a column by Paul Chaderjian
for the Asbarez newspaper
Once there was and there was not…
You feel a wave of air rush from the underground tube in front of you. The subway train is fast approaching Bagramian Station, your local friends are talking non-stop about Eurovision, and the invisible pressure of cold air – what you feel before you hear the hum of the tracks – embraces and chills you.
This is your Saroyan moment. He had stood in New York City and missed home, and you are standing in the belly of your Homeland, homesick for Fresno.
Instead of the cold air from the tunnels underneath Yerevan, you want to feel the fans at your gym in Fresno. You want to feel the giant fans above cooling you down as you jog on the treadmill, listening to Armenian revolutionary songs.
You want to hear the songs that gave you goose bumps, that made you feel connected, the songs that had motivated you, your friends, your generation, and the generation that gave you life.
These songs were your anthem; they were what made you feel Armenian.
These were the songs about how the Turks had massacred you, burned your homes, destroyed your crops, and marched you out to the desert to die.
They were the songs that told the story of the brave men and women who had stood up against the Ottoman Empire and saved your entire genetic pool from disappearing off the face of the earth.
These revolutionary songs had empowered generations to fight for your collective dream of an independent homeland.
They were the songs that had echoed at dances, weddings, and at weekend retreats at Big Pines, songs that you had sung around the campfire, songs that you had played in your headsets at the gym while running five miles or pumping weights.
These were the songs that chronicled your oral histories, sung generation after generation. These were the songs that talked of Rosdom, Kristapor and Zavarian, Sosse and Serop, of Moorad, of the kach badanees who were the hope of Homeland, of the Lisbon Five, of Antranig and the fedayee heroes, and our Cilician Kingdom.
These were your songs that were written about the five boys, the ones your age, who had taken over a Turkish Embassy in Lisbon and died attempting to bring attention to the unacknowledged injustices the world had ignored.
These were your songs, the songs in your soul, the songs that made you seek the Homeland.
These were the songs you wanted to hear, the songs that people you are with in the underground station could care less about, the songs that people in this real Homeland don’t want to think about.
They don’t care about your songs or your culture. They want work. They want food. They want peace. And tell it to you like it is:
“Paul Chaderjian, you don’t know anything about being Armenian or living in Armenia.”
One repatriate had called you ‘riff-raff.’ And thus you were.
You were a gorgor, a lebleboujee. You knew chicken kebob, the grand costumes and vests of the priests at church, and revolutionary songs.
You knew your father and his dedication to the language, to the Church, the holy Church and its divine liturgy.
You knew things Armenian included your mother yelling at you when you spoke English at home. “Hayeren khoseer,” she would say, and you wanted to hear her say it again.
And right now, you want to be back at your father’s print shop in the Tower District of Fresno, proof-reading a flier for extra cash, typesetting some god-awful book someone had written about being Armenian.
You want your father to be telling you how you should give up the silly dreams of making movies in Hollywood, that you will have a better tomorrow and make enough money if you pursue a more conventional career.
“You have to know people in show business,” your father would say. “You have to know people to get into that business. Who do you know,” your father would ask.
“And you’re not going to marry an odar,” he would continue. Were you racists? Or was it a matter of self-preservation?
Your entire psychology and purpose for being alive was to keep your culture alive, at all cost. Everything about you and your family was your Armenian identity. That is all you are. That is all you know.
But you are standing in the belly of the place your parents and five million Armenians are obsessed with, and this place isn’t interested in your parent’s dreams. They want what you have in that place you come from. They like iPhones, Hummers, and goth. Yes, goth. The music. The dress. The post-punk 80s music scene and subculture from the UK.
And there’s you. The riff-raff with your revolutionary songs.
Were millions of Diasporan lives and your life built on false dreams? False identities? False hope?
Why had your father carried the torch for your people? Did your the Homeland need him to carry the torch? Had anyone in Armenia asked your mother to scream at you when you spoke in English at home?
You are confused. You don’t understand, and all you want is to be back in your mother’s kitchen, where TV 5 from France is blaring, where the stovetop is permeating strong scents, and the nieces are running around making so much goddamn noise that you want to leave again.
You want to be back with your people, the people who are content living in tract homes with the requisite image of Ararat over the fireplace.
You want to be back with the people who played it safe to ensure the survival of their children as Armenians, people who bless the grapes every weekend in August, eat at George’s Shish Kebob, and make a big deal out of Christmas Tree Lane.
And three apples fell from heaven: one for the storyteller, one for him who made him tell it, and one for you the reader.