Tuesday, 17 July

An Armenian "Odar" in the Homeland



By Lillian Avedian

The word "odar" carries a multitude of meanings for the Armenians who use it. "Odar" directly translates to "other" in English. In Armenian, it can refer to a literal or metaphorical other.

Armenians in the diaspora use "odar" to denote any non-Armenians they encounter globally. "Odar" is inherently negative, as it connotes difference, unfamiliarity, discomfort. The Armenian and the "odar" can never coexist since Armenians display fundamental traits unique to the Armenian people. An insurmountable (ethnic) barrier eternally divides the Armenian from the "odar." The beauty of the ideal of the motherland is that Armenia is a home for all Armenians, where Armenians can find comfort in being surrounded by people like them. "Odar" theoretically carries no meaning in Armenia as all Armenians are bound together by a common national spirit.

However, as a diasporan currently residing in Armenia, I can confirm that the exclusionary ideology behind the word "odar" permeates the culture of Yerevan like a virus that cannot be eradicated. In this case, "odar" does not refer to an ethnic division, but to the division crafted between Armenians who live in Armenia and Armenians from the diaspora. Every day, I experience encounters that remind me of my position as an outsider within the country that I was told from birth would embrace me as a long-lost child who was violently torn away from its mother. Each of these incidents chips away at the vision constructed for me in diasporan Armenian schools and churches and organizations of Armenia as the land of unity and comradeship, where my identity as an Armenian would serve as a marker of my membership.

During my visit to Armenia last July, I was walking down the street in Yerevan when somebody loudly remarked in my direction, "Your hair is ridiculous. You look like a man. Shame on you." (At the time, my hair was styled in a pixie cut that I was rather fond of and that suited the unbearable heat of Armenia in the summertime). Later, discussing the experience with a friend of mine who lives in Yerevan, she stated, "Your hair is such a giveaway that you aren't from here. No women in Armenia cut their hair short, and if they do, people assume they're a lesbian."

Similar attitudes regarding short hair exist in the United States, of course. Yet, in this instance, my hair served as an external symbol of my role as an outsider. No women in Armenia cut their hair short, and if they do, they deviate from the strict heteronormative culture that dictates appearance and style. I did not conform to this standard, and was publicly and vocally shamed for it, grouping me together with those communities that are (unjustly) ostracized in mainstream Armenian society. Either I am a foreigner, or I am a lesbian. Either way, I exist outside of the norms that determine one's status as an Armenian.

I can name many examples similar to this one--people on the streets loudly commenting on my clothes, my hair, believing I would not understand their Armenian or simply not caring. Calling me an American, a slut, a lesbian, all in the same sentence, equalizing these indicators of difference and exclusion. As long as I do not dress modestly or grow out my hair or wear makeup, people will assume that I am not from Armenia based on my appearance. Unless I change the way I look, I will never be considered a member of the Armenian nation. I am forever "odar."

However, certain characteristics also protect me from exposing my diasporan identity. I speak and understand Armenian fluently, and my hooked nose, bushy eyebrows, and olive skin blend in. Yet not all diasporan Armenians share this luck.

My current roommate in Yerevan is perpetually aware of the division that exists between her and the Armenians around her. She is an Armenian-American, with ancestors who escaped to America during the Armenian Genocide of 1915. She also has one Armenian parent. Her blond hair and light skin earn her gawking stares on the streets and constant comments upon her unusual beauty. People's faces transform into those of shock, then amusement when she begins to speak Armenian with them. She is Armenian by blood, yet her physical appearance automatically confines her to the position of an "odar."

An experience we shared one evening epitomizes my argument. My roommate and I were sitting at an outdoor bar having drinks and enjoying the cool weather of Yerevan's evenings. Two women drinking by themselves in Yerevan is unheard of, let alone late in the evenings. Add to that my roommate's appearance and our English conversation, and we firmly placed ourselves in the realm of "odar," solidly outside of the normative understandings of what it is to be an Armenian. As we chatted, my roommate's expression suddenly turned stormy and tense.
"Those men are taking pictures of me," she said.

I turned around, and sure enough, a group of men sitting at the table behind us were openly taking photos of her, chuckling as they passed around a smartphone. She stared back at them in disbelief, telling them in Armenian to stop taking photos of her. They simply laughed in response.

We no longer felt comfortable sitting in the bar, so we quickly paid for our drinks and left, avoiding the gazes and comments of those men. Walking home that night, three different people on the street remarked upon our appearance.

Diasporans have crafted an ideology of the Armenian homeland that can never exist while diasporans who visit Armenia are immediately labelled "odar" by their appearance, speech, and behavior. Armenia holds immense potential to be a haven for Armenians who wish to openly and freely engage with their heritage and language in the company of other Armenians. Yet this potential is soured when Armenians who display traits common to cultures outside of Armenia are labelled "odar" and publicly discredited for the ways in which they are different.

Embracing the exchange of ideas, values, and customs that the flow of diasporans into Armenia promises promotes the development of a healthy, vibrant Armenian culture while affirming the place of diasporans in the global Armenian community. It is time to abandon the shame attached to any sign of diversity in Armenia, starting by welcoming diasporans as long-lost sisters and brothers.

Until then, I will continue to precariously balance my conflicting identities as both an Armenian and an "odar" within the homeland.

Top photo: Author in Dilijan, June 2017.

(Lillian Avedian is a junior at the University of California, Berkeley double majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies and Armenian Language and Literature. She is currently interning at Hetq with the Armenian Assembly of America summer internship program. This is her third visit to Armenia.)


Home page

Print  



Comments (8)
1. HAGOP21:07 - 6 July, 2018
LILIAN! YOU ARE TRAILBLAZING IN ARMENIA SO KEEP IT UP! CUT YOUR HAIR EVEN SHORTER, STAY OUT LONGER AT BARS WITH YOUR FEMALE FRIENDS, AND WEAR EVEN FUNKIER CLOTHES!! THE PEOPLE OF ARMENIA NEED TO THANK THE DIASPORA FOR KEEPING THEM ALIVE!!!! THAT SAME RUSSIAN ARMENIAN VERSUS TURKISH ARMENIAN MENTALITY IS THE REASON WHY GENERAL ANDRANIK COULD NOT SAVE ERZURUM (GARIN)!!! NONE OF THE RUSSIAN ARMENIAN SOLDIERS WANTED TO HELP HIM!!! KEEP SOLDIERING ON!!! YOU ARE A HERO!!!
2. Kkt22:18 - 6 July, 2018
I think the author seems to be reading a little bit too much into a certain degenerate class of people looking at people. This happens everywhere, more so in Armenia yes. Ive been living in Armenia for over a decade, and society has come over leaps and bounds compared to 10 years ago. 10 years ago you would have been labled a queer, just for wearing shorts, yerevan is full of women smoking (and its disgusting the same way it is for men to be smoking) again compared to just a few years back. I believe the author reaches (rather dangerously) the conclusion that this form of not accepting less common styles is exclusive to diasporan armenians. If you ever have the time to sit with local armenians, they spend just as much time poking fun at local armenians with odd facial hair, or men with tied up hair or even long hair. I have never heard of any local armenian consider an outside armenian as an odar. The fact is local armenians will always go for a diasporan mechanic/lawyer/cafe than a local one. So i would strongly urge against this idea of odars within ourselves. Even the concept of diaspora and local is problematic in that it in some way justifies the existence of the diaspora living outside of armenia, rather than inside. We have enough problems of trust (such as the vermin head of armenia fund who recently was caught by NSS for misappropriating diasporan donations) between armenians outside and inside our homeland than to make new problems up. Are there idiots in armenian society who look at any armenian (diasporan or local) and poke fun at them and treat them differently? Yes. Is it getting better? Yes. Will more "different" viewpoints only help rid the problem? Yes. Lillian id strongly urge you to take another look at your views and make sure you feel free and comfortable to fully expand on your potential in YOUR country. Your country needs you, and i hope you feel you need it! :) We can only be "welcomed" if you take a stake in this country, we are not guests in our own country.
3. Josef12:07 - 7 July, 2018
I prefer Armenians in Armenia or Russia against western diaspora. For example, have a look Kim Kardashian and her black family. It s terrible, total degeneration.
4. garnik15:35 - 7 July, 2018
Dear Lillian , Hagop and Kkt have expressed valid and positive opinion , situation in Armenia has improved , I agree not enough , very long way to go , but much better than 1992 ,when we started small manufacturing unit ,with friends , during those days every week once or twice we did have near violent encounter with locals Armenians, specially with traffic police and reason they said was , we, from diaspora have stolen their and their relatives jobs and so on.even though we employed few local Armenian , never mind daily verbal abuse from locals. Please do not doubt in your mission , push harder and go on introduce as many positive new ideas into Armenia as you can. Nothing will please more to see or hear , that an Armenian from diaspora is succeeding in Armenia
5. garnik16:25 - 7 July, 2018
Josef your opinion is the worst type of racism , such a opinion is an extreme example of the highest degree ignorance and illiteracy . Armenian society members utterly disassociate themselves with your ugliest form of opinion.
6. HAGOP04:30 - 8 July, 2018
JOSEF! LET'S NOT GET STARTED ON ALL THE FRAUD, MURDER, CORRUPTION, ROBBERIES AND IDENTITY THEFTS ALL DONE BY ARMENIANS FROM ARMENIA!!!! YES, KARDASHIAN BECAME FAMOUS FOR BEING A WHORE (SEX TAPE) BUT YOUR GROUP OF PEOPLE ARE NO BETTER THAN HER. THERE ARE GOOD AND EVIL IN ALL GROUPS!!!! GARNIK, TELL THOSE ARMENIANS TO KISS YOUR DI-ASS-PORA ASS! IF IT WAS NOT FOR THE THOUSANDS OF SYRIAN ARMENIANS MOVING TO ARMENIA, THE SOVIET MENTALITY AND CULTURE WOULD NEVER CHANGE!!! SYRIAN ARMENIANS ARE THE HARDEST WORKING, INDEPENDENT, SMART PEOPLE I KNOW!!! VERY SMART IN BUSINESS!! THEY ARE JUST JEALOUS!!! KEEP YOUR BUSINESS GOING! KEEP MAKING MONEY! KEEP EXPANDING AND HIRING MORE ARMENIANS!! STRENGTHEN THE ECONOMY OF ARMENIA!!!!!!!!!
7. Vera 16:51 - 9 July, 2018
Thank you for penning this article. I am sorry you feel odar/otherized in your homeland. I do want to bring a reflective point and contribution into this conversation: when u moved to United States as an Armenian immigrant from Hayastan, I, too, felt heavily otherized by Armenian-Americans. It was the worst feeling. I think homogenous societies do this until they start identifying with the other. I am sure with your time in Armenia you also noticed your and their development and deeper connection, especially with those you interact with more frequently. Being fetishized/exocitized is a yucky feeling.
8. Hagop-ian03:11 - 13 July, 2018
I have lately been feeling ashamed of my own diaspora and I will take this opportunity to do some venting since this topic has been opened here. The other 'HAGOP' makes some good points, but at the end of the day, I will take the side of 'Josef'. Count me as a "diaspora Armenian" - who is disgusted and fed up with the diaspora Armenian class, particularly of the USA. Diaspora Armenian women have become a bunch of liberal TRASH, dating and marrying odars like its a "positive" thing. I have pretty much lost all respect for western brainwashed Armenians already. In this respect, I actually wish that the Armenians holding our homeland together actually 'INCREASE' their so-called "discrimination" and "racism", primarily against "Armenians" born in the USA, and especially the women who are going there with their leftist liberal agenda. These Kardashian wannabe trashy idiots are up to no good, let me tell you. They want to "change" Armenia not to make it stronger, but their mission is to turn Armenia into another cesspit of human filth like is happening in so-called "western" societies, pushing their ideas of multiculturalism, race-mixing, queer propaganda, etc. And their excuse is moronic globalist New World Order ideas like "a people needs multiculturalism and race mixing in order to survive" or some crap like it. Armenian men of Armenia: do not EVER let these whores from America have their ideas spread in our homeland. The diaspora of today is not like the traditional one that held out culture outside of Armenia together, the diaspora of today is well on its path to destruction already since adopting western ideas of liberalism, and if you let them in, our entire Armenia, and thus our entire race in next for destruction. DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN, AND DON'T PAY ANY ATTENTION TO THEM IF THEY CALL YOU "RACIST". Make it clear that only traditional Armenians of the diaspora are welcomed to effect positive change, and all others with their liberal agenda, stay in your wonderful multicultural cesspit since you think it's so wonderful.
Leave a comment
Thank you for your comment. Your comment must be confirmed by the administration.

Latest news

All news

Archive