By Appo Jabarian / Executive Publisher / Managing Editor USA Armenian Life Magazine
Most Armenians have a die-hard habit of asking a new acquaintance: “Tseronq urdeghen en?” (“Where do your grandparents come from?”). In the Diaspora and even in Armenia, whenever a group of Armenians gathers, a “little” Armenia is created. One’s ancestor may turn out to be from Hadjin, Marash, Aintab, Garin (Erzrum), Van, Mush, Sassoun, Baghesh (Bitlis), Kayseria, Musa Ler (Dagh), Amasia, Zeytun, Sis, Adana, Ourfa, Dikranagerd and many other lost Armenian localities in Turkish-occupied Western Armenia and Armenian Cilicia.
Immediately after the Turkish-executed Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923, the forcibly deported orphaned survivors kept their memories of their localities alive by laying the foundation to numerous compatriotic societies. To the credit of succeeding generations living in-exile, several compatriotic associations continue to exist in the Middle East, Europe, United States, Canada, South America and elsewhere; and serve as living bridges to the lost homeland.
Many exiled Armenians used to grant each other nicknames based on one’s ancestral roots – Hadjintsi Koko (“tsi” suffix meaning “from”), Marashtsi Manouk, Aintabtsi Vicken, Vanetsi Hrayr, Mushetsi Hagop, Sassountsi Jirayr, Adanatsi Minas, Kaysertsi Sarkis, Musa Lertsi Sahag, Zeytuntsi Harut, Sisetsi Avedis, Ourfatsi Hovannes, Bitlistsi Armen, so on and so forth.
Even one of the three officially recognized Armenian municipalities of the Middle East Bourj Hammoud, Lebanon (population 200,000) is subdivided into several neighborhoods named after the lost Armenian localities in Armenian Cilicia such as Nor (New) Sis, Nor Marash, Nor Amanos; and Nor Hadjin in neighboring Beirut, capital of Lebanon.
In many other communities of the Armenian Diaspora, as far I know, there are no neighborhoods that are named after such localities. But many members have established additional chapters on various continents creating one more layer in their transnational community. Marashtsis serve as a good example. Compatriotic Union of Marash boasts several chapters worldwide – one in Eastern United States; another in Western U.S., Argentina, Australia, Syria and Lebanon. They even have a city in contemporary Armenia named Nork Marash. Zeytuntsis have Verin (Upper) Zeytun also in Armenia.
In the United States, there are literally dozens of such organizations continuing their mission in keeping the spiritual ties to one’s ancestral roots alive. They serve as a bedrock of the Armenian Cause on micro level. These organizations educate their members about their hometown cultural values as well as their personal rights to recover one day their ancestral real and personal properties illegally confiscated by Turkey. In a sense, they serve as unofficial Armenian municipalities in exile.
One such organization is Sis Compatriotic and Cultural Society (USA) that was founded in 1993 in Los Angeles to continue the mission of the mother chapter in Lebanon that was established in the 1920’s. This association is named after historic capital of Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia (1080-1375) that later became an important city in the short-lived Autonomous Armenian Cilicia also known as Integral Armenia (1919-1921).
The organization is still going strong thanks to the undying dedication of its members. Like many other Armenian compatriotic organizations, Sis Compatriotic seems to be determined to overcome the challenges to secure quality regeneration in order to keep the torch alit generation after generation until the day comes when Sis, Cilicia – like many other localities is freed from the yoke of illegal Turkish occupation.
That day may come “in 5, 50 or 500 years,” says (Zeytuntsi) Harut Sassounian, Publisher of The California Courier, reminding us, but what good is it if coming generations forget about their roots and their ancestors’ Cause! What if one day historic opportunities come and the lands are freed but there are no Armenians to claim them!
That’s exactly why Armenians must continue educating themselves and their children about their Cause both on macro and micro levels.
It is with such a sense of urgency that Sis Compatriotic and Cultural Society Board of Trustees has organized its biennial general meeting this Sunday Sept. 29 in order to pave the way for the new generation of Sisetsis.
A recent invitation letter by the organization states: “Our organization can remain strong as long as together we maintain a high level of national awareness; a sense of mission and mutual empowerment. Similar to other Armenian compatriotic organizations, Sis Compatriotic and Cultural Society propagates restorative justice for all fellow compatriots. Each and every compatriot is entitled to demand the return of his/her ancestral real and personal properties to them as the rightful owners.”
By keeping its compatriotic unions strong the Diaspora can benefit from its ancestral roots reinforcing the Armenian Cause on micro level that can be crucial in empowering individual Armenians in their collective quest for justice.