of Armenia, which needs us more than ever. Unless we can
resolve our differences and support each other first, our children and
future generations may not be as keen as we are to maintain and save this
last remaining piece of homeland – Armenia.
G- Traditional (Old Fashioned)
vs. Modern (Open-Minded) Mentalities.
The words "traditional" and "old
fashioned" conjure negative thoughts in young peoples' minds. The same
can be said about words like "modern" and "open-minded" when you mention
them to the majority of senior members of the community.
Armenian traditional customs and
ways are the building blocks of our identity. That's what defines us as
a group and gives us that special uniqueness that no other nation has.
It's a source of pride and honour for one and all. That is why when young
members of the community start to rebel against these traditional ways
in favour of more modern (Western) ways in their attempt to fit in and
be part of the popular native culture, the results can be unsettling.
The following are some comments made
by our respondents:
The truth is that we do not have to
lose our traditional ways and ideas to fit in with the native population.
All we need to do is try to adapt them to fit with modern times without
compromising the true essence of our traditional ways. We need to cultivate
the good points of both traditional and modern ideologies and mould them
"This is a hard question to respond
to with a short answer, but our original traditional ways are necessary
to maintain us as a people. To try to be as short as possible, I think
many of our ways today have been tainted by "Western" ideas. There are
many things that are good about our modern world, such as diversity, tolerance,
partial equality of genders and races in terms of access to education,
employment, etc. However, these modern ways have also hurt us. Our family
unit is no longer an extended unit, but rather a nuclear unit. We are placing
our elderly in nursing homes and not taking care of our needy people.
The younger and older generations are not talking to one another to understand
what's in their minds. Our younger generations feel they have to assimilate
into the dominant society to be accepted by their peers. This is not unique
to Armenians alone, but to any ethnic group who does not live in their
"Living in foreign countries is a
big challenge for the "Armenian" survival."
"A balance of old and new traditions
is essential if we are to take part in modern society."
As mentioned above, there are many
good things in the modern world that we can benefit from. After all we
do live in this modern world and our survival as a nation depends on how
well we can adapt and coexist in such environments without shedding our
true traditional ways. This can only be achieved when "young" and "old"
(modern and traditional) sit together and listen to each other's point
of view with respect and understanding. Without a clear, honest and open
line of dialogue, and the willingness to implement such changes, it's only
a matter of time until all is lost and our customs and traditions are buried
by the sands of time.
H- Today's Armenian Youth (What
Makes Them Tick?).
There is good news and there is bad
news… The good news is that Armenian youth are no different to any other
nation's youth. They want to experiment and enjoy life. They want to feel
free, be accepted by their peers, express their thoughts and ideas and
look good to attract the opposite sex. In other words, be themselves.
The bad news is that as young Armenians
living in the diaspora they are caught in constant "tug of war" between
our traditional values and popular native cultural (Western) values. Unfortunately,
the latter seems to have a stronger effect in shaping their identity as
Before we go any further, let's have
a look at what some of the respondents say about this subject.
One of the reasons why our youth are
adopting Western cultural values (other than to compete and fit in with
the native society) is because they do not know or have very little understanding
about our true Armenian culture, arts, history, literature etc. The main
building blocks of our national pride and cultural identity.
"What makes today's Armenian youth
different from the Armenian youth of the 90's, 80's, 70's, 60's, 50's etc.
nothing. The people are the same. I think the problem is the overall decline
of morals and values in our society... this includes everyone, not just
Armenians. Social decline is infectious, and therefore the youth of today
are being influenced by it."
"In one word, SEX and its components.
For example, relationships, fashion (looking sexy, sex-appeal, etc.) and
what the majority say."
"Today's youth want entertainment
in whatever is offered to them, we have to keep this in mind when we want
them to participate."
During most of their lives they have
been told (in some cases ordered) to speak Armenian, attend Armenian Church,
be part of an Armenian cultural institution etc. At no time have they been
properly educated and informed why they should do so? What makes our Armenian
culture, traditional values, language, religion etc. so important and so
unique? Why should we keep on practicing them and not feel ashamed of who
With every passing generation, part
of these cultural values are being lost along with our true Armenian identity.
As mentioned above, our youth are falling victim to declining morals and
values in our society. They are abandoning our Armenian traditional family
values and adopting the ever-increasing individualism that is becoming
the norm in Western societies.
To them, being an Armenian is becoming
a matter of choice and not an integral part of their lives or identity.
They profess Armenianism when it suites them and shy away from it when
they are within foreign circles.
They communicate in the native language
and try to cover up their lack of Armenian education and knowledge by ridiculing
others who do and distancing them from their circles. When they attend
Armenian Church (once or twice a year mostly to socialise) they complain
that they do not understand the liturgy delivered in classical Armenian
and accuse the Church of being old fashioned. They join Armenian activity
groups (choir, sport, music etc.) only to meet prospective partners for
marriage and not for the interest or the actual purpose of the activity
itself. These are only some of the many deficiencies that are present amongst
today's Armenian youth.
On the other hand, Armenian institutions
seem to do very little to address the needs of our youth. They seem to
be more concerned about their own image and survival. No proper research
is being done to find solutions for the problems at ground level. There
is too much red tape for the youth to "hack" through to get our leaders
to listen and do something about their needs.
Unless our leaders realise the immediate
importance of these problems and take a hands-on approach to solve them,
many believe that eventually our youth and future generations will become
another statistical casualty in the war against assimilation and result
in the loss of our true Armenian identity.
I- Youth Parties vs. Cultural
Who doesn't like to go to a party?
A chance to kick back, take a break from the stresses of work and home,
enjoy yourself with family and friends and just simply have fun.
Well, Armenians seem to like it very
much. It is a chance for us to meet old friends or make new ones. A chance
to celebrate with good food, music and dance. Be part of a happy atmosphere
and enjoy the company of our peers.
Let's have a look at what some of
the respondents said about this subject:
In fact Armenians in the diaspora seem
to concentrate more on parties than on cultural events. We can easily say
that the ratio between 'parties' and 'cultural events' is 10:1 in favour
of the 'parties'.
"Youth parties provide Armenian youths
the opportunity to safely socialize with other Armenians. Unless you attend
an Armenian school or a public school where the majority of the students
are Armenian, you don't have an arena to meet other Armenian youths.
As for cultural events - we should have more cultural events than parties.
Why aren't we teaching our youth how to weave our traditional rugs, sew
and embroider traditional dresses and patterns, create metal, wood, and
stone - work? How about traditional dances and songs? Many of these
crafts are lost because we are not being taught these skills. These are
the types of things that define who we are as a people."
"Armenian gatherings are the best.
Parties usually involve alcohol and lots of body exposure. Results are
"Armenian plays are nice. So are
their musical bands, etc."
As mentioned above, Armenian youth
parties are great for our young generation to intermingle and socialise
amongst themselves, but do they really encourage Armenianism? Are we contributing
towards the loss of our culture and traditional folklore by neglecting
the cultural needs of our youth?
Some may argue that the community
is to blame. The majority like going to parties because they are enjoyable,
interactive, social etc. and they are willing to attend such events, but
when it comes to cultural events most shy away complaining that they are
boring and monotonous. In most cases poorly organised and delivered.
The reason for this is because most
cultural events (organised by our Armenian institutions) are run by amateur
volunteers who desperately try to organise such events on a shoestring
budget, and in a very short period of time. The words "good planning" and
"professionalism" do not exist in their vocabulary.