Ancestry

It is great to be given the opportunity to learn about your ancestors; to learn history not written for financial or political purposes, but to learn a history that is personal and explains why you are who you are. Professor Richard Hovannisian’s lecture on the 30th of November, hosted by Hamazkayin London at the Navasartian Centre, was an opportunity for me to do precisely this. The lecture included a vast amount of images of the Kesaria and Cappadocia areas where a relatively small yet vibrant Armenian community thrived. We were also fortunate enough to see videos of Professor Hovannisian’s travels in Eastern Turkey and his encounters with Armenians who have continued to live in those areas, as well as the communities of Hamshen Armenians. In his documentation of the Armenian life in Kesaria and Cappadocia, an element of pre-Genocide Armenian lifestyle stood out to me. This was the progressive nature of the Armenian communities. Progressive not only in an intellectual sense, but also in a cultural sense as well. Armenians lived side-by-side with the Turkish communities and integrated into them, a fact many Armenian seem to overlook in light of the strained relations and the historical battle raging between Armenians and Turks. It seems that the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire expressed certain properties that can also be seen today, a famous one being the successful, innovative nature of Armenian businessmen who would also engage in various charitable activities. For example, the setting up of schools in the town of Everek-Fenesse with progressive educational values by a Constantinople Armenian community of Everektsi businessmen named the Everek Mesrobian Educational Society. While observing this phenomenon, one cannot help but notice the properties that we have developed since then having disintegrated into rubble in such a short time.

During the near century outside the Ottoman Empire the Armenians have developed new properties, something Professor Hovanissian ascribed to “post-Genocide trauma”. These characteristics include paranoia, hints of xenophobia and a fear of new lucrative but risky ventures. Nonetheless, as new generations of Armenians emerging from Armenia and the diaspora, we see new characteristics develop which combine traditional Armenian virtues with modern traits of the “Internet age”. Armenian youth from across the world are growing up in mixed Armenian and foreign environments, creating an eclectic yet excellent cultural mix which, one day, can be used for the amelioration of Armenia and the world in general. For example, the environment a Javakhk Armenian teenager grows up in is almost unimaginable for an Armenian growing up in London, yet it is this diversity that can benefit the Armenian nation when united.

However, in this dream it is important to remember why the Armenians are so scattered. Professor Hovannisian recounted a short story before the lecture stating that Armenians nearly half a century ago used to cite “Van” or “Moush” as the answer to the question “Where are you from?” More recently Armenians answer “Lebanon” or “Syria”. The youth of today now answer “London” or “LA”, some not knowing where their ancestral homelands really are. It is vital for every person, not just Armenian, to understand their ancestral history: as Malorie Blackman said, “Things that go unsaid soon get forgotten”. If we wish to remember what Armenia was, how Armenians lived and why so many live far from Armenia today, we must not forget our ancestry, and we must engage with our personal history with tools such as books, public lectures or documentaries. Personally, I found it very hard to stop reading the chapter on Everek-Fenesse in the book, my ancestral town.

In the videos shown during the lecture, one thing stood out to me above all else; the clip of an old Armenian women living in Tigranagert (modern Diyarbakir) responding to the question of what the Turks did a century ago. Her response was “«Ինչ որ ըրին, ըրին»”. Translating to “whatever they did, they did”. These powerful words remind me that the Genocide was an event of the past, and for both Turks and Armenians alike it is an emotional issue. It was these words that reminded me that in the same way it is immoral to be antagonistic towards a German today for the Jewish Holocaust, it is immoral to be antagonistic towards a Turk today for the Armenian Genocide. It is the Turkish government that continues to deny the Genocide. In fact, their nefarious policies are not exclusive to Genocide-denial, reflected in the widespread discontent with the AKP regime.

The situation will change in time as new political forces take hold, and it is our role to remember the Genocide – to make sure it is not forgotten. We live side-by-side with Turks and will continue to do so. If the foundation of our relationship is of persistent antagonism and hate, then its fruits will be rotten.

— Vahe Boghosian

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