A Douchebag from Glendale

By Missak Artinian

I have come to learn that being Armenian in a small suburb of Virginia (where I was born and raised) and being Armenian in Glendale, California (where I recently moved) is a vastly different experience. Here’s what I mean. Back home, when someone asked me about my ancestry and I said Armenian, I was automatically associated with mystery and intrigue. Here in Glendale, when someone asks me about my ancestry and I say Armenian, I am automatically associated with car insurance fraud.

Being Armenian in a small town had some advantages because it gave me the opportunity to set a precedent. How a stranger would perceive Armenians as a whole rested on the content of my character, for better or for worse. As the only Armenian within at least a 30-mile radius, I had a responsibility to make good first impressions with strangers because, unfortunately, in a world where people so easily make broad generalizations of any given race, ethnicity, or religion based on the actions of a few individuals, it’s especially important for those of us who belong in an ethnic minority to project a positive image.

For some residents of Glendale, however, the damage may already be done.

Take Diana, for example, an attractive Israeli girl who sells lotion at one of those kiosks in Glendale Galleria. A few weeks ago, she approached me as I was walking back to work, and asked if I had a girlfriend. Misinterpreting her icebreaker sales tactic for romantic interest (she must see something she likes, I reasoned), I was drawn into her net as an unwary sailor is lured unto rocks by a siren’s song.

She proceeded to sensually caress my wrist and compliment my complexion, which, according to her, would look even more radiant if only I were to purchase a four hundred dollar beauty package. Upon hearing this price, the expression on my face probably suggested, How reasonable! But in my mind, I was really thinking, where can I get me some of your crack?

Before I could come up with an excuse to escape her web, she gripped my shoulders, leaned forward, peered deeply into my eyes, and whispered, “But for you, I will sell for three hundred.” Moments like these don’t happen often, but when they do, I can’t help but think, Missak, you still got it.

Flattered as I was by Diana’s generous discount, I had to pass, as I was unable to convince myself that magic exfoliating potions and serums were a better value proposition than, say, a ton of cheese from Trader Joe’s. So predictably, the chemistry between us fizzled, but to repay her for boosting my self-esteem, I offered to buy the cheapest product she had (a bar of mud soap, twenty dollars). When I handed her my credit card, she noticed my last name, and said, “Oh.”

“What?” I said.

“You are Armenian.”

“That’s very perceptive.”

“Your people, you need to open your mind,” she exclaimed, as she tapped my forehead with her index finger. “Open.”

“Open my mind, or open my wallet?” I snapped back, grinning.

She laughed, and we made a connection then and there that was pure and genuine, though admittedly, I tend to embellish my memories as delusional people do, so maybe not.

What struck me the most about the transaction was the look on her face when she saw the –ian at the end of my last name. In her defense, I am ethnically ambiguous, which can be advantageous during job interviews and an inconvenience during TSA screenings. Nonetheless, it was that look on Diana’s face that left a lasting impression, a look that suggested; if only you were wearing a gold chain, I wouldn’t have wasted my time. Not that I blame the poor girl. Her job is to sell snake oil in a mall heavily patronized by Armenians – a group of people, mind you, who have mastered the art of selling snake oil!

A few weeks later, I met a young professional by the name of Thomas at Broadway Bar in Downtown, Los Angeles. We spoke for a few minutes, and during our conversation, I mentioned that I had recently moved to Glendale from the D.C. metro area.

“Why Glendale?” he asked.

“Close to my new job, mainly.”

“Careful, man. Lots of douchebags there.”

“Really? What do you mean?” I asked, though I had an idea of where this conversation was heading. Keep in mind that I introduced myself as Mike (my nickname), so as far as he was concerned, he was talking to some white guy.

“Armenians. Armenians everywhere.”

“That’s what I heard.”

“They drive Benzes and Bimmers like they got money, right? But actually, what they do is they pretend their kids are retarded so they get extra money out the government.”

“No way. That’s terrible.”

“Yeah, man. They’re just milking the system.”

By the end of Thomas’ tirade, I was sad. I was sad because I knew there was truth in what he was saying, that in this world, there are bad Armenians who do bad things. But more than sadness, I felt disappointment. Mainly in Thomas, whose apparent intelligence could not save him from falling prey to the trappings of prejudice. Before saying farewell, I offered him another round on me, and though he may never realize it, he unwittingly clinked glasses with a douchebag from Glendale.

On the drive back home (after sobering up, to be clear), I wondered why I didn’t school Thomas? Surely any self-respecting Armenian would’ve opted for a more confrontational approach, perhaps with a few obscenities mixed in for good measure. But that I said nothing and did nothing was concerning to me. Why did I conceal my identity? Why did I fail to defend my people? And most perplexingly, why did I buy him a drink?

“Because you’re a self-hating Armenian,” my shoulder devil whispered into my ear.

“That’s not true,” my shoulder angel jumped in, defending me. “Missak may hate himself, but not because he’s Armenian.

My shoulder angel had a point. I genuinely do believe that being Armenian has its positives. Let me count the ways:

1.

1

2.

2

3.

3

But growing up Armenian in a town where I felt like the only Missak in the world sucked. Because there’s no way you can ever be cool in school when your name alludes to male genitalia. That just doesn’t happen, not in a world teeming with Brians, Davids, and Matts. I sometimes wonder where some of my classmates are today, the creative geniuses who came up with increasingly clever ways to make fun of me by calling me names like Meat-sack and No-sack. I can imagine them working at some shady ad agency, coining product names like:

4

and

5

Like many first-generation Americans, I struggled with the same issues that are common in immigrant stories. Toula’s struggle to fit in with her American classmates in My Big Fat Greek Wedding comes to mind; or Woody Allen’s existential crisis when he attempts to give Catholicism a try in Hannah and her Sisters, shaming his proud Jewish parents. Even stories about Chinese moms and their assimilated daughters (see everything ever written by Amy Tan) were oddly relatable, even though I have no ovaries and I’m about as Asian as Frank Underwood is kind.

Like many of these characters, I spent most of my formative years being pulled in two directions, with my Armenian identity on one side and my American identity on the other. No matter how hard I tried to find the right balance between appeasing the expectations of my traditional Armenian family and assimilating to the culture of the country in which I was born, I always felt like I was stuck between two worlds.

And now that I live in Glendale, do I feel less like an outsider? Nope. And you know what? That’s okay. To be an outsider is to experience the world as a critic and an admirer. Glendale has its issues (I’m looking at you, you aggressive drivers), but it also has a lot of beauty. And whether people like Thomas agree with me or not, a lot of that beauty is due to the city’s decidedly Armenian identity.

The tri-colored Armenian flag is as ubiquitous here as rain is in Seattle. The Armenian alphabet is displayed practically on every deli, grocery store, and small business. The music is audible on the street, inside my car, from my balcony. The language is spoken in the unlikeliest of places, like the Wholefoods where a group of older Armenian women congregate outside during lunchtime and speak of politics in boisterous shrills. Hell, the view outside my office window features a large building with letters that read USArmenia, which serves as a daily reminder that I’m far from the small town whose identity was as uncertain as mine.

It is this celebration of identity, I think, that unites the Armenians of Glendale, and indeed, Armenians all around the world. They are a people who will show their friends the tiny country of Armenia on a map, will educate random strangers that Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion, will speak out in class when their history books gloss over or skip the Armenian Genocide, and will protest Turkey’s ongoing denial of the systematic attempt to eradicate the Armenian culture, religion, and people from the face of the Earth.

Armenians are a people whose voices cannot be silenced, because for a small ethnic group that so narrowly escaped complete annihilation, to be silent is to dishonor the survivors, their enduring spirits, without whom, these very words would cease to exist.

Survivors: Verkin and Flora Munushian

Untitled1

Hadjin // Verkin Munushian 1900-1973 // Flora Munushian 1902-1989

Sisters, Verkin and Flora Munushian, were the only two in their immediate family who survived the Armenian Genocide. They and their family were deported from their home in Hadjin, Turkey on May 24, 1915.  Their 70 year-old grandmother died from exhaustion as she tried to keep up with the Hadjin caravan, and their 18 year-old brother Levon who stayed with their grandmother was taken away by Turkish soldiers and never seen again.

Soon after this heartbreaking loss Verkin and Flora were nearly kidnapped by two Turkish soldiers. From that time on they never left their father’s side.  Their father, Hagop Munushian, was their protector and he knew things would become worse before decency came their way. He decided it best to leave his beautiful Verkin and his feisty daughter Flora in Aleppo and begged a stranger to save both girls from the Turks. That stranger, an Armenian, took the girls to Reverend Eskijian.  Reverend Eskijian found work for the girls in different homes. While the family that gave refuge to Verkin was kind, it was quite the opposite for Flora. That nasty family worked Flora as a slave, barely gave her enough food to eat and six months later they sold her to a Turk for his harem.

When Verkin learned of her sister’s plight, she struggled to find a way to rescue her sister.  How would she find her way to the harem? As the hours passed her choices grew into incredible fear. She had never left the house fearing being picked up by Turkish soldiers who would either send her to join a caravan to Deir Zor or take her to a Turkish soldier’s brothel…and most probably the latter because of her striking beauty. With supreme courage and the help of a young street savvy cousin, she found her way to the harem after dark, managed to steal Flora away and helped find a kind Syrian home for her sister.

When the war was over an uncle found both of them in Aleppo, brought them back to Turkey and would not answer questions about their family. When they arrived in Adana, Turkey they were taken to a relative, a recovering eyewitness of the blood bath that took 13,000 lives including all of the Munushian family. The girls were devastated. What would happen to them?  Months later their uncle forced Verkin to marry a man she would never have chosen for herself. Flora, determined not to let the same thing happen to her, was given an opportunity to marry a man in America. Having only a picture of him, she agreed to travel with the man’s mother, my grandmother, and met her husband to be in Ellis Island.  They were married the following day.  Flora had four children with my father and lived in Boston, Massachusetts. Verkin and her family had to flee Turkey when Kemal Pasha with his irregular army drove the surviving Armenians out of Turkey. Settling in Lebanon Verkin also gave birth to four children. Thirty-five years would pass before Flora and Verkin saw one another again.

Verkin Munushian passed away in 1973 in Beirut, Lebanon.  She is survived by three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.  Flora Munushian passed away in 1989.  She is survived by her daughter and three grandchildren.

Honored by Dr. Kay Mouradian

A Survivor’s Suicide

By Maria Akopyan (Guest Contributor)

His eyes watered, his voice trembled, his pain-filled words struggled to surface as my grandfather recalled the tragic story of his mother’s fight for survival during the Armenian Genocide, and the inner battles she faced in the aftermath of 1915. Mari grew up in a small Armenian village now found in modern day Turkey. She lived a humble and modest life, as most Armenians did living in rural villages in the late 19th century. She was very well liked in her community. Others frequently addressed her as “Mari kurik,” (Sister Mari), a sign of respect and adoration. She was known for her kind heart, vigor, and vitality, but these qualities would soon be overshadowed by the events that followed in 1915.

​Turmoil between the Ottoman government and the Armenian population had slowly been rising for several years. Many Armenian villages and communities were being brutally massacred by Turkish hands. Mari and her family received word that her father was being recruited by the Ottoman government under the Young Turk regime. Armenians assembled in fear, as word had spread that Armenian men in the army were being disarmed and placed in labor battalions, only to be murdered afterward. Her family’s devastation only grew worse in April of 1915, when the Ottoman government pillaged through their town, and ordered all Armenian civilians in the villages to be deported from their homes through the Syrian Desert. Initially assured by Ottoman soldiers that deportation was simply an effort to relocate the Armenians, Mari was soon to learn the disturbing truth; that this “relocation” effort would essentially become a march of death.

​Mari, her family, and the rest of her village were rallied, along with hundreds of others from surrounding villages, mostly all women, children, and elderly. With nothing but the clothes on their backs, they walked. For miles under the blazing desert sun, not a single Armenian was given anything to consume, no food nor water. Those who dared to stop walking or tried to escape were immediately killed, with no warning or mercy given.  Mari watched as the young, the elderly, and the fragile collapsed one after another, dying of deliberate starvation and exhaustion, their bodies all left to rot. Mari watched as young girls and their mothers were brutally raped, some even shot to death immediately afterward.

For weeks Mari marched, scared, hungry and weak.  The majority of deportees were deceased. Among the dead were countless relatives and friends with whom Mari grew up.  Mari managed to barely survive by succumbing to desperate measures, such as drinking her own urine. What happened next could only be described as a miracle.  While at a concentration camp, Mari was blessed with an opportunity to escape, and with the help of a few strangers, Mari finally found herself free. Severely traumatized and barely evading death, she fled to Greece wielding a second chance at life, a chance to start over.

​A few years later, Mari married and soon brought a daughter into this world. She was blessed with a second child in 1924, a son – my grandfather.  Life was starting to look up for Mari and her new family.  She cared for her children with love and affection. However, despite the joy of motherhood, Mari could not shake her depressing past.   Mari survived the genocide, but her vitality and vigor were lost somewhere along the way; the newly empty spaces compressed with memories embedded far more securely.  To her loved ones, Mari appeared to be a strong woman, but on the inside she was miserable and her misery was only accumulating.   She was fighting a battle within herself, continuously failing in her attempt to let go of pained memories. In 1929, the 30 year-old mother of two took her own life, a life that she had fought so hard to save. My grandfather was only five-years old.

​Only a small population of Armenians had survived the deportations of 1915, one of whom was Mari. The Turkish government successfully annihilated over a million innocent Armenian men, women and children that year but Mari marginally managed to survive. Mari fought for her life every day through the genocide and although she physically escaped, it was impossible to escape emotionally. The Turkish government may have failed to eliminate Mari during the march of death, but they succeeded in killing her spirit, which ultimately led to her suicide.

Maria Akopyan was born in Yerevan and raised in California.  She studied politics and philosophy at UCLA and is a recent law school graduate.  Maria is passionate about helping individuals resolve conflicts and live fulfilling lives. 

Survivors: Atanas Demirdjian

Atanas

Kemah // 1904-1987

Atanas Demirdjian was born in Kemah in 1904. His family owned a store where Atanas and his older brother would help deliver products. In 1915, he traveled to Istanbul with his older brother. Atanas later learned that during his time in Istanbul, the Turks had set up slaughterhouses into the Kemah gorge, in which some 25,000 people were killed in a single day. Atanas’ immediate family, friends, and relatives were among those killed in Kemah. In Istanbul, the two brothers were taken in by strangers and hidden in an attic. Since Atanas was the younger of the two brothers, he would slip out of the attic to gather information of what was happening to the Armenian population, while his brother remained confined to the attic to avoid capture. One day, a Turkish officer realized that there were two Armenian boys hiding in the attic of a local resident. Instead of turning them over to Turkish officials and causing harm to the two young boys, the officer helped them flee the region. During their escape, Atanas and his brother were separated due to unforeseen circumstances. Atanas eventually made it to France with a group of other Armenians who managed to escape. It was among this group of genocide survivors in France where Atanas met his future wife, Anahid. Atanas and Anahid had three sons. Years later, they decided to leave their stable and comfortable lives in France, moving back to Armenia so that their three sons could marry Armenians and continue their Armenian bloodline.

Atanas passed away on June 6, 1987 in the city of Yerevan. He is survived by his three children, six grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren.

_

Honored by Arthur Demirdjian

Mayrig

By Dr. Kay Mouradian (Guest Contributor)

My mayrig and I had an endearing relationship. She never interfered with my life, never held me back from exploring or living in many parts of this glorious planet and I always returned home. My mayrig lived by a philosophy that you hold by letting go. Pretty remarkable for this small 5-foot woman who survived the Armenian Genocide, whose life had been colored by the horrors of the past and who dwelled on the loss of her family who had perished at the hands of the Turks.

In 1988 I went to Aleppo, Syria, to search for the family who had given my mayrig refuge. Incredibly, I found the one remaining descendant. Born after my mother had left Aleppo, the handsome woman knew all about the 14-year-old Armenian girl, Flora, who had cared for her two sisters. Delighted to meet me, she gave me a gift I still cherish today–photos of her sisters, her mother and of her father, a kind man who treated my mother as one of his own.

The day after our extraordinary meeting I received a call from home. Mayrig was back in the hospital. I immediately left for Los Angeles. With her heart laboring in cardiac care, her doctor did not expect her to survive the night. Three of us sat at her bedside, waiting. Mayrig had been unresponsive. Then she started to speak.

“Do you know why I’m still here?” she asked, sounding as if she knew a great truth. She looked at my cousin and said, “Because you don’t have any children.” She turned toward me and again said, “Because you don’t have any children.” Then to my nephew sitting nearby she said, “And you don’t have any children. If I died no one would know.”

“They showed me a lot of pictures,” she continued.

I wondered who “they” were. I knew people with near-death experiences claimed to view their lives at the moment of death. Was my mother sharing the same kind of vision with whoever “they” were?

She looked at my cousin. “Your mother was there.” His mother had died thirty years earlier. She mentioned seeing an Armenian family who was a karmic mirror of her family and told us prophetic things that would happen to members of our own family. Two of them have already come to pass.

“They showed the afghans,” she said. She had made afghans for everyone over the years; relatives, neighbors, my friends, her friends, and my sister’s friends. Interestingly, after this vision she made them specifically for disabled veterans.

She turned her gaze to me. “You’re going to write a book about my life.”

“No, Mom, not me,” I said. “Maybe your other daughter will. She’s the real Armenian in the family.”

“No! You are!” Then she ended her little speech with, “They said it was my choice.”

Now, that sentence gripped my attention. I’ve spent my adult life trying to make right choices, and it is not ever an easy thing and now my mother had made the choice to stay on in defiance of her body’s fragile and deathly state.

Against the odds she rallied, a few days later she was released from the hospital. In the middle of her first night home I heard her stir. I rushed into her bedroom and turned on the light. There she sat in bed, her face absolutely radiant. She gave me a huge smile. “Do you know what life is all about?” she asked, not waiting for a reply. “It’s all about love and understanding, but everyone’s brain is not the same, so you help when you can. That’s what life’s all about.” She smiled, laid herself down and went back to sleep. I will never forget that night.

The next day she again couldn’t move without help. I had dismissed much of her vision on that hospital bed as delusion. I certainly had no plans to write a book about her or the Armenian tragedy. But I began to read about events that happened in the Ottoman Empire during World War I and became overwhelmed. I had not known the depth of the Armenian tragedy, and I began to understand my mother’s heartbreaking scars and those of Armenian survivors everywhere. Now I knew my mother’s story needed to be told. But at the time I had no idea that years later I would meet a filmmaker and he would turn her story into a documentary.


Dr. Kay Mouradian is an educator, filmmaker, and author of My Mother’s Voice, a book depicting her mother’s story as a victim and survivor of the Armenian Genocide.  She also wrote, narrated, and co-produced My Mother’s Voice, a documentary based on her book.  She holds a doctorate in education from Nova Southeastern University and holds degrees from Boston University and UCLA.

A Broken Culture

By Melissa Lake

I think one of the saddest travesties of our generation is the push for the decimation of individual culture. We are the generation that saw bhindis and belly skirts as fashion forward- as long as they adorned the bodies of skinny white women. We consider ourselves so receptive and accepting- as we assimilate all of these beautiful aspects of foreign culture into our own without any personal regard or sense of respect toward the people we steal it from. And it’s sadly not a one-sided affair.

Women and men of color- or of any foreign ethnicity- are too quick to abandon aspects of their culture that have permeated through generations. We are so quick to “white-wash” ourselves, to fit into a culture where when a white girl wears a sari it’s seen as “boho-chic” and when a brown girl wears one it’s “you’re in America now, it’s time to act like it”. We pick and choose what to like about a culture to fulfill our own selfish desires. We are selectively racist and electively ignorant. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard boys tell me how much they “love Armenian girls” and subsequently not even be able to so much as point out the general area Armenia is on a map or tell me a single fact about my culture. These boys praise themselves for being culturally liberal and morally righteous for being generous enough to be interested in a not-so-standard ideal of beauty (a foreign culture in this instance) when in reality they’re just trying to sleep with an exotic-looking girl. And I wish I could say Armenians are innocent to this tragedy, the forced “white-washing”, but we are just as guilty as anyone else.

I grew up around Armenian boys who proudly swore that they would “never date an Armenian girl”. Boys who fought so hard to lose their culture, to entirely disregard their ethnic identity, rather than realize they lived in a society that encouraged them to forget their heritage. I am so sick and tired of hearing my ethnicity being used as a sexual trademark. I am so sick of people telling me that they are or are not attracted to an entire race of people because it is or is not socially lauded to desire girls from that race. My ethnicity doesn’t make me special or more or less desirable. My ethnicity doesn’t make me “sexy” or “beautiful” or “slutty” or “trashy” or “shallow”. My ethnicity makes me Armenian and it’s me and my choices that make me everything else.

In the Name of Humanity

By Serkan Engin (Guest Contributor)

Through a collective struggle, I firmly believe that Armenian and Turkish youth can together destroy hatred. I am working to raise awareness through my writing, especially within the Turkish youth, of the Armenian Genocide as well as the Assyrian, Nestorian, Chaldean, and Greek genocides, which were all perpetrated by our Turkish ancestors.

I am trying to change the wrong perception about Armenians and Greeks in Turkey, which have been established by the lies of the official ideology. I am trying to show the awful truths of our history to the Turkish youth, so that we can erase the defaults of racist education in Turkey. We are taught that “One Turk is equal to the whole world,” arising from Fascist-Kemalist ideology, which has forbidden the existence of all ethnic identities that are not Turkish.

Adolf Hitler once said, “The first student of Mustafa Kemal was Mussolini, the second is me.” I believe that only conscience can save this world. We will not find reparation through big ideologies, big leaders, money, weapons, laws, or technology; our progress lies in the cohesive development and realization of conscience. Conscience can be developed by empathy, and empathy begins with recognizing the pain of other people. We all have to develop empathy with those who are suffering and stand behind all humans who are oppressed, ignored, exploited, and abused.

We have to succeed in feeling the pain of other humans across the world and we must refuse to be accepting of discrimination against those who come from different backgrounds and harbor different beliefs.

As the son of a Turkish woman, I accept and recognize the realities of the Armenian Genocide. Although I personally had no participation in this violent crime, I apologize to all the Armenian victims and kneel down in front of you in the name of humanity. Not only do I apologize for the Armenian Genocide, but I also apologize for the Holocaust, Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, Darfur, and every other genocide perpetrated by the conscienceless humans of our world. I believe that we shall overcome this hatred and lack of conscience someday.

_

Serkan Engin is a writer from Turkey whose poems have been published in numerous literary journals. He is an advocate of social change in Turkey and works to raise genocide awareness through his writing.

Turk

Us and Them

By Taleen Mardirossian

The only Armenia I knew growing up was the one I had envisioned in my mind. It was a place I had never visited, neither had my parents, nor my grandparents, yet the language, history, and culture of this unfamiliar place had somehow always been the center of my universe. And the simple fact that my family loved, cherished, and honored a country they had never known fascinated me. But this fascination transformed into fear during my very first flight to Yerevan. I felt sick to my stomach. What if I hate everything about this place?  I had way too much to lose and I wasn’t ready to give any of it up.

Luckily, this fear was short-lived. I fell in love with the open arms of strangers that could warm hearts with their embrace.  I fell in love with the voices of children, yelling at each other in Armenian. I fell in love with the sight of old men playing backgammon on the sidewalks, chewing their sunflower seeds. I fell in love with the wrinkled hands of women who cooked the tastiest meals from scratch. I fell in love with ancient books that had been covered in centuries worth of dust. I fell in love with the generosity and kindness exhibited by villagers who had nothing but gave everything to anyone who knocked on their door. I fell in love with the eyes of the elderly that told a different story with every blink.  I fell in love with the hearts, smiles, tears, and souls of my people. I fell in love with the churches, the mountains, the trees, and the lakes. I fell in love with a place that I had only known in my heart.

Although I felt at home, I quickly realized that I was an outsider to many. The simple fact that I didn’t speak the same dialect of Armenian automatically made me different in a “you’re obviously not one of us” kind of way. When asked about my thoughts on Armenia, I’d say something like I love it here, which turned out to be an answer that made me the subject of disapproving eyes, coupled with mouths that spoke bitter words in sweet tones. Words to remind me that in some way or another, living outside of Armenia’s borders meant that I shared no resemblance to this ‘authentic’ group; that my reflection was and always would be vividly unalike; that I somehow wasn’t entitled to that feeling of being home in Armenia. And so, I remained on the receiving end of strategically concealed comments during every subsequent visit. But it wasn’t until my most recent visit that a comment along these lines left me utterly shocked.

I landed in Yerevan, a hair away from feeling at home once again, and impatiently waited in line to get my passport stamped. As my turn approached, I walked towards the man at the counter, a smile blatantly visible on my face, and handed him my passport. His face was anything but pleasant as he browsed through it and failed terribly at his attempt to speak broken English while handing me a piece of paper.

“Write.”

He held up a form.

“Sign.”

Pointed to where I’m supposed to sign.

“Bring to me.”

He then motioned with his hand for me to move over to the next counter and bring back the form upon completion.

My smile immediately disappeared. It was obvious that he did not speak any English so I was having a hard time understanding why he wasn’t talking to me in Armenian. But then it clicked. He had seen my American passport and automatically assumed that I did not know a word of Armenian. I snatched the form from his hand, annoyed and not in the mood to argue after a 12-hour flight. I dragged my luggage, and myself, to the next nearest stand. Minutes later, I strutted back and dropped the form on his counter, every line filled out in Armenian. He stared at the form, then at me, then back at the form, then back at me, as if I had magically pulled a rabbit out of my pocket. I glared back with my don’t you feel stupid face, as he was having trouble finding words.

“How do you know how to write Armenian?” he finally asked.

“Because I’m Armenian.”

“No.”

He grabbed my passport and waved it in the air, as if I had never seen it before.

“You’re not Armenian. You’re an American.”

And you’re an asshole I wanted to say, but instead, I grabbed my passport and walked away.

He wasn’t completely wrong but he definitely wasn’t right. In the States, my un-American name comes with an automatic presumption that it belongs to a foreigner. So, regardless of the fact that I was born and raised in California, attended public schools my entire life, and speak English without the slightest accent attached to my tongue, I am undoubtedly identified as Armenian. And here I was, in Armenia, being told, by an Armenian, that I was not Armenian, merely because my passport stated otherwise.  Great, I thought to myself, I’m an Armenian in America and an American in Armenia.

Here’s what Mr. Rude will never understand; I can’t be one without the other. Living in America has certainly shaped the person I am today, but so has my family’s past. My roots cannot be unheeded and deemed void simply because I was born somewhere that is not Armenia. Referring to the Armenian diaspora as a population that is not Armenian is comical. These are the very people who preserved a culture and identity they were never directly exposed to. These people built Armenian churches in Muslim countries, stood trials in foreign courts, and created little Armenia’s all across the world out of passion for the land they come from and respect for the people who occupy it. While our ancestors were driven out of their homes, given no choice but to fight for their lives and flee elsewhere, we had to continue to fight discrimination and oppression long after they stepped foot into their safe havens.

There exists a flaw in the way Armenians perceive one another. Citizens in Armenia can’t begin to imagine the struggles faced by the diaspora to keep our identity overseas, and Armenians in the diaspora don’t know the challenges faced by those living in the Motherland, so let’s not pretend to understand. Whether a diasporan or a citizen, a Garabed or a Gary, native speaker or not, one is not inferior or superior to the other.

The soil beneath our feet may be different, but our roots are grounded in the same land. Our ancestors were targets of the same crime. Growing up, our ears heard the same melodies, our eyes read the same stories, our mouths spoke the same words, our hands moved to the same songs. Armenia has been a part of us, as much as it’s been a part of you. We must put our differences aside, move past “us” and “them”, and realize that the world sees us all as one people, Armenians. I think it’s about time we do the same.