We Are Honest Soldiers

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.

Armenian-American

By Melissa Lake

People, after learning I’m Armenian, often ask me how I identify myself. In essence, they’re asking me which little white box I check off on forms underneath the ethnicity section. White? Asian? Other?

Born fair-haired and light-skinned, from a young age I identified by exactly what I appeared to be- white. As I grew older and I discovered the palest shade of makeup was still too dark for my ivory skin, my ethnic identity was pretty firmly founded. And along with my ethnicity came the privilege that being categorized as “white” contains- no snide remarks were ever made about the color of my skin, no latent prejudices; the system was more skewed to work in my favor. I never faced racism or discrimination because of the color of my skin. I was (as almost sickening as it is to say) blessed for being born white. But my mother wasn’t so lucky. Already crippled by a thick and barely distinguishable accent, the combination of that along with her darker skin and her exotic features immediately categorized her as a foreigner, and by direct association, an outcast. People treated her differently than they would treat me. Clerks and cashiers in stores grew immediately impatient with her, people would slander her with terrorist incriminations or various snide remarks. She was often the butt end of every joke about foreigners. People on a consistent basis would tell her to “go back to where she came from”, to “learn English”- it was a constant onslaught of people reminding her of how much she didn’t belong, of how different she was. And where I was advantaged because of my race, she was hindered by hers. People, especially people who are privileged enough to not have to personally face it, tend to be very ignorant of the subtle racism that occurs within our everyday lives. Even blindly, unknowingly, seemingly subconsciously, we commit indistinct acts, seemingly harmless, of racism and discrimination- choosing a line that’s a little longer at the checkout to avoid the cashier with the accent, making a snide joke about the waiter- even I, born to a mother who is forced to endure these offences on a daily basis, am guilty. And my mother cannot be the only victim in this and I the only perpetrator.

Armenians are a people who have been ostracized for generations and while at times our voices against our oppressors speak loud and true, other times they are muffled pleas fading into background noise. Sometimes the fight has to be a small one, a single battle in a larger war. We are not voiceless victims and we must also be accepting and understanding of those who share the same fate and circumstance as our ancestors and that we still endure today. Being Armenian isn’t just being Armenian, it’s being human. It’s being strong and compassionate and empathetic. And for that reason we have to recognize that thousands of Armenians and other peoples face injustice and discrimination across the country for being considered foreign in a land they have called home for years if not generations. The struggle with being Armenian may start with the Genocide but it doesn’t end there, not with thousands being considered second class citizens for the way they dress or speak or look. The Genocide will never be acknowledged unless something is said, unless a voice is carried to an ear that will hear it and act upon it. And as much as it is an obligation for us all to speak for those who can no longer speak, it is also a responsibility for us to speak for those who speak and who will not be heard, for what good is a voice if no one will listen?