“You are Armenian now,”
…she said with a smile.
She is a beneficiary in one of my NGOs’ projects. And the Armenian to whom she referred, is me.
I can see her point, which is that I eat food grown in Armenian soil, drink tap water from the Armenian mountains, breathe the air in my Armenian city and have a (minimal) grasp of the language.
But, isn’t it more than that?
I know and understand a lot of the culture. While I am respectful of it, I don’t agree with many of the practices and will not incorporate them into my life. I’m also treated like a foreigner – stared at and spoken to in Russian, even after saying in my broken Armenian, “Yes chem haskanum Rruseren.”
People in the Republic of Armenia audaciously claim others as their own. In one of my early meetings with an NGO’s then Executive Director, I was told that anyone with a smidgen of Armenian blood is Armenian. This attitude has been born out time and again. One of my colleagues loaned a book to me by an unfamiliar Armenian writer, William Saroyan (1908-1981). A little research turned up that Saroyan was born in Fresno, CA, where his parents had emigrated 2 years earlier, and lived his life in the US. I’m reading his selected short stories published in 1975* by “Progress Publishers of Moscow,” with all but the stories in the Russian language.
*Note: In 1975, Armenia was part of the Soviet Union.
Armenians consider their country and its people to be homogeneous. Of course, this isn’t exactly the case but, this belief makes it hard for host country nationals to understand what it is to be an American. When asked for my “nationality” some don’t accept “American” as the answer. I’ve been told, “American is your citizenship – it is what’s listed on your passport. What is your nationality?”
It’s difficult (if not impossible) at times to defend some things my government has done, past and present, but I’m glad that as a circumstance of my birth, “Yes Amerikatsi em.” Nevertheless, I cannot deny that living and working in Armenia for nearly 21 months has altered my being. Though the ultimate result has yet to be realized, I already know that I will always carry Armenia within me.
Perhaps Naira was correct in her proclamation after all.