Glendale News Press
October 01, 2005

WRITING THE RIGHT
Film festival is a chance for understanding

ANI AMIRKHANIAN
The Arpa International Film Festival will be arriving in Los Angeles this
week. For those who are unfamiliar with this event, Arpa Film Festival is
intended to promote cultural understanding and global empathy by presenting
a dynamic compilation of international films that explore the issues of
diaspora, exile and multiculturalism.
This film festival, in addition, provides filmmakers the opportunity to
share their understanding of the social and political climate of the world
through their artistic vision.
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It is fortunate that the community, with residents from near and far, have
the chance to celebrate art, culture and social consciousness.
Among the diverse entries is a 90-minute documentary called "Armenians of
Lebanon." The title is misleading, because the documentary not only
discusses the history of the diasporan Armenians of Lebanon, it also expands
to include the diasporans of other countries in Western Asia, including
Syria, Jordan, Turkey, Iran and even Armenia.
This documentary is a comprehensive history lesson with black and white
footage of the Armenian Genocide. It is narrated in Arabic, some Armenian
and French with English subtitles.
The various interviews conducted by the filmmakers indicate clearly that
Armenians throughout Western Asia are attempting to understand their
identity. It's as though many are conflicted when it comes to identifying
with their Armenian heritage and the cultures they have assimilated into as
diasporans.
After watching this documentary, I pondered: How does one define themselves
as Armenian? What makes someone an Armenian? What does it mean to be
Armenian?
Is it the language one speaks? Do people identify themselves as Armenians
because of the stories they were told about their Armenian ancestors? Is one
considered an Armenian if they socialize with what is known as the Armenian
culture or integrate themselves into the community?
There are many more questions that can be asked when it comes to finding
one's cultural identity.
The documentary attempts to explore the identity of the Armenians. During
interviews, Armenians in Syria, for example are asked what they know about
their Armenian heritage.
One Syrian-Armenian woman, who speaks Arabic and no Armenian, holds in her
hand a picture of her grandmother who died during the genocide. The woman,
who is also dressed in traditional Syrian garb, says she knows her
grandmother's name and where she lived before she was killed.
Her husband also reveals his Armenian heritage by telling the history of his
ancestors. When asked what their names are they respond with both their
Armenian and Arabic surnames.
The subjects of the documentary are a small minority who identify themselves
both with the Arab and Armenian cultures, although their traditions, customs
and habits reflect more the Arabic culture and way of life.
So can people call themselves Armenian even if the only indication of an
Armenian identity is a picture of a relative?
Another issue is that of language. The people who were interviewed spoke no
Armenian dialect.
Does lacking the language skills make people less inclined to identify with
a culture?
For diaspora Armenians, cultural identity is not clearly defined. Culture
according on the documentary, is learned and established through
socialization and really defined by historical events, facts and social
conditions.
Is there more to calling oneself an Armenian than just through history or
learned characteristics, behaviors or traditions? Does Armenian society
dictate and define Armenian cultural identity?
I was left to wonder.
ANI AMIRKHANIAN is a news assistant. She may be reached at (818) 637-3230 or
by e-mail at ani.amirkhanianlatimes.com.