Statement by Aline Dedeyan on the question of Armenian identity - 6 September 2000, Martin Luther University, Halle-Saale, Germany .  

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Let me start by saying that this a discussion paper and the views expressed in it, far from being exhaustive, express my  personal observations and analysis and  do not, in any way,  exclude  those of others.  I am therefore counting on your feedback, comments and reactions and the possibility of discussing them  after the presentation.

bullet I haven’t come across comprehensive  literature  on Armenian identity per se.  Mentions of it here and there, but  no specific studies on it.  Being invisible, identity cannot be examined through a loop with special instruments. An abstract subject, it calls more for theoretical considerations than  empirical data, its study mostly confined  to sociology,  psychology  and  social  psychology.  One can say that identity is made up of a set of values, with  variables and constants,     rooted in the history of a  given  society and people,  reflecting specific modes of thinking and practices with reference to a particular socio-political, economic and cultural environment.
bullet  In contrast with majority ethnic/national identities, the Armenian identity, like most minority ones, is  regionalized, somewhat split and  marginalized.  Not only is this due to the aftermath the Armenian Genocide  culminating in a widespread  Armenian Diaspora melding into  the culture of the country of immigration,  but   to  recent geopolitical events.   Very briefly, the transformation of the former Soviet Republic of Armenia into an independent democratic State and the liberation of Karabakh from Azeri rule in the form of a self-proclaimed republic breaking the wall between  homeland Armenians and the Diaspora. While representing a major turning point in history,  these changes require an  ethnocentric approach to review  and  restructure the Armenian  identity  with regard to present-day conditions and  frameworks.  At the same time try and make sense out of it!  Not only recapitulate the genesis and the history of the nation, but bring into new focus the  implications of its unique culture –  language,  church, traditions and mentality –  which play a capital role in laying down the core of Armenian  identity.  Given the radically different Armenian mapping of today, it is  (a) essential to underline identity issues without which the reconstruction of the nation can not be achieved,   and  (b)  given the gravity of Armenian stakes there is no  leeway to   “wait-and-see”. 
bullet  My experience with Armenians,  be it in the Diaspora, in Armenia, or elsewhere, has convinced me that, regardless of  background, the way Armenian identities  reveal and express themselves individually and collectively  is crucial to  the establishment of  meaningful bonds and the spirit of cooperation. From the Diaspora –  western or eastern – to Armenia,  Karabakh,  Russia or other ex-Soviet  Republics, unless there is a clear-cut convergence on common goals and concerted action to reconstruct two democratic States under the rule of the law – Armenia and a self-governed State of Karabakh/Artsakh,  eventually culminating in  a federation of both  – cemented  by a modern and unified national identity,  the revival and  development of “armenianhood”  would not be possible.  (For lack of a better equivalent in English, I am translating from the French word   arménité).
bullet  Unlike Armenians, who have been deprived of and  isolated from  their primary  identity for centuries, in  countries with  a long-standing,  institutionalized and  automatically  transmitted  identity patterns,  nationals have a choice to  adopt or reject them,   make them  to  suit      their personality,      or even rebel against them  without going into in-depth analysis or the fear of losing them.   More of a personal, psychological nature, identity problems take a different turn than those encountered   by Armenians who, having lived in separate communities and developed differentiated identities in close relation with the majority cultures of the country of adoption  – and much less with the  common root one – this  may represent a  hazardous game,  particularly for the  new generations  suffering  from  identity loss and  search.  It is safer to stick to the remnants of one’s Armenian identity than let it become meaningless, even though this may result in protectionism, dogmatism and   self-righteousness while interacting with each other.   In other words, despite the fact that we are all in the same boat, we are bound to interpret and act out  our Armenian identity differently, and no doubt conflict will arise  from the  confrontation of fragmented identities.   On the other hand, as I said before, at this point of our history there is no time  to beat  around the bush for “real” identity.  A smooth coming together is indispensable  to resolve our national and Diaspora  problems, as well as devise common  strategies for the development of  Armenia and  Karabakh.  In particular repopulate both States in order to stop the outbound drain of despairing youth.  Also change the picture of Armenian people in the eyes of the world replacing the “persecuted minority image” by that of a progressive, creative and forward-looking nation, avoiding negative projections as innocent victims of an unredeemable   past.    There is no reason why an Armenian today should not feel proud of belonging to a growing nation which, having resolved its minority status, is capable of standing on its own two feet, forge a new destiny and find solutions to its problems.   Then only can it attract the attention of other nations.
bullet Despite the time-old saying that the ultimate solution to Armenian problems is money, nothing but money, I totally disagree with this argument.  Financial inputs are not the panacea to our all of our difficulties. On the contrary, what is equally important is  the way  Armenian identities  express themselves freely,  adopt  priorities and interact with one another in spite of regional and historical differences.  But, before I elaborate on this, let me illustrate some of the major conflict areas.
bullet  The first thing that comes to my mind is the marks of  Armenian traditions, Armenian archetypes, myths  and mythologies engraved in everyone’s  unconscious,   weighing heavily on identity.   More than often  they don’t correspond  to modern times,  create  stereotypes and  exercise  heavy pressures  on the  personality. They may even end up by becoming a  permanent source of conflict with  oneself and the others dressing   obstacles against the full adaptation  to  one’s  environment.
bullet Another instance would be   the predominance of the mother or the father, or  both figures,  within the family effecting  off-springs from an early age on.  In some cases causing severe personality disturbances leading to regression and to inability to reach adult maturity.  Other binding ties and conventions, customary in more  traditionally-oriented Armenian families,   may also inflict traumatic experiences  to  a family member (or members)  who  feel unable to cope  with,   or break away  from,   such  constraints.
bullet  I  am not saying that  traditions, least of all Armenian traditions,  should be forgotten or  eliminated. On the contrary, as a psychologist put it: there is no reason to keep them constantly on the front line because   (a) they can be carefully preserved with no danger of their sudden disappearance and (b) anyone, at any time, can retrieve them to suit oneself and to enjoy past rituals.   For instance, Armenian Christmas which is a unique event when people forget their differences and animosities to come together and show interest in each other.
bullet  Reconsidered in   today’s contexts, other “classical” ways of self-identification and self-validation also lack substance and reality.   Exclusive concentration on look and appearance for example,  judging the others on the same basis,   showing off one’s material wealth  as a way of   proving one’s superiority,  imposing one’s views and thoughts by  ignoring or diminishing those of others, exaggeration,  class consciousness, the cult of personality and   privileges,  not to mention the pernicious corruption in Armenia with the widespread practice of  the  système D/débrouille –  as they say in French. (In English this would be something like “so much you can get away with”).  These characteristics also  need  critical re-evaluation.

 My feeling is that these modes of being and behaving still current in Armenian communities justified by, or say, based on Armenian traditions, do not fit in democratic   orders and codes.  Moreover, they do not contribute to the building up of a modern, just and equalitarian society, which is exactly what Armenia needs to eliminate totalitarian models – past and present – reflecting a privileged class surfing on uncontrolled corruption on the one hand   and, in the absence of a middle class,  a  working class  deprived  of   the most elementary resources.  To achieve this break,  it is essential to reach a new pan-Armenian consciousness directed towards change in modes of thinking and acting.  Neither political, nor economic or social improvements can occur  without radical  shifts in  attitudes, thoughts,  concepts and priorities.  This is why Armenian identity, under the influence of ancient traditions,  plays such an important role in this  period of transition and reconstruction of a new armenianhood.  For instance, if in-fighting and  rivalries and some of that irrational and rigid thinking carried over from the past were relinquished,  transparency  and collaboration would replace divisions, unilateral decisions,  secret  conspiracies and the like.   Also if we put together our nation-wide potential and resources   gearing it  to  effective  action,   a post-modern, democratic Armenian society  would  be only be  at arm’s length!

bullet  A land-locked country surrounded by politically and otherwise unstable Muslim States and Russia, Armenia has  been  deprived of  sound, democratic  models – I mean  Western models – of organization of work,  markets,  society, institutions and the rest.  A simple tour in Armenian markets   is enough to  realize that they are copies of oriental ones, a chaos of  underground  movements, trafficking,  illegal and/or uncontrolled transactions of all sorts.  Today only the Armenian Diaspora, more particularly the Western one, supported by international assistance, can provoke change.  By providing and establishing reliable contemporary models of   trade and trade relations.  This to me is another top priority.  The emergence of a new Armenian identity in economic activities.  No matter how small or limited in capital, the way a production unit is managed, the rights of workers and  employees are respected and guaranteed,  trade unions are empowered, salaries, indemnities, allowances,  pensions are  paid, social protection schemes are set up along with  transparency  between all actors of the enterprise, customers and other citizens.   Once again there is no time to lose.
bullet  In bringing up the negative aspects of some of our traditional identity patterns, let me also mention the patriarchal attitudes of some of the older folks widening, if not deepening, the already existing gap between the old and the young,  putting the latter in an inferiority position requiring constant coaching. Not only is this totally ridiculous, but contrary to contemporary values. The growth of Armenian youth does not necessarily depend on the teachings of the elders, but on individual capacity and wealth. Furthermore, the new generations have no obligation to adopt the Armenian genocide    and the fatalism it dwells on as the founding stone of a distinctive   Armenian identity,  nor consider it as a major  yardstick to build on.
bullet There are plenty of other criteria, like resourcefulness, inventiveness, sensitivity, humor, etc.   It is time to realize that innovations cannot be inserted in old moulds, nor can the elder persist in their patronizing attitudes towards the young.  On the contrary if they favored dialogue and cooperation with the latter,  this would help them adjust their views on contemporary Armenian issues,  improve their  understanding of salient  facts,  eventually participate in start-up youth movements.  (Please excuse me if I am generalizing because I’m sure there are lots of exceptions to what I just said).
bullet  Challenging as it may be, today we are all confronted to an unprecedented period in our  history which requires aiming globally at  higher levels of consciousness,  along with a more critical and change-oriented attitude towards problem solving,  in particular those related to identity.  And one way of doing this would be to eliminate distinctions between generations, gender,  background,   profession,   previous experience,  status and the like.   All efforts should converge towards joint actions for the benefit of Armenia, Karabakh and the Diaspora. 
bullet On the same subject, let me briefly point out similar attitudes and prejudices prevalent among Armenian associations in the Diaspora.  The ones in Switzerland I’m more familiar with offer a good illustration.  Led and   governed   by the same exclusive group of elders, their mandates renewed year after year, in spite of repeated efforts and a great deal of disappointment,   no youth groups have been able to  penetrate  and take over these associations  in  a leadership and  decision-making  position.  At the same time,  no other politically strong enough youth groups have come into existence.   (Only leisure and sports groups and more recently YAP, Young Armenian Professionals, set up by AGBU,  but since am critical  of it, I won’t go into it here).   The executive committees of the above-mentioned associations persist in taking unilateral decisions without statutory consultations with their members, ignore totally those who claim change and consider themselves the only legitimate representatives of the community.    As to women, they are mostly organized as auxiliary groups, guided by their male “superiors”, handling food, artistic and other social events.  As if time had stopped.  (Another parenthesis:  some women have, nevertheless, contributed greatly to community projects, teaching Armenian, dancing and bringing out a local paper).   Finally, it seems to me that such associations still operating on dated criteria are totally counterproductive at a time when one of the major tasks of the Diaspora is to produce advanced democratic models.
bullet  There is no doubt all Armenians regardless of   who they are, where they live,  which sex and social category they belong to,  affiliated or not to a particular Armenian  association,   are  respectable  members  and  representatives  our nation holding  equal rights  to engage  in projects and actions  in accord with their  competences and wishes.   How come then such  prejudices –  not to say  discrimination –   are still rampant in certain groups?   It may well be that Armenian identity with its set rules and role playing schemes, perceived in its old-fashioned context, is the root cause of these contradictions. And it seems like time has come to eliminate such conservative and irrational distinctions from our value systems,   particularly in the current  period of crisis.   Everyone can be a pro, an expert and play a leadership role in terms of individual expertise,  motivation and  availability without   being subjected to an  a priori selection and judgment by his  compatriots. 
bullet In conclusion, let me mention the recent women’s organization in France,  Les femmes courage,  active in Karabakh,  helping rural women and families  buy livestock in order to generate revenues to  build their ruined  homes and villages. An excellent example of a small,  grass-root organization in the field, contributing directly to  Armenian welfare and  development from the Diaspora. I am sure there are several other such functional groups assisting Armenians wherever they may be.  Today the political lobbying carried out by French and American activist groups and movements is also extremely effective in defending the Armenian genocide against cut-throat Turkish propaganda and   pressures.  Finally, involvement in nation-building projects requires forgetting traditional cleavages and artificial obstacles to focus primarily on results.   Because at present the biggest pressure is not our differences but time and the urgency of goal-oriented concerted actions.  
Thank you.