Seeking to Uphold a Vision by Marrying an Armenian
Compiled by Dr Stepanos Dingilian, Ph. D.
On this site we have an article entitled Changes Armenian Women and Men would like to see in each other. The response to that article through conversations and our website has been tremendous. Many have identified with the issues presented. Frankly, as expected, some persons not related to the Armenian community who read the article also appreciated the insights of those who had participated in that panel discussion. Many of these people kept asking an interesting question: “If these Armenian women and men feel that there is such an important need for changes in the members of the opposite sex, why do they still remain in the Armenian community? Why don’t they just throw in the towel, say ‘Enough is enough’ and simply marry a non-Armenian?” We could not pass up finding an answer to this question! So we invited two single persons, a woman and a man, who have been looking for their respective soul mates in the Armenian community for a number of years but have not found them yet. We posed the above question to them. Below is the compilation of their responses. It is interesting to note that the reasoning of both these persons were very similar. Both had similar reasons for wanting to marry another Armenian person. Consequently, instead of separating between the female and the male response, we combined the two and wrote the article in the first person singular.
To be honest with you, I am not going to say that I would not marry a non-Armenian. In fact, I believe that it is incorrect to ask ‘Should you marry an Armenian or not?’ When I say ‘I want to marry an Armenian,’ what I really mean is that I want to perpetuate a vision that I believe God has placed in this world, our ancestors have defended it and I believe in its value. So it is not that I don’t want to marry a non-Armenian, but rather that I want to marry an Armenian in order to maintain a God created vision and a way of life established by my ancestors. I want to be part of a vision in life, a member of a community that has lasted for millennia. This is what marrying an Armenian means to me. By marrying an Armenian I am not running away from something, but instead remaining part of a vision that not only spans throughout the world, but also spans over thousands of years. There maybe some people who will misinterpret what I say as ‘chauvinistic.’ That is not my intent and I will not be apologetic to those people. There may also be others, likely Armenians, who will try to twist my words and say that you should marry an Armenian because ‘Armenians are better than others.’ I do not believe that either and I certainly do not support those views. So, if there are people in those two groups who will read and misinterpret what I have to say here, I really cannot help them.
For me, I must say that my Christian faith and cultural identity are intertwined. The two go hand in hand! I really think we are very unique among Christian people because of that. I cannot see being Christian in any other community. It is not to say that Armenians are better or worse than others. Since I have learned this sense of spirituality – the interweaving of the abstract faith and the concrete culture in which that faith takes shape, I cannot imagine any other way for me to practice my Christianity.
Actually our work today is easy. Our grandparents who were massacred in the 1915 Genocide had the tougher job. They are the ones who had to face the ultimatum. We don’t. Now the least we can do is keep our name and maintain our faith and heritage.
There are many non-Armenians who still wonder if there is a country called ‘Armenia’ or a people who are called ‘Armenians.’ They have read about us in history books and they wonder. It may sound ridiculous but it is real! It is our responsibility to be both proud of this heritage and inform others about the brave and faithful people whose descendents we are. When non-Armenians hear about how we have survived, they do not say something like: “What’s the big deal about surviving thousands of years?!” Believe it or not, the people who most generally make this statement are other Armenians. But generally non-Armenians are awed and many are happy for us. So why should I ignore something that is so inspirational to so many?
I don’t believe that what I am saying here is true of all Armenians. There are some for whom the Armenian heritage does not make a difference. Fine. That is how God has created them. For me though, there is a piece of my life, a major portion that is simply rooted in the Armenian faith and heritage. I know it!
Actually, I would encourage marrying someone of own cultural background to all people who have a cultural heritage and an affinity to maintain it. It is not just for Armenians but for people who have a sense of history – be that a three thousand year history or a three hundred year one. I think this is most true in the United States where a homogenous culture does not exist. As a result, if you don’t belong to an Armenian, Greek, German, Irish or another ethnic community, with whom will you associate? The people at work? Once in a while mix with the neighbors at a block-barbeque? Just where are you going to go with your family to share some in depth thoughts and feelings about life, history, the arts, humanity, and religion? That is why I just cannot see myself marrying someone other than an Armenian.
To say that I did not try to go out with non-Armenians would be a lie. I tried. But it just wasn’t true to me! I could not see myself living in such a relationship the rest of my life. Sure, I could love that one person. But what community would I live in and associate with? Maybe it is just me, but I want to be part of the total humanity and history, and not just my family and neighborhood. Marrying an Armenian, I believe will give me the depth and breadth to continue maintaining that overall perspective of life.
This ‘depth and breadth’ in life I believe will also manifest in the daily situations. If my partner is an Armenian, it will be much easier to communicate with each other. It does not matter if I am born in the U.S. or overseas. If I have an Armenian heritage and am close to the Armenian community, there are many aspects about me that only another Armenian can easily understand. Can a non-Armenian eventually understand me? Of course! If there is enough love and hard work, we can understand each other regardless of where we come from. I truly believe in the power of love that God has placed in us. Yet, the chances are better that another person with an Armenian background will understand me better than one without. I must add of course, there is no guarantee that someone with an Armenian background will understand me either. We are speaking here of probabilities! I know that I don’t have all the time in the world. So, to improve my chances of finding fulfillment in my relationships, I am trying to find a soul mate in the Armenian community as opposed to looking for someone at large.
For both parents to come from an Armenian heritage I believe also helps the children and their sense of identity and belongingness. I believe that the children tend to have (and I want to emphasis ‘tend’) a clearer sense of identity if both parents come from the same background. Sure some people say that if the parents come from different backgrounds then the children will be more diverse. I think identity is like learning a language. It is always better to learn one language very well, rather than learning two languages half way. Being from one cultural heritage helps the children learn one culture very well and then expand and diversify from that culture. I must also add that the Armenian culture is very rich in spiritual and family values, so it is a good culture in which to grow and through it learn to appreciate other cultures.
I believe this makes a difference in the religious aspect of a family as well. There are many Armenian traditions that are based upon the Christian faith that bring the whole family together. When we as spouses have a common religious heritage then I would not feel that I have to explain, apologize or defend my religious traditions. I believe that the children would see this and they will be inspired. But if there are differences in our religious backgrounds, then the children would become confused. In fact, I would think, though I am not sure, that if the children see that attending one Church as opposed to another is going to cause complications between the parents, they may tend to stay away from all Churches and even religion completely. Again though, I must go back and say that there are many children from all Armenian families who simply do not go to Church. At the same time, there are children from families where one parent is Armenian and the other is not where the young people serve in the Church faithfully. So I must remind you, I am speaking of probabilities for which there are always exceptions!
I believe that if children do not grow up with an appreciation of their parents’ religious and cultural heritage, then the children will not fully understand their parents. So this is not just for the long-term interest of the children or lets say for the sake of the nation. No, it is for the interest of the parents as well!
I think that when there is no commonality of culture between parents, there is another more subtle loss that takes place within the family. I believe that if both parents come from the same religious and cultural heritage, then they have more time to focus on the deeper and multi-layered aspects of life. But if the parents come from different backgrounds, since they likely cannot do everything together, they will tend to leave out the real deep and unique aspects of each parent’s background. Instead, they will engage in activities that are more individual person oriented as opposed to the larger family and community oriented. They will tend to lose the breadth and depth of life. I think this robs both the parents as well as the children from the beauty of the community life. Again I am sure there are exceptions.
To illustrate my point, let me give you a real living example. We have a person who is not married to an Armenian but he is really attached to his Armenian identity. Unfortunately, because his wife is not Armenian, she does not come to any of the Armenian functions. They are a good couple, and love each other as husband and wife. There is no question about that. They will not divorce! I can guarantee you that! Yet, the husband generally feels lonely, and he has said so, when we have an event and his wife is not present. In addition, both his sons, 18 and 16 years old, do not attend any of our Armenian gatherings because they never bothered to learn the Armenian language, religious belief or cultural traditions. The issue here is not to establish blame – his fault or her fault. That would be a very selfish and arrogant approach. Rather, we have to accept that that is one of the likely consequences of a marriage between two people of different heritage. In fact, the husband has given-into this reality and admits openly: “My Armenian heritage is going to die with me because my wife and sons don’t understand me!” So are they happy as a couple? I would say “Yes!” But is he, the husband, fulfilled? I would say “No!” I do not know about the wife. Would she be fulfilled if her husband is not? I guess you will have to ask her. But here is the point I am trying to illustrate: Marrying a person you love can lead to happiness. If that person is also Armenian and shares your beliefs and heritage, then I think it can lead to even greater fulfillment in life. This is the vision that I have and this is why I want to marry an Armenian!