Internalizing Western Armenia

Varak Ketsemanian

Nineteen-fifteen was the date that separated a significant part of the Armenian Nation from not only its homeland, but from the historical reality as well. Western Armenia was marginalized from the collective concerns and reality of the Armenians living in the diaspora, as if the genocide had eradicated it from the hearts of its inhabitants. The severity of this marginalization is evidenced by the fact that no serious and sustained contact has been made with it since 1915, which has led us to the alienation of Western Armenia and consequently to its “taboo”-ization.
The term alienation implies estrangement. This best describes the current relationship, if there is one, between “Western Armenia” as an entity and the Armenians of the diaspora. The focus of this article is on diasporans, as those living in the Republic of Armenia underwent a very different post-genocide process as part of the Soviet Union. The symptoms of alienation are multiple; yet, here, I will focus on the most important ones.
The most conspicuous sign of alienation is a lack of interest. Presently, I do not believe a large number of Armenians are really interested in exploring this alienated entity called “Western Armenia,” as if the present-day borders between Turkey and Armenia not only separated the two republics, but were also the virtual demarcation line between reality (the actual Republic of Armenia) and the lost part of the homeland. We please and satisfy ourselves by empty slogans such as, “We want the Sevres Treaty” or “We demand our lands back.” Yet, when it comes to practical matters, we are unaware of the lands we are demanding, and even of the actual borders the Sevres Treaty outlined. In short, we demand what we are ignorant of.
Our present struggle resembles a doctor who prescribes a treatment to a patient, without actually seeing or examining him. How can we demand something, without actually knowing it? This is the ultimate form of alienation. Therefore, the notion of a “Western Armenia” is a vague and abstract concept in our minds, as long as we remain ignorant of its various components—churches, monasteries, villages, and people. All of this does not imply that we should know each and every church or village that is there by heart, but we must begin to dispel the abstraction. A related symptom of this alienation is seen through our unwillingness to investigate, explore, and examine this “Western Armenia.” The majority of the Armenians today do not show the least amount of preparedness to spend some time and effort in this regard. Fortunately, however, a small group of Armenian scholars, journalists, historians, and photographers has emerged, and is working relentlessly in an attempt to bring to light the “dark sides” of Western Armenia. For those who have taken this national burden upon their shoulders, we salute you.
This brings us to the second phenomenon, which is actually more detrimental to the social consciousness and collective thinking of diasporans. It is the “taboo”ization of “Western Armenia.” I’m not referring to those Armenians who are generally inactive or indifferent towards diasporan community life, the activities of political parties, cultural associations, or the national psyche in general, but those who despite their involvement in community/political/cultural life, have adopted a dangerous attitude with regard to this whole issue of “Western Armenia.” This is exactly where the “taboo”-ization comes in: Due to alienation, we have reached a point where our fellow Armenians refuse to take part in any expedition, activity, or investigation of “Western Armenia.” We hear the following arguments as justification for this position: “We don’t want to step foot on Turkish soil,” or even worse, “We will go to Western Armenia once it’s emancipated.” Is it just me, or does there seem to be a clear fallacy in the structure of their logic? I cannot come to grips with these statements, since I do not understand who they are referring to: Who will this emancipator be, when no one is working towards that direction? Are we also waiting for the Messiah who will liberate our lands? The failure to internalize “Western Armenia” led to its alienation and, subsequently, to its rejection from our reality.
I believe there is another problem interwoven in this issue of “Western Armenia”: Are we ready to accept the “hidden Armenians” as “real” Armenians and integrate them in our consciousness? We have problems accepting each other in the diaspora, let alone “hidden Armenians” who are Muslim and speak only Turkish or Kurdish.
The “taboo”-ization—and hence, the rejection—of “Western Armenia” as the essential axis of our struggle will undermine the whole raison d’être of our political organizations. Let us not forget that in the 19th century, the spirit of struggle emerged in response to the situation in “Erkir.” If we are truly the children of those organizations, I suggest we start putting “Western Armenia” in the forefront. Unless we truly internalize it, and make it a part of our daily concerns, our struggle will remain an empty barrel that looks solid from the outside, yet sounds the echoes of emptiness upon thumping.

"The Armenian Weekly," September 19, 2013

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