Academics consider Armenian diaspora, preservation of culture

Fewer Armenian Americans are speaking the language of their native country, eroding the ability of the diaspora to preserve its culture, according to an expert at UCLA who addressed a conference organized at the Central Library on Saturday.

Since 1970, the use of the Armenian language has decreased dramatically in all areas of diasporan life, including weddings, baptisms, schools and newspapers, said Hagop Gulludjian, a lecturer of Armenian studies at UCLA.

Language is key to the survival of ethnic identity, particularly because the Armenian diaspora appears to be permanent, he added.

“Ultimately, the world is language,” Gulludjian said.

While Armenian organizations focused their efforts on education during the first half of the 20th century, today’s diaspora favors issues that are less related to cultural survival, Gulludjian said, including recognition of the Armenian genocide and assistance to homeland, he added.

He proposed the creation of a “critical mass” of users of the language, which will result in more books and newspapers being published in Armenian and the language being used more often in homes, churches and at social events.

Organizers of the conference — the ARPA Institute and library officials — gave him a choice, he noted: make his presentation in Armenian or English, which left him with a difficult choice.

“If I speak in Armenian, the older generation, plus educated immigrants from the Near East, will understand me,” he said.

However, non-Armenian speakers and those who speak Armenian, but maybe not to the point of understanding abstract thoughts, will not.

Another topic discussed at the conference was the apparent lack of coordination among the three political parties of the diaspora with the Armenian government, according to Stephan Astourian, executive director of the Armenian studies program at UC, Berkeley.

He said the parties claim that they have power, but have done little during the past 20 years. He said one organization should be set up to represent all Armenian communities.

Also discussed was a paper by Simon Payaslian, chairman of modern Armenian history and literature at Boston University, which looked at how diasporan communities are declining in the Middle East and United States — but for different reasons.

In the Middle East, there’s an exodus of Armenians, while in the United States, he attributed the trend to assimilation.

-- Mark Kellam, Times Community News

Twitter: @LAMarkKellam

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