I HAVE SPENT my life considering of faraway locations. All these cities, as poet Adrienne Wealthy places it, that I might have lived and died in. However none fairly so tenaciously because the nation my mom is from. And I feel that’s as a result of I greater than longed for it. I used to be haunted by it. Armenia, the cradle of Christianity, the land caught within the crosshairs of 1 bold empire after the subsequent, the traditional kingdom composed of pottery, warriors, and chariots, was the place my mom was born, however that’s not the place this story begins.
The prevailing story of so many Armenians all over the world begins with an occasion much more momentous than the conception of any human being or nation. Much more binding, in some methods, than pleasure or contentment. The prevailing story of so many Armenians all over the world begins with a genocide. The harrowing pictures of all 1.5 million of its fallen have performed on loop within the minds of its survivors’ descendants ever since.
I’m one such descendant, one such thoughts the fallen have frequented like ghosts. My great-great-grandfather, as an illustration, who was slaughtered close to his dwelling in chilly blood. My great-great-aunts who threw themselves right into a speeding river to flee torture by Ottoman gendarmes. These pictures had been handed right down to me by my grandmother like heirlooms, however the longer the ghosts remained, the extra sure I used to be that whereas it was not me who put them there, it was me who commanded they keep.
I see now that they had been at all times round. Lengthy earlier than they’d form or kind, lengthy earlier than they’d a context inside which I might correctly place them, they had been there bearing witness to me. However I used to be uncomfortable of their presence. The big pleading eyes, the woebegone-ness of all of it. All through my childhood, my mom made positive to totally assimilate me into American society, going as far as to not educate me her native tongue, so how was I meant to even talk with them? Once I was lastly sufficiently old to probe our previous, courageous sufficient to resurrect these ghosts, I held this towards her with nice fury and generally, even vengeance.
You robbed me of an identification, I growled at her repeatedly and once more, as if she had singlehandedly, maliciously achieved so. As if she had been the only architect of my anguish. It took me a very long time to know the explanations behind such a call. Ones that even she couldn’t make sense of. It took me a good longer time to know that it wasn’t her that I used to be cursing. It wasn’t even the ghosts. It was myself.
I might come to be taught that there was a phrase for individuals like me. I used to be diaspora, and it appeared like we shaped an entire demarcated society, paradoxically as pervasive because it was invisible. Etymology revealed that the phrase itself derived from a phrase within the Septuagint, “thou shalt be a dispersion in all kingdoms of the earth,” nevertheless it didn’t disclose to me the true inscrutableness of the situation or the legal guidelines of its liminal house. It didn’t take me into the twisted tract of “neither-here-nor-there” the place its youngsters, like my mom, appear to stay. Nonetheless, insinuated within the textual content was that there have been kingdoms to be unearthed, ones during which I might discover items of myself dispersed, and that it was my obligation to go and discover them.
“We’re three characters in the hunt for an exit.” This was the prophecy my plain-clothed father delivered to me and my mom as we had been all ready to board the airplane. With the air between us extremely charged and the regular hum of trade cranking above our heads, there was a looming sense that something, darkish or pleasurable or in any other case, was doable, and we had been barreling towards it. I surveyed the perimeter, thought-about it possible we had been one way or the other ensnared, however for a way lengthy? And at whose behest? Moreover, what sort of exit had been we in the hunt for and the way would we all know if we discovered it?
The phrases, they rattled in my thoughts like unfastened screws meant to lock one thing collectively. I checked out my mom for solutions, any intimation of what was subsequent, looked for the younger woman who left Armenia practically half a century in the past underneath the folds of her painted pores and skin. Possibly there wasn’t an exit, per se. A minimum of not within the phrase’s strict definition. Possibly we had been simply three individuals flung collectively underneath surprising circumstances attempting to know their place on this world. Three individuals who believed that there have been nonetheless sacred issues inside it. We had been simply loopy sufficient to attempt to discover and save them.
The airplane careened steadily via the nonetheless evening. I felt it softly buzz as if one thing supernatural had been afoot. Historical past, maybe, catching up with us or the current colliding determinedly into the longer term. And my complete being buzzed alongside it, the thrust of a thousand recollections that weren’t my very own propelling me towards their very hometown. The hope that the decades-long battle during which my mom and I tried, in useless, to know each other would finish in our return to it, nonetheless so deeply incorrigible.
When the airplane lastly started its descent, my father and I checked out her to see if one thing new or essential had already revealed itself, so close to because it was to its supply. Three characters, certainly, exiting life as they respectively knew it and coming into into the uncharted past.
Was the ultimate rating between us practically settled? The nice thriller nearly solved? She peered out of the window on the glittering sprawl of Yerevan beneath, then again at us with vivid, beady eyes. Lastly, in any case these years, dwelling.
“The house nation, in its stark actuality,” writes William Safran in Deconstructing and Evaluating Diasporas, “isn’t fairly so good as its imagined kind; typically sufficient ‘coming dwelling’ ends in the alternative of 1 nostalgia by one other — and it might give rise to a eager for the diaspora, which then seems because the ‘actual’ dwelling.”
I used to be raised on this nostalgia, raised with these recollections that weren’t my very own. My complete household, in actual fact, was trapped inside a Russian nesting doll of them. Tormented by the eager for a land they had been hardly in a position to keep in mind anymore. And with every recounting of the homeland, with every utterance from her native tongue, I felt my mom recede additional and additional into the reaches of a most chilly and impenetrable house. One which in my adolescence, I didn’t need and couldn’t bear to cross, however one whose urgency grew to be so unruly it began to really feel like I had no selection if I needed to know her. To like her.
My mom helped ferry me throughout and as soon as on the opposite aspect, in that nice past I had spent my life being haunted by, our roles appeared to have reversed. I watched the girl I assumed I knew stagger via the virtually unrecognizable terrain of her childhood, opening doorways to rooms in a reminiscence palace she hadn’t entered in practically half a century. I felt the load of her remembrance as she held on to me, fingers clasped round my arm as if to say she was frightened by what she noticed. Precipitated, it appeared she was, into this vortex during which all elements of herself had been clashing with each other in primordial chaos. Which a part of her prevailed, although, we couldn’t inform. We didn’t know. And neither, in a way, did she.
We each needed very a lot to consider that with the return would come a decision. For my mom, it was one in all extra materialist roots. She needed to revisit these proverbial cornerstones of childhood. See if her and Armenia’s respective evolutions had been one way or the other contiguous. For me, it was steeped in abstraction, in symbolism. The parable, in different phrases, of return. I needed to see if there was certainly a home of belonging, and if as soon as there at its gates, I might be granted entry into it. I by no means thought there might be a number of homes of belonging.
“Members of ‘serial diasporas’ who’re going from one hostland to a different,” Safran writes, “might preserve the homeland of their consciousness, however such a homeland, if it exists in any respect, could also be little greater than a utopia to which one shouldn’t be anticipated to ‘return.’”
My household, I might be taught, was an ideal instance of this. Hachik, my great-grandfather, was born in Anatolia shortly earlier than the 1915 Genocide. Agavne, my grandmother, in Lebanon when it was positioned underneath French mandate after the top of World Struggle I. My mom, in Armenia when it was topic to Soviet rule. And me, in America. Contemplating this now, it appears I made a grave error in my calculations. What motherland was I even meant to be returning to? To what mom kingdom did my household belong?
Zionist discourse will let you know that to ensure that diaspora to flourish, the displaced should declare a state during which to take root. One delimited territory that caters to their singularly distinctive wants and calls for. However we should ask ourselves: In its securing, what’s there to be gained and what’s going to inevitably be misplaced? What tragedy could be incurred and at what egregious value?
“Solely in its homeland,” writes Armenian American activist and guerilla fighter Monte Melkonian, “can a individuals develop economically, culturally, and socially as a homogenous entity. Actually, that is the crux of why a few of us take into account it essential to wrestle to stay in our homeland.”
Similar to I used to be, Melkonian was raised within the American West. And although there was a time once I subscribed to his philosophy, that we should wrestle to stay in stated homeland, I by no means believed in it so fervently that I used to be keen to die for it. He was and he did. I simply needed to style its fruit. I needed to know what I’d been lacking.
I recall Bruno Schulz, the Polish Jewish author who has develop into a cult ambassador of kinds for diasporism. However not the type that resolves itself within the attainment of a nation or a return to a homeland. “Schulz’s diasporist imaginative and prescient,” writes Nathan Goldman, “counters the understanding of the diasporic Jew as a cursed exile eager for a return to a holy land overflowing with milk and honey; in Schulz’s tales, milk and honey abound in exile.”
It’s an unpopular opinion, one regarded by many as some type of oblique justification of wholesale displacement and slaughtering. One that folks don’t assume takes under consideration a few of the dismal situations that in actual fact engender and extend diaspora. Armenians, as an illustration, have a protracted historical past of being pushed from their homeland by incursions of Byzantines, Seljuk Turks, Mamelukes, and Ottoman Turks. The nation itself barely existed as a nation, its inhabitants fairly actually scattering throughout all kingdoms of the earth, simply because the Septuagint foretold.
In my household’s case, it was a genocide adopted by the apocryphal attract of repatriation (Ner Kacht) and compounded by the specter of Soviet-era communism. However not all youngsters of diaspora are cursed forevermore to some type of grim exilic existence. Neither should all of them return to the motherland as a way to put an finish to it. As a result of I’ve been in its folds, the purported motherland, and I do know that diaspora shouldn’t be a bodily house you possibly can slip out and in of. And neither is belonging.
For a lot of my life, I discovered my mom deeply unnerving. I felt as if there have been an extraterrestrial presence in what might have been a traditional, healthful life. I regarded like her, however there was one thing that advised me I wasn’t and I punished her for it, this lady who kidnapped me from a life I might have had, a lady I might have been. However that is my retrospective interpretation. On the time, I used to be simply retaliating towards her otherness.
I spent years circling the nightmare that was me wanting and never desirous to be touched, needing and never needing to be cherished. My complete adolescence a determined, flailing act of needing to belong, however the very lady who created me, her mom tongue was not my very own and her being was as darkish and mysterious because the faraway land she got here from. To what mom kingdom do I belong?
As I write this, there’s a nice storm attempting to interrupt via the sky. The church bells are clanging as if a premonition of some cataclysm to return and the streets, emptied and darkening save a couple of stragglers speeding to satisfy their loneliness. By the good rush of rain, I hear what appears like an Armenian mystic chanting above a most biblical roar of wind and crane my neck out of the window in the hunt for him. My coronary heart flush as a lot with awe as it’s with terror. My longing to be seen, to be accepted, to be cherished, as wild and unruly as my compulsion to run.
Medieval anchorite Julian of Norwich has a extra apt phrase for this terror. It was dread and it could actually take 4 varieties. “The primary of those varieties,” writes Mary Ruefle when referencing it in Insanity, Rack, and Honey,
is what I’ll describe because the unconscious emotion worry. […] The second type of dread is the anticipatory dread of ache. […] The third type of dread is doubt, or despair. And the fourth is “born of reverence,” the holy dread with which we face that which we love most, or that which loves us most.
Once I went with my mom to Armenia, this holy dread was all over the place. The air, I felt, was pregnant with it and my nervous physique was its earthly host. As stuffed with thrill as I used to be trepidation, I trailed her as she surveyed the brand new perimeter, negotiated the traditional land. An entire nation of people that regarded precisely like us swarmed, however they had been now not recollections that weren’t my very own. They had been in entrance of us, fleshy, tufty plenty who broke via the fourth wall of my nostalgia and into the world with distances between us that felt practically as nice.
She’s Armenian, I might proclaim at any time when somebody would attempt to converse to us in English, for the primary time in my life happy with who she was and baffled that they couldn’t see it. That she was one in all them. And so they, in flip, had been one in all us. However my proclamations, although acknowledged and perhaps even entertained, had been met with the sympathetic tenderness reserved not for brethren, however for strangers.
Communicate to them in Armenian, I might urge, attempting to persuade them that she was what I stated she was, watching them watch me wrestle to do it, the doorways to the home of belonging creaking irrevocably shut. Go on. However she would fall silent. And I, vexed. She had lastly returned to the place she had spent the whole thing of my life summoning. Why was she appearing as if she had been a vacationer and never a citizen?
Within the Forties, the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic organized a world repatriation marketing campaign. Armenians who had fled to international locations close to the Ottoman Empire like Egypt and Syria and Lebanon after the Genocide had been lured by the promise of free housing, land to construct upon, and job alternatives on ancestral soil circa the reign of Darius the Nice. Maybe most notably although, they had been lured by the promise of belonging. Of dwelling. They had been as a substitute met by the wiles of one other power-drunk empire, the Soviet Union, whose motivation lay solely in securing expert staff and craftsmen with which to bolster their fortitude and attain. My great-grandfather, a watchmaker who discovered his commerce within the wake of the genocide, was one such craftsman.
“The essential repatriation story is riddled with particular person twists and turns,” writes Hazel Antaramian-Hofman within the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, “however normally, there was a typical thread: extra typically, a nationalistic, or at instances, a socialist-leaning determination was made by a patriarch or a matriarch, who uprooted their household in response to an emotional world enchantment inspired by Soviet propaganda.”
Once I ask my grandmother in regards to the sequence of occasions that led to their final repatriation, it’s nearly uncanny to listen to how immaculately her recollections match these present in varied archives. An oral patchwork of black-market enterprises, cryptic outbound letters, and malfeasance. Malaise, betrayal, and deceit. It was as if they’d all rehearsed the identical script, however that wasn’t precisely it. It was simply that they’d been dealt the identical blow. What’s worse? It wasn’t solely delivered by their oppressor.
Upon my household’s return to the motherland, as an illustration, they had been known as akhbar shooner (international canines) by their ancestral countrymen. It was a very merciless pejorative contemplating how reminiscent it was of what their extra infamous aggressors used to (and nonetheless) name them: infidel canines. And it didn’t simply final the period of 1 era. My mom and her siblings who had been born in Armenia correct had been additionally topic to the abuse and what Antaramian-Hofman refers to because the “tradition shock, lack of freedom and the ideological turmoil that formed the historic time of the akhbars.” To what mom kingdom did my mom belong?
When it got here nearer to the time of planning our return, I sensed a reluctance from my mom that I couldn’t on the time perceive. It will definitely become declarative conviction. I don’t wish to go, she stated 4 months previous to our slated departure and I practically misplaced my thoughts. I’ve been ready my complete life for this, I snapped, a baby once more, stuffed with puerile rage and remonstrance. I used to be so preoccupied with my needing to make amends with historical past that I overlooked the very lady who solid my relation to it.
I wrote earlier that she held on to me, fingers clasped round my arms as she explored that reminiscence palace of her youth. As if I had been one thing strong and stalwart she might press towards. However the reality is we had been urgent towards one another. She was not my gatekeeper or my information, my captor or my oppressor. She was my creator. The nation and its legacy, a map upon which to hint the traces of our plight, our longing, our journey.
That is what actually haunted me. It was not Armenia or the ghosts. It was not even my mom. It was my not having the ability to perceive the very factor that gave me life. It was my wanting to like and on the identical time destroy it.
I take into account a few of the occasions that helped me inch nearer to her, to myself. Going again along with her to Yerevan 40 years after she emigrated. Discovering my great-grandfather’s watch store in Baalbek practically 100 years after he based it. Partaking in a revolution on the grounds on which my grandparents had been born and raised. The shifting boundaries of land as fixed and ceaseless as these of self.
“Do you continue to really feel Armenian?” I requested my mom on my most up-to-date go to dwelling. It wasn’t till I had lastly made it to all of these faraway locations that I spotted to which kingdom I finally belonged.
She paused, checked out me blankly as if reminded of one thing that was part of her. One thing she cherished, however was too painful or too unimaginable to carry on to. And me, I hoped that in some circuitous method her reply would assist me formulate my very own.
“No,” she retorted, the brown hair of her youth stripped to blonde, the clothes of her Soviet years changed by extra flashy and eccentric Western garb. “I really feel like I exist.”
It might be too simple to interpret this as what has been coined “white genocide” by the Armenian individuals. A time period used to explain the specter of full assimilation throughout the inhabitants of the nation the place they had been compelled to to migrate. It might even be too myopic to not take into account how such an admittance comprises multitudes, as fraught with craving for what was and what might have been as it’s with what might be, what has but to develop into.
“Armenians had been […] a presence lengthy earlier than the world conceived of countries and nationhood within the trendy style,” writes Michael J. Arlen in Passage to Ararat. “However maybe ultimately the message of the Armenians is extra specific than mere persistence. Maybe, if there exists a deeper risk within the psyche of this historic, sturdy, and minor race, it’s this: the capability of a individuals for continuing past nationhood.”
I think about a world during which my ancestors had been in a position to circumvent imperatives like nationhood and property. A world during which our ghosts are lastly in a position to sleep. A world during which my mom and I are in a position to transfer previous the frontier of understanding, past the brink of phrases, and into that landless house the place the whole lot is with out figuring out it. The place the whole lot is with out being advised what it ought to or shouldn’t be.
Possibly, simply perhaps, we’re already there, milk and honey abounding in portions we couldn’t have presumably foreseen.
Angela Brussel is an Armenian Lebanese American writer and photographer based in Beirut with nonfiction and fiction that have appeared in New Statesman, Literary Hub, Catapult, Electric Literature, Nylon, The Awl, The Wrong Quarterly, Brooklyn Magazine, and KCET’s Migrant Kitchen, to name a few. She is also the founder of Nour Jan Presents, a multisensory platform promoting the intangible cultural heritage of Armenian diaspora, its latest project being the recently released podcast This Diaspora Life, which uses oral histories and archival music to do ethnographic deep dives into different diaspora communities around the world.
Featured picture: “Mount Ararat and the Yerevan skyline in spring from the Cascade” by Serouj Ourishian is licensed underneath CC BY 4.0. Picture has been cropped and coloration modified.