To be an Armenian is not easy, to be an American is not easy as well. If we really want to achieve what our both identities require from us, we have to make an effort. Naturally, it is easier to follow the identity that we were grown with. I grew up in an Armenian-Syrian community, in a conservative and very Armenian focused environment. Although I lived in Syria until I was twenty years old, I actually lived completely in an Armenian environment as any member of that community. The schools I attended were Armenian under the sponsorship of the Armenian Church. All our relatives were Armenians and we lived in the Christian section of the city. We were in contact with local people sometimes on the street, in the stores and whenever we had government work. Since I left Syria right after High School, I didn’t have any local friends except my Armenian ones. We were told that our homeland is Armenia and Syria just a country where we lived, and I think that was a mistake, because we didn’t understand the concept of having two identities. I am glad that after the war in Syria, Armenians are referring to Syria as their homeland alongside with Armenia. The war made Syrian-Armenians to become Syrian patriots.
Coming to US and after living here for almost fifteen years and becoming an American citizen, I am glad that I am able to understand the concept of having two identities. In general, American people are patriotic. This is one of the good sides of our country. I am glad also to see that most of Armenians who were born and raised here are good American citizens as well. This is right and should not conflict between being an American and an Armenian at the same time, in other words to be an Armenian-American. America deserved to be loved. It has many-many advantages. Local non-Armenian Americans in general are nice and good people. America gives great opportunities to its people, probably more than any country does, and that is why globally people say that America is the land of opportunities. As I stated many times before, my family and I are very glad that we came here and became American citizens which is also an honor. When I meet new people and they ask me originally where I am from, after answering the question I always add that now I am a proud American.
Recently, there have been important changes in Armenia that caused for me to put into practice how I deal with my both identities, the Armenian and the American one. After decades of authoritarian regime and downfall in Armenia, the recent peaceful revolution in Armenia inspired entire our nation and gave hope to us. It seems that this time it is real and Armenia is on its way to become a democratic country with the implementation of the system and rules well known to us in the US; transparency, system of check and balances and equal opportunities. Most importantly, it seems that there is a real hope that the corruption will decrease significantly.
Some of you probably heard that in the middle of the revolution I was so inspired that I went to Armenia to experience this historical moment of our nation. People took the power, in other words people changed the system and now they can say and repeat the words that our constitution starts with: “We the people”. Yes, today in Armenia people are in control of the country since the new government is the choice of the people. Although there haven’t been elections yet, but the fact is that in a country of not more than two and half million population, two hundred thousand people rallied in the support of changes and a new government. This is an undeniable fact that people are in support of the new leadership. There will be fair elections in the coming months. My point is this, it may seem to you that in the last few mouth I was only focusing on Armenia and not paying attention to what is going on here in the US. That is not true. Actually, I am still following closely what is going on here. But here is what I think. The US is a 242 year old state and has a well-established system, rules and it is prosperous, while Armenia is a twenty seven year old state, with a bad system and appalling corruption on all levels and it is poor. Most importantly, it still carries the burden of the Soviet Union. Now Armenia has a historical chance and it is having a deep transformation on all levels. That is why we have to focus on Armenia. We have to use the benefit of being Americans in order to help our historical homeland. We Armenian-Americans can and should help to bring what we are proud of our country (the US) to Armenia, to adapt the American system and political-economic values to our historical homeland. While we are doing this we should not forget to consider local and historical conditions. Our goal should be to make Armenia a prosperous country. That will stop the migration from Armenia and will bring many Armenians back to the homeland. The day will come when we will have an Armenia stretched from Artsakh to Erzroom and from Trabizon to Van. The day will come when we will have a free, independent, united, democratic and prosperous Armenia.
May God bless Armenia, may God bless America and Happy 4th of July.
Fr. Bedros Shetilian