By Sevan Deyirmenjian
This article comes on the heels of an incident that transpired this summer in Armenia during the Ari Tun program in which a dispute, centering around identity, broke out between members of the youth groups from Ukraine and Istanbul. The group from Turkey claims it received little or no guidance from the diaspora ministry and was forced to prematurely return to Istanbul due to safety concerns. In a press release on the incident the ministry claimed that a “small argument” broke out between the youngsters and that ministry representatives intervened and it was quickly resolved. The ministry also claimed that it invited group leaders to its office to discuss the matter and proposed a separate program for the Armenians from Turkey. The ministry says the group declined the offer and left Armenia. - Hetq
At first glance, the “Ari Tun” (Come Home) program organized by Armenia’s Ministry of the Diaspora, has a decent objective – to connect those young people born outside the country, those who aren’t adequately familiar with it - who don’t know its history, traditions, way of life - to Armenia, or as some call it, the “fatherland.
The organizer of the program sees Armenia as a home to which globally dispersed Armenians must return to. The same organizer, most surely, sees the Armenian language as the only, irreplaceable native tongue for all those Armenians born on “foreign shores”. Consequently, the use of a “foreign” language within the program is regarded as unacceptable. Speaking Turkish, surely an act to be scorned, is regarded as extremely unacceptable.
Even the name of the program, “Ari Tun” belies the mentality that permeates the halls of the diaspora ministry. The average diaspora-Armenian, especially a pupil, and even frequently a school teacher, will mistake the often used imperative ‘ari” in Armenia with the male name “Ari” frequently used in Istanbul and other communities. They will naively ask, “Who is Ari?”
The authorities in Armenia, and even those Armenian identity preservationists in the diaspora who are awarded medals by these authorities, have just one thing to say in this regard – “No big deal. Let them learn.”
There’s also the issue of the “tun” (home).
Putting aside the fake patriotic and nationalist platitudes, I sincerely declare that for me the Republic of Armenia is not a home, and will never be in the future, even if I live there one day.
It’s a very dear place for me, where I have many friends and memories. For twelve years, from 1993 to 2005, I lived and studied there. Probably more than those who day and night shout “Armenia is our fatherland”.
And a word to our very dear authorities in Armenia…Please know that a majority of diaspora Armenian young people who participate in “Ari Tun”, put to one side the emotional declarations, do not see your country as their “home”.
Everyone is happy in the place where they live, and where they were born. These confessions, of course, I know have no significance and will not change that mentality which you, and your diaspora-Armenian preservationists that make ten-day trips to downtown Yerevan every few years, possess. They should know that their home is here!
Conflict, at least with Turkish-Armenian groups, is unavoidable wherever this mentality exists.
During all those events organized by authorities in Armenia who possess this “Ari Tun” mentality, problems have arisen with Turkish-Armenian groups; starting with the Pan-Armenian Games and ending with youth gatherings like “Ari Tun”. Often, the main problem has been the use of Turkish.
It’s somehow OK for a group from Russia to speak Russian, a group from France to speak French, or those from Argentina to speak Spanish.
This type of patriotism or nationalism, at the root of which we sometimes see an anti-Turkish stance passed down from Czarist Russia, can never accept the reality that one of the languages used by Armenians is Turkish; even more so that French or English.
For example, the mother of [Vahan] Tekeyan was a Turkish speaker. At times, many Armenians in historic Armenia spoke Turkish. We had people creating in Turkish… Naturally, it’s desirable that all speak Armenian. However, we you call people back to their “home”, let them speak the language they’re comfortable with.
When the mentality changes, luckily, so will the approach. I have escorted groups to participate in events organized by the Gulbenkian Foundation, and have heard many testimonies from those who have participated in various events in Armenia (Tumo, or summer camps at the Dilijan International School). The latter don’t have the boastful titles of “Ari Tun”, nor are they headed by a former first secretary of the Komeritmiutyun (Young Communist League of Armenia).
The mentality of “let them learn”, “you must speak Armenian”, “teach them”, does not dominate those programs/events where everyone speaks their language of choice.
Do not be concerned! In a few days, without be aware of it, they will automatically start to speak Armenian. They will get to know Armenia, see its citizens, and like them. They will say farewell to Armenia with the promise of participating the following year.
Such disputes are unavoidable if Armenia’s Ministry of the Diaspora fails to make change in its mentality.
For as long as the ministry continues to follow the writings of editors in the traditional diaspora it has awarded medals to, editors who have blamed the youngsters for “making a mountain out of a molehill” and for taking a “disrespectful position”, surely nothing will change.
Consequently, the ministry will continue to be regarded as an organization that attempts to maintain its reputation, badly shaken in Armenia, in the diaspora.
Sevan Deyirmenjian is a writer/translator in Istanbul
(The Armenian version of this article first appeared in Agos, August 9, 2017)