By Taniel Aram (Guest Contributor)
Grandma raises her index finger high into the air, waving in a circular motion as vibrations of the plucked qanun strings pass through the iPad speakers. Badalian’s voice comes next and with a prideful smile, Grandma starts singing alongside him.
“Մենք անկեղծ զինուոր ենք, առանց ի վիճակ, Ուխտել ենք ծառայել երկար ժամանակ:”
Hayk and Pel. The Battle of Avarayr. Survival after 1915. Through the annals of history, defiance has been an unwavering characteristic, a defining trait, of the Armenian people.
Existence is given to us. But defiance, defiance is earned, honored, mourned or canonized, through action, in a collective pursuit of justice.
Historical consensus indicates Armenian defiance as best represented by sharp wit, innovation, a moral compass for justice, or resistance to submission, rather than military might. Outmanned and outgunned, Karabakh was liberated with an impressive tactical strategy. Operation Nemesis members planned obsessively and took justice into their own hands, despite a cold shoulder from allied intelligentsia. And of course the 250 Armenian intellectuals, the first targets of the Armenian Genocide, who were murdered for representing these very values of intellect as leaders of the Armenian people.
While military resistance can be interpreted as a form of defiance, what that struggle stood for, as a last effort to resist extinction and protect a race in its rightful homeland, was a more accurate definition for the Armenian case. “Ազատութիւն կամ մահ,” the Armenians shouted, an ode to American patriot Patrick Henry.
Grandma follows Badalian word for word. I see the emotion in her eyes as she continues to sing:
“Արիւն, սուր ու հուր, պատերազմի դաշտ կը սպասեն մեզի:”
The timeless ballad takes on Armenian resistance in the military sense. With trust betrayed, unanswered calls for help, thousands of churches and schools burned, and an entire civilization destroyed, the bravest of Armenian men and women took up arms to defend their villages and save their families. In the absence of leading Armenian intellectuals, the fedayi became the zinvor, and the zinvor, the fedayi.
The song reaches its emotional apex as grandma clenches her fist and pounds the breakfast room table, singing with hearty pride:
“Համոզուած ենք, որ միայն զէնքով կայ հայոց փրկութիւն:”
She takes a breath and stops singing for a moment, reflective on her family’s story of survival, yet afraid of changing times.
The songs and stories of old are nostalgic, but are, after all, at risk of fading. Fading in a world of multi-million dollar Turkish denialist campaigns, in a world of corrupt, tainted oil money in Azerbaijan, and in the evolving geopolitics of the modern world.
Defiance. Defiance is our answer to this shifting landscape.
We are the new generation of Armenian intellectuals; lawyers, investment bankers, entrepreneurs, innovators, scientists, doctors, professors, clergymen, and researchers. We honor our ancestors and uphold moral integrity in our collective pursuit of justice. In thinking critically, chasing success and innovation, and challenging the status quo, we have returned to our roots of defiance, where the intellectual is the zinvor, and the zinvor, the intellectual.
Let’s ask ourselves- if we were alive on April 24, 1915, would we have been arrested for our leadership, based on our life accomplishments to this point in time? Our answer should be yes. If it isn’t, we have work to do.
Before she resumes singing, I correct Grandma:
“Համոզուած ենք, որ միայն գրիչով կայ հայոց փրկութիւն:”
By way of intellect, our defiance was, and anew is, our means for survival. As for the pen, that’s our weapon of choice.
Born in Germany and raised in New York City, Taniel Aram now divides his time between scouring the ancient ruins of fallen civilizations and surfing the waters of Southern California. He holds three different degrees rooted in Literature and Anthropology from three different Ivy League universities, one of which he now conducts research for. Taniel still finds time in his busy schedule to explore the outdoors with his rescue golden retriever Dickens, swim with sharks, and run the occasional triathlon.