Tag Archive | Armenia

Jiray: Being Armenian in Boston

As I drove from Belmont to Watertown, the Boston skyline loomed in front of me, reminiscent of the hazy view of Ararat one has from nearly any vantage in Yerevan. I began to see signs in Armenian over storefronts. For a moment I was transported in time to last winter, taking a terrifying ride through the city in a Heifer International company car, on my way to some ancient church built 1500 years ago (was it St. Hiripsime’s? Noravank?). It was with fondness then, after my visit to both the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR) and Project SAVE, that I entered Arax Market on Mt. Auburn Street in Watertown. The familiar hum of Armenian bickering surrounded me once again. I gazed at the wooden crates of fruit, the piles of lavash and pita. Several workers were standing around, chatting with customers. If this wasn’t where the diaspora was, then where could it be?

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Earlier in the day I had met with the director of NAASR, a tall bespectacled man in his late forties. He excitedly invited me on a tour of the place. He whisked me from the bookstore, to the meeting room, his office, and then upstairs to the library. Later, down in his office, I asked the director whether he had any immigrant or refugee Armenians as regular visitors? Not really, he answered. At certain lectures and other events they seem to come out of the woodworks, but otherwise he doesn’t here much from that community. I mentioned that through the interviews I’d conducted over the past month, that there were far more politics within the diaspora than I had assumed. He agreed on that point. He was wondering when these recent immigrants (Armenians living in the US since the 1980s and 90s) would become “just Armenians.” It seemed to him that the prefixes “Baku” or “Karabakh” seemed to act as a wall between these recent Armenian immigrants and the rest of their fellow diasporans. With this thought I set off to Watertown to visit another Armenian organization in the area.

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The headquarters of Project SAVE, an organization dedicated to collecting and archiving photographs from throughout Armenian history is Read More…


Jiray: Religion, Identity and the Diaspora

If answering any theoretical questions about diaspora communities is difficult, imagine trying to locate those communities. It is easy enough to find individual members, to ask them about their lives, and to try to shed some light on the elusive diaspora identity (if such a thing can be singled out and studied). If you’re lucky, maybe they see themselves as part of that immensely complex community. Maybe that connection lies only in the label others place on them. While these conversations have been immensely helpful in gaining a keener understanding of Armenian identity within the diaspora, especially in light of the Karabakh conflict, they have left something to be desired. Where are these identities being formed? Reformulated? Maintained? What I have gathered from conversations with individuals in the Armenian diaspora is that there is a constant sense of searching, of transition, of adaptation. This is not to say that a sense of “home” can never be achieved. Rather, that sense of home is constantly being negotiated within the past, present, and future.

As I’ve learned over the past month, the role of the anthropologist is not simply to have conversations. Some of the most important elements in any ethnographic project come from participant observation. Within this framework my line of questioning has evolved from “Who do I talk to about the Karabakh conflict and Armenian identity within the diaspora?” to “Where are these identities being constructed and reconstructed?” and “How do I (physically and geographically) contextualize these experiences?” These questions became all the more complicated when, in a phone interview, I asked a man if he knew of any expatriate populations, or had a personal relationship with expats in his area? He told me Read More…

Jiray: A Citizen in Absentia

I had made the mistake of sitting almost directly under the speakers that provided music for the whole cafe. Some soft rock was playing right above our heads, and it seemed to rain down directly into my recorder. Still our conversation moved along. “And um, but, it seems like the way that I feel constantly changes. You know it goes from not thinking about the place [Baku, Azerbaijan], there’s nothing that ties me to there, but at the same time I lived there for thirteen years. You can’t take that out, you can’t take that away.” I nodded in agreement. At the start of this project, I didn’t think I was going to be examining the spaces of diaspora (whether those spaces are emotional, mental, cultural, geographical, etc.). But here I was, listening to a woman describe the constant tension she experienced in trying to reconcile her relationship with two different homes (Providence and Baku).

That sense of home, however bifurcated, was tied directly to the people she was with. In Baku, her fellow Bakutsi Armenians, her Azerbaijani neighbors, her Russian schoolmates Read More…

Jiray: Identity in Nagorno-Karabakh

My name is Jiray and I am a senior at Bennington where I study anthropology. My senior work has taken the shape of a thesis on the Nagorno-Karabakh War (fought between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the late 80s/early 90s). Here is where things get interesting! Originally, I had planned to travel to Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) for my independent study in order to interview Karabakhtsis (Armenian term for people who live in NKR) on Armenian social identity (i.e. various traditions and practices that make Armenians in distinct form others). Unfortunately, due to extenuating circumstances, I was unable to travel to Armenia or NKR. In light of those changes, I will be undertaking my independent study in Rhode Island, where I am from.

photo 2 (3) In many ways this adjustment has been an ongoing challenge, but in the week that I’ve spent preparing my reoriented IS, I realized a number of really important things I may have taken for granted had my plans gone accordingly. In conversations with Noah and Mirka, I realized that doing participant observation amongst Armenians (especially in disparate places like NKR and the northeast United States) begs the question: where does one observe a diaspora community? What common denominator ties these geographically separated populations together? Is it possible to link observations and interviews done in an Armenian community in Providence, RI to the lived experience of those Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh?

I realized that, as Razmik Panossian puts it, the Armenian “nation” is Read More…