By Mher Apo Boghigian (Guest Contributor)
To Armenians, the month of April is a unique frame of time. At the core of its sentimental significance is a sense of history, remembrance, activism, and grief. On a less personal level, it represents a time when Armenians work to make themselves more vocal to those who are not Armenian. Public protests, exhibits, vigils, and educationals fill the calendar. Turnouts are analyzed. Absences are accounted for.
April’s enterprise repeats every year with more or less the same results: local papers include a piece on an event, bits of controversy are stirred, and those who spent the previous months preparing for the activism struggle to reap the fruit of their labor in terms of publicity. Perhaps there are a few exceptions, but this is more or less an honest evaluation. On a more positive note, it speaks to the passion of our people that these struggles have never resulted in relenting. A century passes and the children of children of leaders and parents who organized pioneering protests on all corners of the world now hold the responsibility of carrying our ever-important tradition of demonstration.
But what are the limits of passion? Or, more aptly posed, how long can this passion last? This is an admittedly frightening question I often ask myself.
To say that the burden of seeking publicity does not feel taxing at times would be an outright lie. For decades, those who cared to share in the public outcry are met with few compassionate ears and even fewer eyes. At times, it begins to feel as if we are doing it for ourselves rather than others. Falling under this impression is not hard.
But then, suddenly, a bit of substantiation.
Following an abrupt and frankly unprecedented period of publicity, those that may have been previously regarded as unreachable have temporarily been unlocked. Publications that have millions upon millions of viewers are now glancing at headlines pertaining to the Armenian Genocide. We have—if only for a period of time—been heard.
Make no mistake, the degree to which the media is now covering the centennial is absolutely staggering. From The New York Times, to The Guardian, BBC, The Wall Street Journal, and even platforms of native advertising such as Buzzfeed, the knowledge of our collective history is at this time reaching ears that were previously light-years away. The unreachable has been accessed.
What has caused this surge?
Pope Francis has bluntly spoken to the world about the realities of the genocide—an incredible revelation.
The storm of media, regardless of what their motivations might be, follow a mega-star and his reality-TV wife to Armenia to capture their each and every movement. In the background of their makeup and flamboyant clothing, an entire country is made visible to those who might not have known that a country named Armenia has existed.
So, what has really changed?
Nothing has changed.
Apart from our growing access to education and evolving methods of activism that very well may have contributed to this frenzy, we have been endowed with a beautiful stroke of luck.
This is not a disheartening notion, though. Fortune always plays a part, and heaven knows that as a nation we are not too familiar with it. It’s vindication. Though those who have dedicated a greater deal of time in their lives to the remembrance of genocide can claim that their fire has never wavered, it would be naïve to think that the same applies to the majority of Armenians. Like it or not, it is often the case that people have a need to experience a return in exchange for hard work in order to maintain a level of performance. This is no different.
Thus, herein lies a personal confession of mine: I have personally suffered from this mentality.
But instead of continuing my tradition of self-deprecation, I told myself to look back on the body of work my peers and community have amassed. Let me tell those who don’t already know, what I found is nothing short of remarkable. When people who are Armenians say that the genocide has become a part of our identity, they are not wrong. In the past century, the ripples of the atrocity have engrained themselves into our cultural DNA. Our stubbornness in maintaining Armenian music and dance, our language and alphabet, the fact that I am a second-generation Armenian-American (my mother grew up in the City of Angels) and can read and write my language–these are all things I’ve personally taken for granted, or perhaps just overlooked. But this realization only strengthens my convictions about the potential of Armenia and the degree to which we can culturally prosper.
So, with the world’s eyes now somewhat fixed upon our country and what we’ve been vocally fighting for the last hundred years, what do we do?
I suggest that we do what we’ve done to get us here in the first place. We speak Armenian to one another as often as possible and help teach it to those who are willing to learn. We sing and dance and continue participating in terrific events such as Innovate Armenia at the University of Southern California. We continue to be ready for the challenges of publicity. If the diaspora kept a physical portfolio that represents everything we’ve done to battle the ignorance and perpetuation of denial, we would swimmingly ace the equivalent of a Harvard interview with its credentials.
Now, a final frightening question: After this year passes and we are faced with the not-so-sexy number of 101, will the interest that has grown in regard to our people falter, or slow down?
I don’t know the answer to this question. I do know, however, that in 2016, regardless of it being a marketable number or occasion, there will still be a very great number of people worldwide who have just heard of us, and more who still will. We are refreshed. Our country is still in its mid-twenties. We have soccer players playing for the biggest squads in the world (I’m looking at you Henrikh), artists and engineers sprouting from cracks in the concrete, and an ever-improving sense of our place and potential in the world. Despite there still being some very real and worrisome issues in the country, there will always be those who work to address it.
With the stage becoming larger and larger, I wholeheartedly believe that our actors will grow with it. Our decades-long training in perseverance and dealing with injustice will continue to yield habits of self-improvement. The weight of attention we have been looking for will not make us sink, but help us grow more able and resolute. Ultimately, it is because of our track record, our effort-filled past rather than our bright future, that I cannot help but feel astonishingly optimistic about the prospects of Armenia.
Mher is a 21-year-old Los Angeles native currently studying English Literature at UC Berkeley, and is eager to pursue Journalism after graduation. He is a huge fan of football (soccer) and harbors a secret passion for acting.