Education and Individual Responsibility

By ROBERT O. KRIKORIAN

Many people who are familiar with the Armenians and their history and culture have received their knowledge from an Armenian friend, neighbor, or co-worker. This is so because there is little other opportunity for the average American to be educated about the Armenians, their history, and their culture. There is little or no reference to the Armenians in the overwhelming majority of textbooks used in the United States. Armenian history has largely been consigned to oblivion, and there are those with political economic, and strategic agendas, who would like to see this situation remain as it is.

Those of us who consider ourselves Armenian are, by necessity, ambassadors of Armenia, which carries with it a significant responsibility. First and foremost, we must be at least minimally conversant with our own history. We frequently criticize others for their distortion and misrepresentation of Armenian history, yet very few people in the Armenian community are sufficiently knowledgeable about their own history to engage in serious debate and thus counter such distortions.

FUNDAMENTAL ISSUES

Just as it is an obligation for new citizens of the United States to pass an exam on the fundamentals of American politics and history, so too it is necessary for each and every Armenian to be able to discuss the fundamentals of Armenian history. I am not talking about whether Armenia was actually Christianized in 301 AD or some other date, or whether Movses Khorenatsi was fifth- or eight-century author, or whether Paustos Buzand was an actually historical personage.

I am talking about more fundamental issues, such as Armenian geography and the role it has played throughout history, how Armenia's geographic position at the crossroads of empires influenced its historical and cultural development. I am thinking of the importance of the Armenian language and alphabet for the preservation of a distinct national identity, and the enormous role of the Armenian Church played as a national institution when all other national institutions such as a state structure had been destroyed.

Similarly, I have in mind the harsh conditions under which the Armenian peasantry in Western Armenia lived - these peasants who comprised a majority of the Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire. When pundits claim that the Armenian elite in Constantinople was typical of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, we must be armed with the knowledge to dispute these simplistic notions.

When pundits and so-called analysts claim that the Russian imperial government, and the Soviet government which succeeded it, favored the Armenians, we must be prepared to point out the harsh repression that Armenians suffered under many of the czars and how Armenians were suspected, just like the Jews, of being a subversive element in the Russian Empire.

When the nature of the Karabagh conflict is distorted by those intent on misrepresenting it as fundamentally religious in nature, Islam versus Christianity, or as the continuation of ancient hatreds and tribalism, Armenians must be prepared to set the record straight.

COMBATING DISTORTION WITH KNOWLEDGE

With the establishment of an independent Republic of Armenia, the country and its people are no longer as obscure as they once were. But this is a double edged sword because, while Armenians have regained their independence and re-entered the family of nations as an equal, there is also more of an incentive to falsify and distort Armenian history, given the political and economic factors motivating international interest in the Caucasus. As we have seen with the egregious distortion of the reality of the Armenian Genocide, there are those who will stop at nothing to deny, diminish, or trivialize the suffering of a people in order to serve their own political agendas.

It is no longer sufficient to believe that because our cause is just and truth is on our side that we shall prevail. There are far too many examples in history of the fallacy of such thought to need elaboration. The Turkish government has made it known that they will be making a concerted effort to produce more works refuting the veracity of the Armenian Genocide. This means that more sophisticated efforts will be made to deny and distort Armenian history. A battery of former high-ranking US government officials has been hired to aid in this effort, and the Armenian community needs to prepare itself for the inevitable onslaught of revisionism.

Armenians should be capable of refuting revisionist arguments about the Armenian genocide, always using logic and evidence, and keeping emotion to a minimum. We should be able to refute Turkish arguments that the Genocide was actually a civil war, in which both sides suffered terribly. We must be prepared to demonstrate the falseness of the Turkish claim that the Armenians were all collaborators with the Russians and other Western powers and betrayed their Ottoman homeland.

Armenians should know how to argue against the notion that sources such as Ambassador Morgenthau, or missionary reports, are all politically motivated and thus biased against the Turks. We must be capable of bringing forth evidence in order to demolish the false claim that there could not have been a genocide because the Armenian communities of Constantinople and Smyrna were not deported.

DISTORTION OF HISTORY TOUCHES ALL

All of this might seem academic and irrelevant, but the distortion of the Armenian experience touches all of us. It seeks to trivialize the suffering our parents and grandparents, thus opening the door to further crimes against humanity. One is reminded of Hitler's quote regarding the Armenians. If, indeed, the world powers had punished those responsible for the destruction of the Armenians at the time, it is not implausible to argue that those contemplating the annihilation of Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, homosexuals, and other so-called "undesirables" might have thought twice a generation later. Having had their lives and property taken from them during the Genocide, now the Armenians' history is being stolen as well.

Even though it is too late to resurrect the dead, we can still prevent the destruction of their memory. It is not enough that organizations and scholars continue to fight against revisionism. It is up to each and every conscious Armenian to be pro-active and seek out the necessary knowledge to aid in this struggle. Perhaps just as important, it is incumbent upon us to refute those who would distort Armenian history with facts and not emotion. Only rational discourse, supported by facts, and persistent effort can change the balance of power in favor of those who seek the truth.

EDUCATE OURSELVES, THEN OTHERS

We must educate ourselves before we try to educate others. The Armenian community is fortunate, in a sense, because unlike other groups, it actually has a body of scholarship and literature form which it can gain knowledge and understanding. The many books devoted to various aspects of the Armenian experience are the result of decades of work by scholars, specialists, and research centers.

Although there are some voices criticizing Armenian Studies, lamenting its current state, and predicting its imminent demise, there are many devoted individuals who have shunned more lucrative professions in order to devote themselves to the scholarly study of Armenia and its people. These scholars and research centers are invaluable resources that the community should use to educated itself. The knowledge and expertise of these scholars and research centers must be cultivated and supported in order to blossom and grow.

Organizations such as NAASR, and its Institute for Armenian Studies and Research along with its Armenian Book Clearing House, are ready and willing to aid in the process of education and the dissemination of knowledge, but these goals can never fully succeed without the active involvement and participation of the Armenian community and its friends and supporters.

The time has come for the Armenian community to reassess its priorities and commitments. Along with membership in a community comes responsibility. It is our communal responsibility to ensure that Armenian Studies in the US continues to develop and produce high-quality scholars and scholarship .For without scholars and specialists to interpret and perpetuate Armenian history and culture, the ultimate goal of the Armenian Genocide will have been achieved: the consignment of Armenia and Armenians to historical oblivion.

It is not sufficient to donate books on Armenian subjects to libraries or give books about Armenia as gifts. It is also incumbent upon us to read them as well.




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