My Armenian Identity

Looking at me, you probably wouldn’t be able to guess my ethnicity. It’s not the most common or obvious, which has led to many different assumptions in my life. I have gotten Hispanic/Latina, Indian, Arabian, Persian (probably the closest one), and once, I even got Philipino (that one couldn’t be more off). I am actually Armenian from Turkey, meaning that although my family is Armenian, they grew up in and currently live in Turkey.

                                                                   Photo courtesy of Flickr

Now, if you know anything about Armenian history, you’ve probably heard of the Armenian Genocide. If not, let me give you a brief explanation. The Armenian Genocide was the Ottoman Empire in Turkey’s systematic slaughtering and displacing of the Armenian people from 1915 to 1922. This genocide killed over 1.5 million Armenians and led to a worldwide Armenian diaspora. This tragic event is commemorated every year on April 24th and this year will be the 104th anniversary, however Turkey still refuses to take responsibility for their actions during this time. Because of this, every year, Armenians from far and wide, gather in Little Armenia in Los Angeles and march to the Turkish consulate. I have yet to go to one, but my dad has, and it’s amazing to see so many people showing up time and time again because as Armenians, despite our differences, we are unified by this.

In the 3rd grade, I was asked to explain to my class what the Armenian Genocide was, even though I only had a very limited understanding of it myself. Once explaining that and explaining that I was Armenian from Turkey, I was asked by a classmate if I was “basically against myself,” and me, not quite understanding what it meant to be bolsa hay (Armenian for Istanbul Armenian), I said yes. I believed this for a while, but now I understand that that’s not what it means at all.

                                                A photograph of the genocide memorial in Armenia

                                                                  Photo courtesy of Flickr

I am proud to be a Armenian from Turkey even if it means I feel like I’m not Armenian enough when I come across other Armenians who are from Armenia. I went to Armenian school at my church every Saturday from kindergarten to 3rd grade, but once I stopped going, I began to lose my fluency in this language, especially because we mostly spoke Turkish at home, since my parents grew up in Turkey. Sometimes I feel invalid as an Armenian given this slight language barrier that I have and that Armenians from Turkey generally speak with a western Armenian dialect and all others speak with an eastern one. Our pronunciations and grammar tend to be different, which makes understanding each other that much more difficult.    

Language wasn't the only thing that made me feel as though I wasn’t enough, it was culture too. Because of my parents’ upbringing, I grew up in a culture with mixed Turkish and Armenian influences, but more Turkish than anything. Any time I have ever met other Armenians my age at school, they have had a stronger Armenian background. It becomes very difficult for me to relate to them and feel like I am a part of a cultural group because our experiences as Armenians are so different. It’s a difficult place to be in sometimes when you feel like you are stuck between two cultures, never truly identifying like one or the other, and feeling like a disappointment to every Armenian that you meet.

                                                                  Photo courtesy of Flickr

I know the importance of both of my cultures in creating the person that I am today and how vital history is to the core what it means to be bolsa hay. We always tend to find each other and those communities that we create, help us to flourish and preserve the combination of cultures that we have, which is a beautiful thing, but even then I can’t find myself able to really fit into this group. This has been a struggle that I have carried with my entire life but now more than ever. In college I find myself searching for my people. I feel this constant yearning to find someone, Armenian, Turkish, or both who share my experiences and culture in some way or another. The less I am exposed to them, the more I find myself looking for them. Regardless, I know that this journey of discovering my identity will be a long-winded one that may take years and even my lifetime to fully understand, but one thing I do know for sure is that yes bolsa hay em yev hpart em (I am bolsa hay, and I am proud).

                                                                  Photo courtesy of Pixabay

 

*If you would like to learn more about the Armenian Genocide, you can check out History.com or an episode on the Armenian Genocide on Jonathan van Ness’ podcast, Getting Curious