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“First Time I Saw Ararat”

There is something that has irked me for the past few years and a convergence of some things brought me to write this. Yesterday, in a discussion on an acquaintance’s facebook page about, simply put, Armenia-Diaspora relations, I posted a message which was later deleted. The thread was about an article posted in the Armenian Weekly which was dismissed as being a part of a “first time I saw Ararat” narrative.

In that message, I expounded on my discomfort with what I see as a trend among mostly Diasporans who have moved to Armenia and who have espoused a holier-than-thou approach to describing the Diaspora (which they came from) and anything it does. Below is the message as I could best recount it and several additions I made because I decided to elaborate on some of my points.

How about we stop with the either/or options about what we need to be doing [as Armenians]? It’s not enough that for decades, possibly centuries, Armenians have been lost because inane rules about how they should be Armenian were set out before them, often by self-appointed arbiters and usually centering around linguistic abilities, that we now have to create new reasons for how a person can be a “good” Armenian. “You want to care about Armenia? These are the things you should care about, otherwise, don’t bother!” How is this any different than the closed-mindedness of which the Diaspora is being accused?

If I want to go to Armenia, sit on the wall at Khor Virap, and stare at Ararat all day, I’m not a lesser Armenian because of it.

I’m sure none of those who have an issue with these “first time I saw Ararat” articles have cared for Ararat, reveled in the music of Gomidas, or enjoyed a cafe in Yerevan; they undoubtedly went straight to work on social and political issues in Armenia upon arrival. Nevertheless, some of these people [those visiting Armenia for the first time] are just taking their first steps and it might be better to let them arrive where you are rather than badgering them as soon as they’re out of the starting gate.

Frankly, I’m astounded at the arrogant, snide, and cynical attitude of many, though not all, ex-Diasporans who are so ready to disparage the nascent connection to the homeland of Diasporan Armenians otherwise on course to develop the deeper bonds they now enjoy. An attitude often conveyed through mockery.

Seeing Ararat for the first time and crying might be laughable to this holy set of enlightened individuals but it might be the first step toward a new paradigm for the neophyte Armenian. Indeed, it may have been the first time they saw that same Ararat or Garni or Sardarabad or Shushi when they became enlightened in the first place.

The wisdom of lambasting those who want to share their emotional connection to their homeland, however banal, while there are millions of Armenians who consciously elect to sever any such connection is dubious. If nothing, it’s immature.

Let’s start by appreciating those among us who have the courage to be Armenian and care about Armenia, in any capacity. That includes visiting Armenia and doing nothing but being a tourist which is done by no more than a fraction of Armenians worldwide. No one should take for granted that we have each other, even if it’s only to blame – there are millions of our brethren who are lost and care not.

Lots of things suck. The Diaspora understands little about Armenia, granted. Armenia, likewise, understands little about the Diaspora. Institutions in both Armenia and the Diaspora are, put euphemistically, underperforming. But do we solve these issues by pointing them out and shaking our heads? More to the point, do we solve these issues by taking something that’s not bad, but is not great, like a “first time I saw Ararat” narrative, and throwing it out the window along with things that are explicitly bad? If so, there isn’t much hope of moving beyond the current dynamic.

If people in Armenia and people in the Diaspora have any hope of understanding each other, they better start talking as though they don’t disdain each other’s existence. Ex-Diasporans could be appropriate intermediaries to that end.

But to get to that point, let’s get this straight: You are not better for moving to Armenia. You are not better for staying in Armenia. You are not better for having lived in Armenia. You are not better for living in the Diaspora. You are not better for donating to Armenia. You are not better for speaking Western Armenian. You are not better for speaking Eastern Armenian. You are not better for speaking English or Russian or Japanese.

There are many people who want to make the Diaspora better and there are many who want to make Armenia better – some of these overlap. My best guess is that the ones who are most successful are not doing it by marginalizing the cares and endeavors of others in favor of theirs.

We who call ourselves Armenian are in the same boat, however we cut it.

Construct progress instead of mourning its absence.

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