BY TAMAR KEVONIAN
While waiting for an appointment at a local nail salon, a man, in his late 50s stepped up to the counter to pay for the services he had received. “I’m Christian,” he bellowed to his Korean manicurist loud enough for everyone in the room to hear. “I’m Armenian. You know the Genocide?” he asked her to stress his point. She nodded politely, took his money and sent him on his way without acknowledging any of his ramblings.
“Is this what we’ve been reduced to?” I thought to myself as I looked around at the other patrons’ reactions. The Armenian identity reduced to two pinpoints in a three thousand year history and hurled at a Korean woman who is far too concerned about the rigors of her daily life in a demanding city to really care much about Armenians, Christianity or the Genocide. Aren’t we more than that? There is 1700 years of history between the events of 301 A.D. and 1915 where we lived, laughed, fought, created an alphabet, had a golden age of letters, conquered and were conquered.
As survivors of violent and traumatic acts, we carry the wounds within us and pass it forward from one generation to the next. With the recent developments of the Armenian-Turkish protocols and the passage of the resolution by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, more focus than ever has shifted to this hot button issue.
“I hate being portrayed as a victim,” Talin says. “I’m tired of always discussing the Genocide or our identity.” She echoes the sentiment of many, who after years of exposure to the topic and the machinations of global politics, have become entirely burnt out on the issue of recognition. “The Genocide is a fact,” she says, “I see it as a step backwards when we go around trying to get people to agree to it.”
At a recent conference entitled The Power of Broadcast Media organized by the AGBU Hye Geen Young Circle, Roger Kupelian, one of the speakers, showed a reel of clips where Armenians have been referenced and portrayed in film and television throughout the 20th century. IT began with early portrayals such as in Elia Kazan’s America America with it’s portrayal of Armenian and Greek life in Turkey leading up to 1915, to the line in the original Star Trek series where William Shatner compares a future civilization on a distant planet to “Armenia, helpless innocents always found on the paths of war,” to the role Omar Sharrif’s embodies the Armenian king Sohamus in the Fall of the Roman Empire who betrays Rome and sides with its enemies, the Persians, with dire consequences. After this the depictions on the screen are either as survivors of the Genocide, immigrant restaurant owners or violent Mafioso’s – all caricatures and none of them positive.
“Do you believe in alien life?” asks Marianne during a late night conversation at a small gathering of friends.
“Of course there is other life in the universe,” says Richard, a scientist working on projects that will one day take us into space to explore other planets. “The galaxy is too vast to assume that there wouldn’t be.”
“Can you imagine a parallel world to ours where Armenians are at the top of the food chain?” I ask.
There is a momentary silence as they ponder the possibility. Beyond the passing allusions in epochs in history of people such as King Dickran’s vast but brief empire that ranged form “sea to sea” during the 5th century, there is no modern reference of Armenian strength and power in a global context. We have been a small player in a small region for too many centuries to make a difference to anyone besides a detail obsessed historian.
The silence was understandable. Generations of Armenians have never had cause to think of Armenia as a global power.
What would Armenia at the top look like?
On another planet in another universe, Armenia is a global power. The government influences policy in foreign lands, loans money to failing third world countries and feeds the poor of a vast subcontinent. Held as a paragon of democracy and loved or, even perhaps, hated by countries envious of its wealth, education system, law and order and high standard of living. Traveling with a passport issued by the Republic of Armenia is a breeze since every other nation has a dedicated customs booth for Armenian citizens to pass into their country bringing with them valuable Drams (Armenian currency) to spend and boost their economy.
With this happy outlook and secure in the knowledge of our place in the world, we no longer have the mantle of mourning, we wear bright and garishly colored clothing, assume everyone in the world speaks Armenian, and expect every restaurant, regardless of it’s cuisine, to serve khorovatz (kebab).
Can such a world ever exist? Should we expect that one day, in the future annals of history, it will come into being? Perhaps it is too farfetched an idea to think so. Maybe we should ponder it as a means of escaping from under the heavy shroud of victimhood and the constant need to explains and define the Armenian identity – especially focusing beyond the two bookends we have come to be known for: Christianity and Genocide.
Thinking a thought is the first step to making it a physical reality.
At the conference, all the speakers had a consensus on how to battle the stereotypes we are saddled with: prepare your own media. Become writers, producers, actors or journalist and have a voice in how the world perceives us by creating and promoting positive images of Armenians. In the modern world, Krimian Hayrig’s lament of only having ladles made of paper, can become our strength. Today, it is the paper – the written word or the filmed image – that is more powerful and influences the masses. We must begin our journey towards the future with the first step of using the tools available to us today – media, media, and more media.