The cluster of young women, dressed in their logo-ed shirts and black skirts look sleek and professional. They are here to promote a magazine. A few minutes before the floor manager is ready to open the house, they rush past the guests waiting in line and make their way towards the tables set up for them. Excitement is high. Over three thousand Armenians have made the 250 mile trip to Las Vegas, Nevada to hear the greatest Armenian pop star of today.
The room, lit by candles and the wash of lights from the stage, is a sea of tables. Waiters, with glowing white napkins slung over their arms, stand at attention next to each table and face the doors. The women quickly prepare their wares and, mimicking the waiters, stand at their post in anticipation. All is ready.
The guests begin to filter in through the doors and soon the room is full. Excited voices are drowned out by the music playing overhead. The women on duty, all in their twenties, smile at the guests hoping to be given the opportunity to tell them about their wonderful product, but alas, they are thwarted. Although the patrons look at the poster next to the table and glance at the beautifully arranged magazines, they quickly look away when eye contact is made.
“Don’t worry, this is going to be a better crowd,” one of them says, referring to the evening before when half the number of people attended the concert of yet another Armenian singer.
“Yeah, this crowd is better dressed,” the other girl responds. “Last night they couldn’t even speak English.” She says it jokingly but there is a truth in her statement and it is telling. A mere twenty-four hours before, with the same level of preparedness and enthusiasm, the women made the same presentation. As the evening wore on, their energy ebbed away and was replaced by frustration and disdain for the attendees.
“I can’t believe these people,” one of them exclaimed at the end of the evening the night before. “They walk right past us and ignore us.”
“Especially the women.”
“And the men come up with stupid excuses. Do they think we’re stupid?”
“To avoid buying the magazine, they tell us they don’t speak English, in English!”
“One guy even claimed to have dropped out of school in the fourth grade to avoid subscribing. But he kept telling other people that it was great and they should subscribe.” They all shook their heads in disbelief.
“Tonight is a much more mixed crowd,” chimed in one of the women as a form of encouragement, “I see a lot of Barsgahyes (Persian-Armenians).”
In contrast to attendees of the night before who were predominantly Hayastansti (those from Armenia), tonight’s crowd was a more of a mixture of a variety of Diasporan Armenians. Although many were still from Armenia, there was a healthy representation of Armenians with roots from Iran or the Middle East.
The next day, during the long drive home, the subject of the differences amongst the various Armenians became the topic of a lively discussion. The women themselves hail from the various corners of the Diaspora –Armenia, Europe, the Middle East and the United States.
“Some people were so rude. One woman even turned her back to me while I was talking to her.”
“Yeah, but some were really nice. One woman bought copies of the magazine for everyone on her table.”
“The ones really interested were not Hayastansti,” observed one of the women and in fact, the majority of subscription sales were done by the Diasporan Armenians in the audience.
“Growing up in Europe where there were so few Armenians, anytime an Armenian event took place, everyone flocked to it. And if anything Armenian was being sold, we all bought everything. I still do that today.”
“Here it’s almost like they don’t care.”
“I think Hayastansti’s approach is that they are Armenian and don’t have the need to prove it. While the rest of us, who were born and raised in the Diaspora and are children of Diasporans, always feel a need to define ourselves,” one of the women says. She is describing the collective feeling of being identified as an ‘other’ in the countries in which Armenians have attempted to set down roots – starting in the Ottoman Empire, then onto the post Genocide Middle East and finally into Europe. “Armenians from Muslim countries are like that more than anyone else.”
“Hayastansti’s don’t feel they need to participate in the structure of the community,” remarks one of the women. What she means is that organizations, that Hayastansti’s shun, have sustained the community while instilling the spirit of being Armenian into the next generation. They established the foundation that makes the re-establishment into the newly adopted countries a much easier process for the new arrivals. Cities such as Glendale, California, with its predominantly Armenian population, allows for the luxury of conducting the daily business of living without uttering a single word of English.
But like all great cities of the Diaspora, Glendale too shall pass and become a footnote in the long history of Armenians. All who took their ethnic identity for granted will find themselves in a new land creating a new community and hungrily seeking out all the things that reflect their culture while struggling to keep the next generation engaged in the Armenian issues of the day. This we know will happen. Just look at the current state of such historical cultural centers such as Tbilisi, Istanbul, Calcutta or Beirut where the community, culture, literature and art reached the apex of their relevance but within a couple of generations declined into the sparsely populated communities they are today.
“They [Hayastansti’s] will realize the importance of the Diasporan communities and what they have done in a couple of generations when their grandchildren no longer speak Armenian and have moved away from the community,” concludes one of the women and they all express their agreement.