Tag Archives: armenian diaspora

Nareg Free Thanks to Support

I just wanted to make yet another point that when a collective group of individuals campaigning for the same cause protest hard enough, their demands will eventually be met, sooner or later. In Nareg Hartounian’s case it only took a few days.

At last count 1,251 people signed the online petition demanding his release from jail, and the “Free Nareg” Facebook page received 1,624 “likes,” with 2,041 users discussing the issue. Although the Ministry of Diaspora declined to comment on Nareg’s arrest, Minster Hranoush Hakobyan undoubtedly received myriad complaints. We know that he and his associates were released per the order of an official in the Prosecutor General’s office, but it’s still unclear what additional pressure was placed on the authorities to free Nareg from jail, not that it matters much at this point.

Kudos to the activists tirelessly pushing for Nareg’s freedom from incarceration. Now we can only hope that the the controversial, on the surface incredulous, tax evasion case he is embroiled in will be resolved without additional drama.

How to Free Nareg

ON Friday December 9, Nareg Hartounian, the founder of the Naregatsi Art Institute, was arrested on suspicions of tax fraud. This arrest marks yet another circumstance of an Armenian from the diaspora being harassed or swindled by the authorities or people with ties to the government. On the same day of his arrest he was tried and sentenced to serve 60 days in jail.  This complicated issue with the tax authorities has actually been ongoing for several months. Unsurprisingly, the refusal to pay a hefty sum has something to do with it.

Nareg is a fellow Armenian from the diaspora who lives and works here part of the year. He and his family have initiated multiple projects, both humanitarian and cultural, in and around Nagorno-Karabagh, even in parts of the Armenian controlled territories where he encouraged settlers to live. The Naregatsi Art Institute is a center for young, emerging artists, filmmakers, and photographers to display their works. Musicians even give concerts in the mini concert hall-like setting. Another center was opened in Shushi several years ago.

Hetq already published several articles about Nareg’s arrest, including letters from friends and acquaintences. In one of them someone mentioned that it was high time Armenians from the diaspora were left alone to do their business dealings or philanthropic work without the interference of the government or people with seemingly honest intentions out to make a buck. But Armenians born and raised here have been convicted on trumped up (or even invented) charges for years since there is no independent judicial system. It seems anyone from the upper echelons of the country’s leadership can make a phone call to the Minister of Justice to ensure that someone is tried and convicted by any means necessary. It’s not yet clear who exactly ordered Nareg’s arrest but the truth will hopefully come out in the coming days.

I have met Nareg on two occasions through a mutual friend. Unfortunately I have not learned about his efforts in detail from him, but I have admired Naregatsi and I hope Nareg’s arrest does not in some way interrupt the center’s longevity.

What can be done to help Nareg? Well there is an online petition for starters. There is also a Facebook page created to spread awareness, which as of this writing already has 1003 “likes.” But the only way for the government to resolve the issue once and for all is for the Armenian diaspora to cry foul en masse. That would entail getting leaders from philanthropic and political organizations to get involved. But the success of that effort is perhaps tied to how “liked” Nareg is in different circles and by people of influence.

As with many social and political issues in Armenia, when enough noise is made by people who oppose a controversial decision, the government eventually relents. Unless people become vocal about Nareg’s plight and demand his release, he will sit in jail for another 58 days and possibly face additional recrimination when he’s finally let out, if he doesn’t pack up and leave the country in disgust before then. Let’s work to get him out now.

The Case for One Armenian Dialect

Armenian AlphabetAmong the few rifts that exist between people from the Armenian diaspora and citizens of the Republic of Armenia are the nuances of language. There is an ongoing debate, although perhaps not well publicized, about which Armenian is “proper” — that which is taught and spoken throughout the diaspora, known as Western Armenian, or the Eastern Armenian dialect spoken by those born in the Armenian republic and elsewhere, like Iran. The notable differences between the two dialects, particularly in vernacular, are such that it can be quite difficult for Armenians from opposite sides of the world to understand one another.

Conversational Armenian spoken in the republic is often riddled with Russian words and phrases and also borrows some lexicon from Turkish as well as Farsi. Spoken Western Armenian, on the other hand, is often sprinkled with Arabic or Turkish expressions by those from the Middle East, while Armenians in the US may use English or Turkish words to name something, like food or clothing. Yet bring two people together, each speaking a different dialect, and you may find gaps in comprehension between them. Unless pure, literary Armenian is spoken, which may not be the case between a tourist visiting Armenia and someone working in the service industry, the dialog could break down in frustration, with either side concluding that the other cannot speak properly. This phenomenon does exist, and rather than bringing Armenians together, it can have the opposite effect, pushing resentment and misunderstanding to the fore.

Of course Armenians from either side of Mount Ararat take pride in the language. Both sides equally laud Mesrob Mashdots for creating the alphabet at the dawn of the fifth century and praise the giants of Armenian literature with devout following. Yet the variances in pronounciation, grammar and even spelling can be confusing. The sounds of several letters have been switched, for instance p and b and, most remarkably, ts and dz. Perhaps the most intriguing issue of contension between the two dialects is the word representing the verb “to be” — transliterated as linel in the Eastern dialect and elal as used in Western Armenian. I have yet to understand how the two terms to mean the same thing — the very act of being — were put into use, and no one that I’ve asked in the literary world seems to know. Even the simple present third person singular form of “to be” is pronounced differently — “eh” as spoken in classical and modern Armenian versus “ah” commonly used in Eastern Armenian, which has even found its way into print.

There are also notable differences in verb conjugation and overall sentence structure. The infinitive suffix of many verbs, -il, was phased out of the Armenian spoken in the republic, replaced by one of the two other variants.  Some words seem to have an extra syllable or have been altered to some degree, for instance the verb “to learn” — sorvil in Western Armenian versus sovorel in Eastern.

Communication is necessary for the common exchange of ideas, it is essential for creating bonds between two or more individuals or groups regardless of ethnicity, spirituality or ideology. Communication in any form, especially electronic in modern times, is defining how the world is being shaped today. It also traces the development of human ingenuity and thought. Thus, the inability to convey thoughts and emotions between individuals speaking the same language leads to fragmentation and alienation in society.

The Armenian language in some ways is finding itself struggling to survive. Outside of Armenia, the language is arguably decreasingly being used within the confines of diaspora-based communities. The efforts to teach new diaspora-based generations in speaking and reading the language has always been challenging with the temptation to assimilate always looming. Even in the republic properly spoken modern Armenian, known as ashkharabar, runs the risk of being detrimentally transformed in the next few decades as the slang spoken by the youth and even middle-aged generations, what I call “Street Armenian,” is being spread via televised programming, which is in turn broadcast via satellite and viewed by diaspora-based communities. In e-mail and messaging correspondence the Latin alphabet is used in place of the Armenian for matters of convenience and compatibility between various computing platforms.

In Armenia I found it problematic for people to understand the most rudimentary words commonly spoken in Western Armenian but have been replaced by their Russian (or indirectly, French) counterparts. Even stranger, words I have learned from Eastern Armenian dictionaries are sometimes (albeit rarely) not understood when I use them in conversation. Moreover I often have difficulty trying to decipher what teenagers and young men are talking about, and some of them will potentially be the leaders of Armenia, which is disconcerting.

Thus there needs to be a commonly spoken Armenian taught and spoken around the world. A consortium should be formed composed primarily of educationalists, modern literary figures (including publication editors), and linguists. Such a consortium should be charged with developing a modern, commonly spoken and written Armenian language used universally, thereby eliminating both dialects in favor of a single, concise comprehensible tongue (village and regional dialects should be excluded, even promoted to thrive–variances in vernacular and grammar can be found in arguably any society where a common language is spoken). Once the dust has settled and a consensus has been reached, the language should be adopted officially by the Republic of Armenia and in all diaspora-based communities where the Armenian language is taught. Obviously, this will not be an easy task and it will probably take years for a consensus to be reached, which makes it all the more essential that efforts get underway without haste.

The Armenian language needs to survive, and in order to do so it needs to adapt to changing times and alternative ways of communication. Given the current (and future) technological trends in how we communicate, along with the regional dynamics in perpetual flux, it is already running the risk of becoming nearly extinct in the next century or two. But by synthesizing the two diverse forms of Armenian speech, the risks of losing the language to the race with technology and the struggle against assimilation decrease dramatically. It’s still not too late to start.

What do you think — should the two dialects remain being spoken/written or is it better to have one dialect used universally?

Interview with Raffi Hovannisian

My interview with Heritage leader Raffi Hovannisian was published on the Armenian Weekly web site yesterday. I recorded the interview while he was on his hunger strike in Yerevan’s Liberty Square on Saturday.

Here’s an excerpt from one of his responses:

Raffi Hovannisian at Liberty Square, March 17, 2011. Karen Minasyan photo.
Raffi Hovannisian at Liberty Square, March 17, 2011. Karen Minasyan photo.

If we postpone to the next cycle of elections the resolution of the issues that face us today, we’ll find ourselves in front of a predetermined election, in other words the people will become more fatalistic than they are today. We talk about what is real in Armenia, which means do nothing or there’s a great danger of renewed violence because there’s a lot of pent-up frustration based on the injustice, inequality, and unlawfulness that reigns in the country today. So my one expectation is from the authorities, and the second expectation is from civil society, from the Armenian public, to find itself the master of the public agenda and not to wait for anybody, whether it’s the incumbent president or opposition parties, to tell it from rostrums and podiums and elsewhere what to do, to empower the Armenian public with the message that their rights are in their hands, that this square, the symbol of liberty, democracy, and liberation for Artsakh, belongs to all Armenians, and there’s no reason for Armenians to be displaced from this square, from their expression of their free will and different views. And I’m happy to report that thousands of people entered the square for the rally on Thursday [March 17] to express solidarity, to take back the square, and to exercise their constitutional rights to be the masters of the square. The important thing now is for the Armenian people to be the master of their own destiny and their own political agenda.

You can read the interview in its entirety on the Armenian Weekly’s web site.

‘Diasporan’ is not a Word

This is a call to all Armenians living in the diaspora and those writing about the Armenian diaspora in general or in a specific context to stop using “diasporan” to describe someone ethnically Armenian who is born and/or living outside the Republic of Armenia or when illustrating a concept that is related to the Armenian diaspora. There is no such word as “diasporan” in the English language.

The term “diasporan” is commonly used as a noun to identify an Armenian who is from a country other than Armenia (e.g., “I am an Armenian diasporan”). It is also used as an adjective to describe the Armenian community thriving outside Armenia or a nuance of the global Armenian experience.

The proper term to describe something characterizing the Armenian diaspora is “diasporic” (e.g., “The Armenian diasporic communities of the Middle East”). To be identified as an Armenian born in a country other than Armenia, simply name your home country (for instance, I call myself an Armenian-American) or explain that you are “an Armenian from its [or ‘the’] diaspora.”

So remember, use “diasporic” (an English word) instead of “diasporan” (a made-up word not in any English dictionary).