I am Armenian(?) Discovering the culture never given to me.
Do you ever wonder about the culture you identify with? Do you consider yourself part of it? Do you identify with it at all? I did. My last name, Dabbagian, is Armenian. However, I myself am only half Armenian.
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. Yesterday, I partook in a vigil/rally of sorts to motivate people for the main event today, which is a six mile trek from Little Armenia to the Turkish Embassy. Almost everyone at that rally could claim to be a descendant from someone who was a victim of the genocide. I too, am a descendant of one of those victims. My grandfather, Eris, barely escaped Turkey with his life at a young age. He would go on to marry a Lebanese woman and have two kids, one of whom would sire me. However, I am not full Armenian. I was born to an Armenian father and an Irish mother. Neither culture was recognized well in the family, but that was only a small bug compared to a far greater problem (at least in my mind.)
My last name is Armenian, and I carry Armenian blood in my veins, but yet I cannot speak Armenian. I consider it a fairly major shame of mine, to not be able to speak the language, although I am not without a valid reason. My grandfather became paranoid from what happened. Paranoid that people would discriminate against him for being Armenian (rightfully so, I might add.) In a decision fueled by fear and the current mentality of the US at the time thanks in no small part to the Red Scare, he made a constant effort to whitewash both my father and my aunt, refusing to teach even a shred of his culture…or the language. Simply put, I couldn't learn the language in youth because my father never learned it.
There are Armenians I have met out there that have given me disrespect for this. They told me that I wasn't Armenian, and that I was too whitewashed to ever consider myself one. They told me I should change my name to my mom’s Irish maiden name. I wondered if they were right.
For the most part though, I disregarded these thoughts and thought about what it would take to be better in touch with my Armenian side. In the last few years, I have wanted to peer into this side of my DNA. I wanted to feel more connected to Armenians, being that I was one myself. As such, I offered to accompany a friend to a candlelight vigil/rally so I could pay respects to my grandfather, and to those who died at the hands of the Ottoman Empire.
My friend was Armenian tried and true. Raised in Armenian schools, and fluent in the language, she was knowledgeable of almost every aspect of Armenia and its heritage. As expected, I was at a great disadvantage during the vigil due to not speaking Armenian. A good portion of the ceremony was in Armenian without any translation or subtitles whatsoever. My friend did offer to translate, but I declined, thinking she deserved to focus on the speech for herself. Yet this only slightly annoyed me. Truly, it furthered my resolve to learn the language. To my surprise, a few words from the times I attempted to learn the language manifested: Menk, which means “We,” “Votch,” which means “No,” and “Touk” which means “You.” I had made several attempts over the years to do so, one of which resulted in a rather stupid ripoff, but that’s for another time.
The vigil went on. I was treated to several types of Armenian music. Most of the audience clapped along in rhythm. I went along with it for a little bit, but decided to stop and truly listen to the music instead. As much as I dislike writing descriptions that involve “wooish” feelings, I actually felt the music within me, as if it was that long lost connection to my nationality that I had sought. Yet at the same time, I still merely felt like an observer.
One point in particular struck with me. As one of the speakers said, Turkey tried everything it could to kill every Armenian. It failed. “TURKEY FAILED!” the speaker cried out, and the audience responded in kind. “TURKEY FAILED!” And indeed it did. Despite all it did, the Armenian population survived. My grandfather made it here. I am here.
During the final song, a young man handed me a candle. A few minutes later another ignited it for me. Once the candle had hit its full glow, I followed suit with all the others in audience, slowly raising my hand and candle as high as it would go. A sea of glowing flames surrounded me, each one a candle held by one who, while separated by generations from 1915, were still affected by the events of that day.
At the end of it all, as I stood there before the memorial for the Armenian Genocide, if you had asked me if I felt like I was Armenian…I still would not have been able to tell you. I still had a few questions left within me. Was it right for me to be there? My last name may have I-A-N at the end, but was that truly enough for me to consider myself Armenian? I mulled these facts over as my friend drove me home. We ended up discussing a couple other things, including people that chided both me and her for not being in their eyes “Positive.” She replied with “Armenians, we tell it like it is!” she said. We kept talking. Finding more similarities betweel us. And then, there, more than any other way, did I truly understand the truth… I am as much an Armenian as anyone with full blood. Even if I don’t speak the language.
Turkey failed. Whether others consider me Armenian or not, I am here.