It was a piercing mesh of sound. The noise of a bouncing basketball met with persistent jeering, accompanied by a faint melody of a Tata song combined to resonate within my ears a soundtrack to the image that was frozen within the interiors of my eye lids. The mind tends to be a capsule saturated with frozen moments, feelings, freeze frames of seconds in time that never passed. It pays no mind to weeks, months or years blending them into a water colored blur but minutes, seconds, specs in time are sketched in dire detail into the depths of your skin.
I was a13 year old 8th grader at Chamlian Armenian School and we were on our much anticipated class trip to Armenia. A place we had only read about, seen pictures of, been tested on. We were told to speak of its praises, we knew its history, its anthem, its geography. Then why did I feel so far away from home? There was a sharp chill that engulfed my skeleton as I mustered a tentative “eench?” He was a young boy about my age. His clothes were too small on him as his jeans revealed his naked ankles. Face dirty, missing teeth, matted hair, he was laughing at me. I had spoken Armenian to him. The same Armenian I had spoken since birth. The one my parents enforced within our house. The one I spent hours learning and perfecting at my fancy Armenian School. He made me repeat what I had said to his friends and they laughed like I had been placed there to be a spectacle of amusement for them. He mocked me then thrashed a statement in my direction. It approached my ear and cut my skin with the slick sharpness of a razor. I thought I understood what he said but decided I was mistaken. Denial perhaps or the innocent naivete of a sheltered child who rarely stepped outside the bounds of the Utopia her family had created for her. “Eench?”, I meekly repeated. The boy laughed and repeated his original statement, “Toorkee nman es khosoom. Vonce vor Toork lineyeer”.
Amongst the noises of the basketball game behind me, the very basketball game that was scheduled between our school and the local school in Yerevan to promote unification and brotherhood, I heard the word loud and clear: “Turk”. There I was standing in all my glory and excitement of finally being where our Armenian teachers called “home” intercepting what might as well have been a plethora of obscenities to my pristine 13 year old mind. I silently walked away. The rest of the day I went through the motions of various tours and activities quietly mulling over what I could have done wrong. Was my grammar off? Did I accidentally mispronounce a word out of excitement? But it was the same phrase I had been saying since I was a child, “Eench bes es”. Was it not a custom in Armenia to ask how one is upon being acquainted?
Looking back on this event from my youth that was so distinctly imprinted into my veins and is wedged so deeply within my mental capsule for safekeeping, I am flooded with an overwhelming mixture of brash emotions. I should have responded. I should have said something and stood up for myself and my friends. He had no idea how his words had affected me. How they made me question the sincere pride I had towards my culture and my people. He didn’t have the slightest inclination of the lasting impression his simple remark had made on my impressionable 13 year old psyche. Looking at it retrospect, I can reminisce about how pure and untainted my sentiments were. Now that years have passed and life has taken its toll and reality has brushed away all the remnants of childhood fairy tales and experience has only left a glimmer of worldly idealism, I look at the memory with a new perspective…
Armenians. The subtle discrimination begins on the school yard playground. “Parskahays” or “Beirutsis” versus “Rabeez Armos”. We have become a Diaspora where one of the first questions when addressing a fellow Armenian is, “What type of Armenian are you?”. What is the correct answer to that question? The good type? The bad type? It is my belief that indulging in the trivial social differences of cultural sub-categories slowly but surely hinders unification as a people in more ways than one. Statements such as “My parents would never let me marry a Hayastansi” or “I don’t understand your type of Armenian, just speak English”, in my opinion, will eventually be the most efficient way of shooting ourselves in the foot as far as political and international progression. It can potentially be responsible for further severing the fine string that connects the “Hayerenik” with the “Spyurk”. It can promote the widening of the gap between us and them, rub salt in the wounds of the obvious disconnect. I live in America. I am an American citizen. My ancestors from my father’s side were originally from Sasoun and relocated to Beirut, Lebanon during the Turkish massacres leading up to 1915. They left their home, their friends, their land, their wealth, their life and moved to a foreign land with nothing in order to survive. Their remnants, my roots, my history begins on historic Armenian soil.
I am Armenian. I can not create a time machine. My legacy will live on in my children. I will raise my daughter so that one day when she goes to Armenia, if anybody makes fun of her for speaking in a dialect that she was raised to know, without hesitation she will look the person in the eye and say, “My great great grandparents lived on the very soil where Sasounsi Taveet began his legend, the very soil that gave birth to and nurtured the “Fedayee” movement, the soil where my great great grandfather and his brothers and friends hid behind mountains and rocks and stones and flung anything they could find at Turkish officials to protect their motherland, the very soil that bore witness to the bloodshed, the murders, the shrieks, the corpses. My dialect may be different than yours, I live in a different country than you, but I am just as Armenian as you. I fight the fight my ancestors never had a chance to fight every day. I am not upset or hurt or offended by what you said because indulging in those feelings will not accomplish anything. Instead, I want to shake your hand. Simply because you are a fellow Armenian”. She will then smile and walk away having taken one step closer to an internationally unified Armenian People.