Once again, Armenia is under attack. On top of sporadic incursions by Azerbaijan since the 44-day Artsakh War, the recent “three-day war” from Sept. 12 to 15 marks the first multifront, large-scale attack against sovereign Armenia. If Azerbaijan continues its unprovoked attacks and the rest of the world stands by in silence, an independent Armenia could cease to exist in the near future.
What does this mean for Armenians like me living in the diaspora?
Hurt seems like an understatement to describe what it feels like to watch your homeland slowly carved away from a distance. Despite rallying alongside fellow Armenians, donating to soldiers and families on the frontlines and urging both U.S. representatives and our academic community to condemn Azerbaijani aggression, I feel helpless — especially when cries for help often go unheard and ignored.
When news of the recent attacks reached me, I didn’t even flinch.
The sad reality is, these feelings of pain and loss are all too familiar for us Armenains. My great grandparents were the survivors of the Armenian genocide in 1915, but fled persecution and found refuge in villages in Lebanon.
There, my parents and grandparents were subject to second-class citizenry, but apart from their status, they spent their days bunkered underground in bomb shelters during the Lebanese Civil War. Eventually, my family immigrated to the United States, but now news of attacks in Armenia bring back these familiar feelings.
As a first-generation Armenian American, I learned the stories of my family’s past and my people’s history at a young age, and I carry these stories with me each day here at UC Berkeley. I am especially reminded of these stories when I run into another Armenian on the way to class, or if I catch a glimpse of the Armenian alphabet statue while studying in Doe Memorial Library.
It has always been important to remind myself of these memories so that I may keep my Armenian heritage alive. But this recent war is not merely a memory for others.
I have fond memories growing up singing church hymns on Sundays, baking sweet breads during the holiday seasons and learning Armenian dances in the summers. But these fond memories cannot be separated from lessons on our history.
As I sang in church, I learned that Armenian Christianity survives centuries of persecution. Many of the recipes I cook at Armenian functions are often borrowed from neighboring regions and cultures. In addition, many of the dances and other cultural traditions I grew up practicing were born of displacement and hardship. The culture I enjoy was paid for through my ancestors’ suffering.
I remind myself that the traditions I hold so close to my heart are alive today because Armenians all over the world remember their history and work to pass their traditions along to the next generation.
So when I learn of a home being shelled by Azerbaijiani forces today, I am faced with the harsh reality that Armenians are still under constant threat. While Armenians living in Armenia wake up every day with these fears, the hardship of being Armenian for me is contained in my family memories.
Threats on Armenian existence only make my love for my culture stronger. In the words of Armenian intellectual Hrant Dink, “If every day someone curses you, how could you not remain Armenian?” I take these words to heart, studying Armenian language, history and art, particularly through UC Berkeley’s Armenian studies program. I find solace in the Armenian student body, and we find solidarity mourning Armenia’s losses as we gather in the evenings for our Armenian Student Association’s general meetings.
When I think of my time in both of these programs, I think of the community I can always rely on. Whether I am grabbing lunch with my classmates or camping out on the Memorial Glade to commemorate and spread awareness on the anniversary of the Armenian genocide, I feel a sense of belonging. While these moments may seem ordinary, they are rather opportunities to celebrate our rich heritage because of the constant threat we feel.
But the truth is, my efforts are not enough.
It is not enough to preserve Armenia in our minds, or even thousands of miles away. This is a privilege that belongs exclusively to diasporans like me. For centuries, Armenians have been resilient, but nothing has changed. If we do not take real action to combat the erasure of history and culture, the entire country could become a memory.
Remaining hopeful and leveraging education — for Armenians and non-Armenians alike — is one way to help ensure that centuries of resistance and perseverance do not amount to nothing.