Yerevan, Armenia by Jean-Raffi Nazarian, 2014
There is no “aspirin” for building an identity with our heritage and faith

Photo: Yerevan, Armenia by Jean-Raffi Nazarian, 2014

As Armenian parents or prospective parents in the diaspora, we worry about our future. Will our children enjoy the same sense of community and identity with our heritage that we have inherited? How do we instill the knowledge and emotional connection necessary for an Armenian living in the diaspora? Can we succeed in establishing its importance in the priorities of their ever increasing hectic lives? The cycle of life has a way of reminding us of things that we may have been oblivious to in our youth.

I don’t remember stressing over the future of the community or our ethnic identity in my developing years. We simply enjoyed the environment that our parents either created or were connected to. We went to camps, Sunday school, youth groups, athletic events and of course family gatherings (Sunday chicken and pilaf). We took full advantage of our “dual identity” as Americans and Armenians. For many, the weekdays were full of the things typical American kids did—school, neighborhood friends and athletic commitments. On weekends, we morphed into Armenians with family, church and organizations. Of course, it was not always as binary as this, especially if you lived in a densely Armenian populated community. But for most, the duality was reality.

As I grew into my 20s and began to invest my time in my career and my marriage, I began to have a different perspective. It was then that I developed a much deeper appreciation for what we inherited and how my parents must have thought about the future of our identity. Maturity and experience tend to open our eyes. I realized that without commitment, we could lose all of this. From that moment, the tagline of our community involvement has been “respect the past, and build for the future.”

I have always been fascinated with this topic concerning our Armenian identity in the diaspora. It is a serious one, but we have to be careful not to over-intellectualize the challenge. It is about responsibility, knowledge and action. My generation was the last to have the blessing of grandparents who were survivors of the genocide and native to historic Armenia. When we dreamed of Armenia or imagined what it was like, we looked at our grandparents. We admired their accents and loved to learn about what village they were from so we could say what “tzi” our families were. As that generation passed on, many of us felt a significant void. It was not simply because of them as grandparents. Of course we loved them dearly, but in many ways they were our connection to Armenia and its civilization that our parents advocated in our education. This was a difficult transition but it made that generation realize that they had that time with the surviving generation for a very important reason beyond family. It was to be inspired, to learn, to prepare. It was now our responsibility to carry forward just as many generations had for centuries.

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