100 Years Later

By Melissa Lake

There is absolutely no rebuttal in saying that the Armenian Genocide was a horrific and senseless display of human cruelty and indifference. It is a large, unsightly stain upon the history of the world. I’m certain that if it were scientifically possible, most people would have it so that such an immense human tragedy had never happened.

However, while some may think it callous to say so, it would be historically and culturally ignorant to not take into consideration the few positive outcomes that resulted from the Armenian Genocide.

Armenians today could be described as a diaspora culture. Our ethnic heritage may have its roots placed in a small area in the west of Europe but the branches of our cultural tree have grown far and wide across the globe. A culture once fenced in and limited to a specific geographical region of the world has both developed and evolved, changing and morphing into something much different from what it began, as well as much different from other branches on the same familial tree.

Armenians are a people united in origin and fundamental cultural and dogmatic practices and yet it seems almost as if that is where our unity ends. The mass displacement of Armenians during the years preceding and during the genocide caused an irreparable cultural tear from traditional practices that we can easily see the effects of today. Armenians raised generationally in Syria, or Istanbul, or on the East Coast of the United States, while sharing some lasting and vital cultural characteristics, could be labeled as their own unique subcultures, somewhat similar but still astoundingly different.

I first realized this when I dated an Armenian who had grown up in New York City. At a young age, he had been adopted from Armenia. Both his parents were Armenian, so he spent the entirety of his young adult life immersed in his personal sect of Armenian culture- a small diaspora located in the New York/New Jersey area. So much of his appeal to me was a chance to connect with someone with a similar cultural background- to be able to share common beliefs and ideals and family lifestyles. But the more time I spent with him, the more acutely aware I became of the dissimilarity we shared culturally. His family life was much more reserved and conservative, full of professionals who behaved, well, professionally. And my family life was far different. The Armenians I grew up with were carefree, eccentric and astoundingly loud. So when I tried to joke with him about how the most cheetah print and stripper heels I’ve ever seen in my life were at the Armenian church on Easter Sunday, he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. And it was then that I realized exactly how much our culture has changed. The diaspora I grew up in, a large community of mostly Turkish and Syrian Armenians, was bound to be immensely different than others across the world. So much of our cultural traditions had adapted and grew with our change of scenery so that now, intermingled with our traditional beliefs and practices, are customs native to the places Armenians have found themselves. So my reality was that my culture was as much Turkish as it was Armenian, regardless of the fact that my mother and my family had spent their whole lives immersed in “Armenian” culture.

Many see this as a terrible tragedy, as an egregious calamitous aftermath of a horrific event. Yet it seems that the people who see it this way are also those that believe that change is terrifying. Cultural evolution, especially from a biological and historical context, is not only intrinsically necessary but humanitarianly beneficial. Culture changes with the evolution of time. The fact that Armenians as a people were able to experience such an immense tragedy and still maintain a base foundational cultural identity is less of an unfortunate loss and more of a remarkable achievement.

For a people who were ignored for much of history, Armenians across the world have been gaining renown and spreading Armenian awareness with their success, all while breathing new life into Armenian cultural identity. And still all Armenians share the cultural pain of our genocide. For such an immense act of human injustice, the Armenian Genocide is in all likelihood one of the largest sources for encouragement on Armenian communal gathering today. To say it is culturally irrelevant or unimportant would be to disregard what Armenian culture has become. Through such immense hardship and strife, Armenians have endured, and this shared strength and pride and yet also immense sadness has woven itself into a key block in the foundation of Armenian culture.

So through all of the varying differences Armenians culturally share today we are bonded together foundationally by our shared history and our distant past. Where we may lead different lifestyles and have different beliefs, as a culture we are bonded by what we were and what we’ve endured but also by what we may become. As the 100 year anniversary of the genocide looms ever closer, Armenians have become more active in their communities than ever and slowly but surely gaps that have existed between varying diasporas are narrowing. For a country that once struggled to maintain its cultural identity in the midst of war and systematic annihilation, it has flourished and grown into something even greater than what it began.

One thought on “100 Years Later

  1. While I agree with you on some points, I disagree with you on others. First of all, in the old country of Turkey, traditions and cultures were as diverse as they are here, according to the region you came from. My friend whose parents were from Kharpet, does not even recognize the food that I grew up with from Ayntab. My Dad was a survivor, and my mother whose mother immigrated to Cyprus during the Hammidian massacure, and then immigrated here, also had different customs. My fathers family had wealth, power and money before the genocide and were employees of the government. My great grand father was the ambassador to Persia from Turkey, while my mothers family were vendors of cloth, and although they were prosperous they did have different customs. I can remember my gandmothers shame all thru her life as to the fate of my grandfather who was shot by his paramour’s husband. She also had a tat on her check and was ashamed of that. In the culture of the old country those things brought shame on the victim. So when my parents married, my dad who by that time had become schooled in this country and had a business was much more American than my mom. This brought a lot of turmoil to my life and that of my siblings, now I see it as culture clash. Things I did shamed her[like getting a divorce] and remarrying. While my dad thought of it as going forward. Although he never talked about the genocide, he gave me bits and pieces, while my grandmother never talked about it at all. And then there are the Russian Armenians who when we moved to California when I was ten years old, looked upon us as vermin, who let the Turks kill us. I am not just talking about myself but my other Turkish Armenian friends, as well. The Russian Armenians had come to California and especially East Los Angeles,in droves, long before the Genocide. Their superior attitude towards us in school and church drove a wedge between us. Back in the day, there was a big rift between the two cultures which persists even today in families. So to bring this to a point, I tried to keep some of the good traditions, like the food and the holidays, but drop the others like the shame. My brother who married into a Russian Armenian family was torn between the two cultures. According to his wife [who has since passed] the groom pays for the wedding which put a burden on my parents, as she wanted this big huge affair, and in the Russian tradition the husband goes over to the wife’s side. In the Turkish tradition, according to my grandmother, in western Armenia, the husband paid a dowry for the wife, and he came over to the wife’s side. So during their marriage, our family was more or less estranged from him for over thirty years until her death when we all got back together. I could go on, but you get the drift.

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