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29.11.10

Why I Am No Longer Allowed To Be Armenian

Painful experiences like this have been a staple of Diasporan life over the past eight decades. One would think that, as time goes by and life gives some lessons, a few things would have changed. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. This is the umpteenth story of how an active and longtime supporter of many Armenian causes, both financially and morally, becomes worn out and fed up by pettiness and ingratitude. It does not matter whether in Chile or in the United States, whether governmental agencies or Diasporan institutions; sadly, the facts remain the facts. Let's faintly hope that something will change at some point in a foreseeable future.
Armen Kouyoumdjian
Chile 

Half way through my 63rd year, I have realised I cannot be an Armenian any more. Of course, I cannot change the genetics or the character, though I could do something about the tell-tale name. I cannot wipe off my knowledge of the language as if it were a file on a hard disk. In a way, I may have started my mutation earlier by marrying a non-Armenian, and then realising my children had no interest whatsoever in that side of their roots.
I find it impossible to be an Armenian because Armenians are their own worst enemies. That is why I think they will never achieve neither a dynamic modern homeland, nor an unconditional recognition of the Genocide, nor the survival of the Diaspora beyond an academic and folkloric community of limited following.
Those who know me may find these affirmations surprising, as I have dedicated some 45 years, since my late teens, to Armenian causes. I fought, with mixed success, with media misrepresentation, joined non-political organisations, stayed away from divisive groups, and did such diverse things as promoting the Armenian presence at the Cannes Film Festival to sinking (the word is used advisedly) more than a quarter of all my savings into helping people in Armenia with cultural sponsorship and individual assistance.
Though I found it ridiculous, I learned to live with the divisions and subdivisions of the various communities who spent more time fighting each other than pursuing common aims. I accepted with some exceptions the idiosyncracies of Armenia itself, thinking that they have had a hard time and deserved some positive discrimination and patience.
In less than one year, all my dreams and ideals fell apart. In late 2009, I realised that financial circumstances would not allow me to pursue my sponsorship in Armenia, and advised the 40 or so people involved of the fact. Most said that they understood and it did not matter, as I had done enough for 13 years. They insisted that their love and gratitude would perdure anyway. “Parole, parole, parole,” as the Italian song went. After sending my last contribution, I never heard from any of them again, even when I chased them. Not even an Armenian Christmas greeting. Much later, I asked a member of our community in Chile visiting Armenia, who had been instrumental in my initial involvement, to find out why I was being so ignored. He did not even bother to report back.
I resigned myself to try to help our small and struggling community in Chile, where we have no embassy, school or church, just a rundown old clubhouse where we meet up three or four times a year . The ambassador, covering Chile from Argentina, had asked me three years ago to be his informal liaison man. I can say without false modesty that I bent backwards to comply. We managed to have a Genocide resolution voted unanimously by the Chilean Senate and to be omnipresent in the local media whenever the need or occasion arose. I liaised with friendly embassies and reported on Turkish activities. I sent a weekly situation report on what was going on in all aspects of the country, also maintaining contact with Armenian communities in Latin America and beyond. I visited Armenia 11 times, met up with the Foreign and Diaspora Ministries, wrote papers ranging from geopolitics to diplomacy. On several occasions, I was asked to lecture on aspects of Armenian affairs both in Chile and abroad.
Suddenly, in March 2010, all communications from official Armenia to me stopped. Messages were not answered or even acknowledged, and no explanation was given. Last week, I learned that, without having received any advise myself, despite supposedly being “Embassy Liaison” and “Community International Adviser,” a Chilean lawyer with no link with or knowledge of Armenia had been formally accredited two months ago as Honorary Consul in Santiago. Not just I, but the community in general were not advised, nor did the nominated person make contact with his newly acquired flock. When I complained, I got a purposely distorted “explanation” which made no sense. Further research revealed that this individual also had a murky past in the Chilean diplomatic service.
Forgotten in Armenia, thrown away by the Diaspora, there is nowhere to go in my being an Armenian. Continue to behave like that, o Armenians, and see how far it will get you. An apology to the memory of my maternal grandfather Levón Hazarabedian, whom I never met, but who on his premature deathbed advised his family “to never become involved in Armenian affairs.” I am sorry not to have listened to you, medzbaba.

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