Last week, in the context of the consecration of the Primate of the Eastern Diocese as Bishop Daniel, Daniel Srpazan, at the outdoor St. Drtad altar in Etchmiadzin, we had the opportunity to reflect on the sources of Christian leadership and the ways in which Christian leaders should be sources of strength for their communities. This week, continuing to draw inspiration from this momentous occasion in the life of the Armenian Apostolic Church and especially the Eastern Diocese, we begin by noting a seemingly banal fact: the consecration of Bishop Daniel took place at Etchmiadzin, in the Republic of Armenia. It has become customary for all consecrations of bishops to take place at the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, the spiritual center of the Armenian Apostolic Church and the place where, according to accounts of the conversion of Armenia, the Lord Jesus Christ descended from heaven to mark the ground where St. Gregory built a cathedral. Yet for
many of the pilgrims who traveled to witness the episcopal consecration of Bishop Daniel, the trip was an opportunity not only to take part in this momentous occasion, or even simply to see Holy Etchmiadzin, but to visit the Armenian homeland—usually gendered as the hayrenik, the fatherland.
The concept of the homeland, specifically of the “fatherland” or “motherland,” has had a long purchase in Armenian thinking. It is written into history, though perhaps not as clearly as we imagine it. In Eghishe’s History of Vardan and the Armenian War, as the translator Robert Thomson notes, we find hayreni orenk (“ancestral traditions”) and sometimes hayreni yerkir, “ancestral lands” or “lands of the fathers.” Yet Thomson insists that Eghishe “is not concerned with territorial autonomy,” but rather “a way of life.” The hayreni orenk more than the hayreni yerkir. Given the loosely bound “feudal” system of the nakharar principalities, conceiving of a unified “fatherland” at the time of Eghishe’s history is difficult. It is much later that the famous phrase, “for faith and for the fatherland” is used to describe the martyrdom of St. Vartan and his companions. This phrase has recently also been applied to the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. So, while we can find traces of a concept of ancestral territory in early Armenian historical sources, the idea of the homeland or fatherland becomes much more important later.
Territorial emphasis in “homeland,” whether gendered as fatherland or motherland, is closely related to the transformation of the word azg, which today means nation. As we have discussed before, modern territorial nationalism develops into its current form in the nineteenth century. One of the things that makes Armenian history so fascinating is the connection of terms like hayreni yerkir or azg, terms that predate modern conceptions of nationalism, to some of the assumptions that are wrapped up in modern nationalism. Many of the concepts related to modern nationalism entered Armenian thinking during the nineteenth century, often through the revolutionary parties. This Wednesday at the Zohrab Information Center, Dr. Dzovinar Derderian will present some of her research related to concepts of fatherland, emphasizing the influence from the provinces such as Van on the development of territorial aspirations and nationalism. In other parts of her work, she explores the French notion of patrie, which we can gloss at hayrenik in Armenia, as it connects to ideas of “love of the fatherland.”
|History of Vardan and the Armenian War||Eghishe’s classic account of the history of St. Vartan and his companions, translated with an informative introduction by Robert Thomson. The text contains some of the earliest mentions of the hayreni yerkir, the “ancestral lands.”|
|Studies in Christian Caucasian History||By Cyril Toumanoff, an important piece of scholarship from the twentieth century. It details the social structure of the Armenian nobility, known as the nakharar system.|
|The Armenian Revolutionary Movement; the Development of the Armenian Political Parties Through the Nineteenth Century||By Louise Nalbandian. While elements of her research have been superseded, this book remains the most direct account of the political development of the Armenian revolutionary parties in the English language.|
While the territorial aspirations associated with a concept of homeland or “fatherland” might be more recent, two things are clear: some notion of “ancestral lands” existed in Armenian history and thinking for centuries; and today, there remains a strong pull to the homeland. This pull is often difficult to explain fully. One concept that is clearly related to homeland is the ubiquitous idea of diaspora. Defined directly in connection to homeland, as “the dispersion of a people beyond their homeland,” the idea links a people to a place. Armenians often consider the experience of diaspora as a post-Genocide phenomenon, but Armenians lived outside the “ancestral lands” for many centuries: the city of Kaffa in the Crimea was a major center of cultural production in the fourteenth century, the first Armenian newspaper was printed in 1794 in Madras, India, and the merchant community of New Julfa stretched across the globe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Today, though, diaspora has been naturalized as the semi-permanent condition of post-Genocide Armenian existence.
Moreover, there has been a push, even since before the independence of the current Republic of Armenia, to orient the different Armenian Diasporan communities around the globe to the Republic of Armenia. Shortly after World War II, there was an attempt by the Soviet authorities to have Armenians from around the world repatriate to Soviet Armenia. Many, including some from the United States, did in fact move behind the Iron Curtain to Soviet Armenia. Clearly, even during the Soviet era, the idea of the small country of Armenia as “the Armenian homeland” was very compelling.
Today, Armenians around the world continue to orient towards the Republic of Armenia. We can see that the idea of “homeland” or “fatherland” is quite flexible, since many Armenians around the world trace their ancestry to lands further west of the current Republic of Armenia. Nonetheless, as an independent Armenian political entity, portions of the Diaspora see the Republic of Armenia as “the fatherland.” For Armenian Christians, this sentiment is bolstered by the plethora of Armenian churches and Christian monuments throughout the Republic of Armenia. While many of the churches further West, in modern-day Turkey, have been destroyed, the Republic of Armenia boasts impressive and ancient churches, deeply connected to the history of Armenia. Etchmiadzin is of course the anchor, but churches like Khor Virap, crucial to the conversion story of Armenia, or Norovank, an important monastic complex financed by the influential Orbelian family in the fourteenth century, connect far-flung members of the Armenian Apostolic Church to sites of pilgrimage and devotion in “the homeland.” Through this connection to the hayreni orenk, Armenian Christians can find in “the homeland” sources of strength and inspiration. Whether from stories of martyrs and saints who gave their lives to Jesus Christ at ancient monasteries, or from the contemporary vartabeds who staff those holy places, “the homeland” is an important source for Armenian Christians throughout the world.
|Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies||An important academic journal edited by Khachig Tölölyan. Though edited by an Armenian intellectual and often running articles related to Armenians, the journal helped define the contemporary academic study of Diaspora well beyond its application to Armenians.|
|The Repatriate: Love, Basketball and the KGB||A memoir by Tom Mooradian, who left the Detroit area in 1947 to move to Soviet Armenia. After realizing that he wanted to return home to the United States, it took him thirteen years to get an exit visa!|
|The Armenian Highland: Western Armenia and the First Armenian Republic of 1918||Matthew Karanian’s newest book, it compares historical photographs with his own contemporary pictures, covering the areas of Western Armenia as well as the First Armenian Republic, the territory of which largely became the current Republic of Armenia.|
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