BY MEGHEDI “MELODY” NAZARIAN
As Diaspora Armenians, there is one thought that is always looming in the back of our minds: “Am I being a good Armenian?” Sometimes it’s a whisper and other times, especially around April 24th, it’s a louder thudding wrapped in great guilt. It’s been hammered in our brains since youth: speak Armenian, make Armenian friends, go to Armenian events, marry an Armenian, raise Armenian children, etc. But I realized something when I went to Armenia for the ninth time this year: this same guilt is not shared by Armenians born and raised there. It makes sense; seeing as they hail from the Motherland, they don’t feel as though they have to prove their Armenian-ness. In other parts of the world, we feel bad that we haven’t “done anything” — but be born in an “odar” land — in contrast to the Genocide survivors and martyrs. But we can’t help where we were born. Being surrounded by this sense of ease and security in their identity and culture made me a little envious. And it made me question: what does it mean to be a good Armenian today?
For me, this feeling of guilt is usually heightened when I’m not in Armenia, but it does lurk its head in the Motherland too, especially when I’m doing things that aren’t very typical “Armenian,” aka anything other than visiting our sacred sights. But just because you can’t go every year or move your life there doesn’t mean you’re a lousy Armenian. You can still do so much from afar. Or being half Armenian doesn’t mean you’re only half as good. I’ve met plenty of part Armenians in the Birthright Armenia program that connect with their Armenian side just as much as those with full blood. If destiny led you to find a non-Armenian partner, it doesn’t mean you’re a traitor. Sometimes it’s ok to choose true love with an “odar” over a mediocre life with an Armenian, as long as you keep the traditions alive. We all deserve to live an extraordinary life. I know plenty of non-Armenian spouses who have visited Armenia and are now apostles for our country and cause. It’s also ok to care about cultures other than our own. We don’t have to degrade other races to elevate ours. We can visit Armenia and Italy and China and Egypt — and have an equally meaningful time in all places. It’s not a competition, there are no medals being awarded for the “Armenian of the Year.”
We need to tweak the old rules of what it is to be a good Armenian, all the while respecting our traditions. We have to go beyond the typical narrative because we’re living in a vastly different time than our ancestors, who had no choice to be ethnocentric in order for our culture to remain intact. We carry that responsibility, too, but in this more global day and age, it’s important to think broader, to be more accepting of our differences. We have to fuse being a good Armenian with being an upstanding human being. And we need to let each person decide for themselves what is it to be a good Armenian. Naturally each picture will vary from the next, but we will be more dynamic because of it! Today we need to celebrate being an individual. By accepting and loving one another for who we are — and not judging for how Armenian we aren’t — we will inevitably become a stronger collective.