The following was written by Hakob Manandyan and published in January 1917 by the Baku-based periodical Գործ (Gorts/Kordz), in an issue where a short story by Zabel Yesayan and a poem by Hovhannes Tumanyan were also published. Manandyan was a major historian of Armenian culture and one of the most renowned Armenologists of the 20th century. This translation was completed by Beyon Miloyan and appears for the first time in The Armenite.
“The name Hellenes applies to those who are participants in our culture, and not those who share a common origin with us.”
Nationhood and nationality are among the most pressing problems of modern world history. Despite their importance, these problems, which chiefly concern the rights of existence and development of small subject nations, are typically expounded in an imprecise, and more so, inadequate manner.
Scholars of the great suzerain nations are often overtly or covertly blind advocates of the ruling nation’s destructive policies toward its subject nations. It is natural that these scholars cannot be neutral and impartial observers of such an issue upon which most modern states look upon inimically.
The general opinion that the existence of small nations is superfluous and inexpedient, together with the harmful contempt that is often expressed toward their desires and aspirations, are the result of some mentality and intent, and are certainly related to the persecutory policies of modern states toward their nations.
It is a clear and irrefutable fact that the “modern” and “enlightenment” centuries are a gloomy and bloody epoch for the National Question, just as the Middle Ages were to religious questions. It was at the price of the rivers of tears and blood caused by religious conviction that we obtained the principle of moral freedom, but when it comes to the issue of national self-determination, we live in a new dark and brutal Middle Age of tyranny and persecution.
Religious fanaticism has, in the course of modern history, been replaced by nationalistic fanaticism, and it is self-evident why we so rarely encounter an untainted, unfeigned and sympathetic approach to the National Question.
For us Armenians, the problem of nationality and the National Question are matters of life and death, and in recent times this question has understandably turned into a subject of particular attention, both in the Armenian press and in public discourse. The Armenian mind thus feels the necessity and demand of explaining and elucidating such an issue that forms the foundation of the nation’s existence and future.
In discussing nationality, it is above all necessary to clearly outline the meaning of that concept.
The words “nation” and “nationality” are very frequently used together with different and opposing connotations. In England and France, for example, to say “nation” is to group all citizens together as members of a unified state irrespective of their religion and nationality, whereas the national groupings according to which people differ in origin, history and language are called “peoples” (peuples).
In Russian literature, “nation” (нация) is also frequently used in the sense of state. The Russian narodniks, by contrasting the “national wealth” with the welfare of the people, conclude that the “nation” could be very wealthy while the “people” remain poor. By “national wealth,” they mean the wealth of the Russian state, and by “people” they mean the Russian peasants and workers.
The word “national” holds this same sense of state in the term “national economy” (Nationalekonomie).
In Russian and European literature alike, the same word, “nation,” also refers to national sub-groups who differ in origin, history and language; in this case, the words “nation” and “nationality” denote not divisions of state, but of culture, where many nations do not form a union from the point of view of the state, but live scattered across its various subsidiary units.
These different meanings and uses of the word “nation” give rise to confusion and misunderstanding.
Having unwittingly been subjected to the influence of European and Russian literature, we, too, have come to use the words “nation” and “nationality” in both state and cultural senses. The Armenians, Georgians and Poles are “nations,” not necessarily as subsidiary units of state, but as historical-cultural collectives. On the contrary, when people speak of the Swiss “nation,” the fundamental meaning of the term “nation” covertly changes to the sense of a unified state. That is to say, this same word is used for different or even contrary ideas, and raises ambiguity and forges incorrect conclusions.
To escape confusion, it is necessary to distinguish “nations” from “people.” We Armenians, being a “nation” and a historical-cultural collective, should not use this same term to denote unions of state.
The Armenians of Turkey, Russia and Iran belong, of course, to the historical-cultural Armenian collective, but at the same time they are among the “people” of Russia, Turkey and Iran. Conversely, there is no Swiss nationality at all in the sense of a cultural collective, but there is a Swiss people composed of the German, French and Italian nations.
If these three cultural groups have politically joined the Swiss Confederation as a distinct state, this only goes to show that different cultural groups are capable of uniting as a state when the state guarantees their political freedom and protects their free and self-determined cultural development. In any case, it is a mistake to think that the fusion of these nations in Switzerland, each of which contains a different history and political organization, form a distinct, unified nation—a Swiss nation.
The main cause of this mistake is the aforementioned double-meaning of the word “nation.” The German, French and Italian portions of Switzerland’s population—which differ in origin, language and cultural characteristics—are “nations.” But to also call those portions of the population which form a unified state a single nation is a linguistic and logical misconception and an inadmissible oversight.
The Romans, who had created an extensive world state, called the [different] lineages who were homogeneous in origin or language “gens” or “natio”; that is, “տոհմ [i.e, clan, or those of common lineage]” or “ազգ [azg, nation],” and those who were united by state ties, i.e., the entire population of the empire, “populus Romanus,” which is “the Roman people” and not “the Roman nation.” In Ancient Armenia, the word “nation” was synonymous with the words “lineage” and “kin,” and like the Latin words “natio” and “gens,” was applied to blood relatives from different lines who shared a common origin, such as the “Artsruni azg,” “Arshakuni azg,” and so on.
The Latin word “populus”, which was understood to refer to the inhabitants of the Roman empire, does not have a corresponding term in ancient Armenian. The word “ժողովուրդ”, which is now synonymous with “populus,” was primarily used as an ecclesiastical term. Ancient Armenia, being divided into principalities and “lands,” never formed a firm, inseparable union, and it is natural that an [equivalent] idea in the sense of the term “populus” could not have existed there in the Armenian language. In fact, Armenian historians usually used geographical terms when referring to the totality of Armenians, such as Հայաստանեայք (“the Armenians [of the land]”), “աշխարհն Հայոց” (“the land of the Armenians”), “երկիրն լեզուին Թորգոմեան աշխարհին” (“the land of the language of Togarmah”), and/or referred to the princely and noble dynasties, “the house of the land of Armenia,” as well as to other strata of inhabitants.
The current use of the term “ժողովուրդ” (“people[s]”) in the sense of the Latin term “populus” is comparatively modern, and it must be said that this word, with this new meaning, accurately and effectively expresses the idea of the entire population of the state, because in fact the populations of modern states are formed by collectives of culturally different groups or by the union of many nations.
It is necessary to take a brief pause on the meaning and essence of the words “nation” and “people,” because precise definitions of these words will prevent us from common misconceptions that result from careless terminologies and jumbled uses of the terms. We will use the term “nation” to refer only to cultural groups that are distinguishable in origin, history and language, and will refer to any political union of people who are subordinate to any state as its “people(s),” and not as a “nation” As for the importance of grasping the correct meanings of these terms, let us illustrate by way of example.
Arsen Tokhmakhian’s forgotten works contain many interesting meditations and generalizations about the historical past of Armenians.
“The ancient Armenians,” says Tokhmakhian, “as a nation, as children of a patria, have never existed [sic], never reigned. They have been divided among many races, which have incessantly consumed each other […] our Armenian forefathers had not lived politically as one nation, as a single governing body […] The start of living with a national idea can be considered from the time that our naxarars and royal dynasties were erased and terminated from among us, giving rise to sorrowful consequences that have continued until the present day.”
That the ancient Armenians never lived in political unison as people of a centralized state on their homeland, and that the idea of nationhood in the sense of state had been inaccessible to them, are at once accurate and true. However, it would be a mistake to think, based on that view, that Armenians throughout history have not formed a nation and have not lived with a national identity as a distinct cultural group. It is true that Armenia, under the naxarars, was unable to attain political development and maturity, and turn into a strong and indivisible political union. Yet in a cultural sense, even the people of ancient Armenia lived with a national identity and had the awareness of being a unified nation. Arsen Tokhmakhian’s generalization can be conditionally accepted, with the caveat that he understands the words “nation” and “nationhood” to be political and not cultural.
From a cultural point of view, Armenia came into existence as an original nation, at the earliest period of its history, when it formed its own language and laid the foundation for the production of original, collective works.
Then, the Armenian nation toiled for centuries to cultivate a common culture and gave this culture the mark of its own nationality.
When P’awstos, Yeghishe and Khorenatsi were writing their historical works, they knew very well that the Armenians—by origin, history, language and culture—formed a distinct whole and nation. Khorenatsi’s famous words—“for although we are a small country, very few in number, weak in power, and have many times been subjected by other empires, many valorous acts have been performed in our land”—certainly refer to the entire Armenian nation, and not to one or another noble clan.
The foundation of Armenian national consciousness was laid in the primitive age of Armenian history, when the myth of Hayk was created and he was glorified as a national hero and patriarch of the Armenian nation. The discovery of the alphabet and the cultivation of a common literary language formed a new age in the development of national self-knowledge. The Armenians, partaking of the literature and education of their surrounding nations, thereafter developed a new intellectual and cultural life, finding in the course of these creations a characteristic and unique expression of Armenia’s distinct nationality.
Let’s raise another example of a misunderstanding that results from this double use of the words “nation” and “nationality.” It is clear that the concepts of “nation” and “nationality” are opposed by the concepts of “cosmopolitanism” and “internationalism.” Now those who advocate for the latter concepts must account for whether they deny nationhood in the state or cultural sense.
It is not only logically and effectively possible, but also understandable, to deny a nation from [obtaining] statehood, for the state is a formal and coercive union that can be rejected in favor of federalism and cosmopolitanism (in the narrow sense of the term). Even [proletarian] internationalism, with its fundamental idea of class struggle, opposes the modern state inasmuch as the economic and legal bases of the state correspond with the interests of the ruling classes and are alien and unfamiliar to the materially oppressed working classes. It is true that this class struggle will take on an increasingly international nature over time on economic grounds, however that struggle is directed against the nation in the sense of state.
However, it is another matter whether this same conception of internationalism also contradicts nationality in the sense of culture. In fact, this is a point of misunderstanding and confusion.
The state, as we have said, is a formal and coercive union, while the totality of a culture is a naturally close, internal bond, almost independent of human will. The spiritual essence of a culture is national creativity, and nationality is natural and necessary for cultural work. It would be absurd to pit internationalism against nationality in the cultural sense, because there is no such thing as an international culture with which it is possible to replace national cultures; rather, globalism can only effectively serve as a special type of solidarity for political and economic purposes. The concept of national self-determination and development is not the opposite of internationalism, but of the assimilation and transformation of the nation into another national-cultural sphere.
This policy of tyranny and assimilation toward nationalities and national cultures is called “nationalistic.” Whereas “national” development accepts the existence and development of diverse nationalities and national cultures as both positive and necessary, the “nationalists” are fervent advocates of the forcible
annihilation of subject nations by recognizing only the exceptional importance of their own nationality and culture.
From this point of view, what we call “national” (национальный) and “nationalistic” (националистический) are opposing and irreconcilable courses. According to the defenders of nationality, the denial of national culture and of indivisible collectives by the nationalists signifies the general denial of collective individuality, creativity and culture.
Let us now turn to the essential features of nationality.
The word “nation,” as mentioned, ought to be understood in terms of cultural collectives that differ from each other in terms of origin, history and language.
Every nation is of course a collective body; that is, a unique grouping of people. But there are also other collectives, such as family, religious community, state, and so on. It is therefore necessary to demonstrate the essential features of the national collective that distinguish it from other collectives.
The principal of these features is the following: Every nationality is first and foremost a cultural collective, which raises the question of what we mean by “culture” and “cultural.” The initial signification of the word “culture” is “cultivation,” although the same word has been used historically in a broader sense. In historiography, “cultural history” refers to the life of nations and the history of societal conditions, as opposed to the history of events and transitions. And the life and societal conditions of every nation, understood in the broadest and most comprehensive sense, is its “culture,” considered as a distinct effect of the totality of its activities and creativity.
As a product of collective activity, the spiritual side of human culture does not have a monotonous and monochrome nature, but like a bouquet, it is multifaceted and assembled of the cultural-spiritual creations of its various nations. As much as these creations have pan-human characteristics, they nonetheless bear the stamp of each nation’s individuality and the complexion and expression of its distinct features. It is evident that human culture exists and develops due to the cooperation of many distinguishable national collectives, the roots of which are diverse.
The language, character and customs of every nation—its literature and arts, religious and moral understandings and epistemic perspectives form a spiritual, harmonious world conditioned by the attributes of the nation’s individuality.
It is with this idea that we consider the existence of national cultures to be self-evident. Nationality, from this cultural point of view, is a positive force, and nations ought to have the right to maintain their independent existence and develop their own national culture, which is the basis and essence of national existence.
In considering each and every nation as a collective of people, one ought to accept as a feature of that collective the close spiritual-cultural connection and the common cultural interest with which that population is conditioned. That connection, which emerges naturally, and that interest, which is often immaterial, give the nation in some sense the nature of an organic union. The national collective is not an arithmetic sum of individuals, but an intimate cultural and organic whole, to which the members of the nation consciously or instinctively adhere.
The national-cultural collective also has another important distinctive feature: Whereas people often unite consciously with a certain objective when they form groups, clubs and other institutions, the national collective is not born of people’s thoughts and wills, but has emerged over the course of centuries as a natural and spontaneous phenomenon, similar to families, and various lineages and races. Whereas the former groupings are products of people’s wills and desires, nationality as a natural and historical force is as animated as nature itself.
The unity and solidarity of a nation is a complex psychological phenomenon, yet it has been hardly studied and explained as such. From this point of view, we consider modern definitions of “nation” to be incomplete and inadequate when they consider an essential feature of this concept to be the conscious union of members of a nation.
These definitions are mistaken, chiefly because some sense of collective consciousness is characteristic of any group. Family consciousness prevails in the family, tribal in the tribe, state in the state, and so on. Therefore, collective consciousness is not a vital attribute of nationality, but only a single aspect of it that does not at all clarify the substance and essence of “nationality.” Besides, the aforementioned definitions, which are purely psychological, are not even correct from a psychological point of view.
Those who consider collective consciousness as the basis and hallmark of the nation fail to explain how they conceive that collective consciousness as a psychological phenomenon. Such an explanation remains very important, because the word consciousness, as A. Ben accurately regards in his book Psychology, is the most jumbled and elastic term in all of psychology.
Recent psychological studies have concluded that human consciousness—being closely linked to the brain and mind—reflects the human spirit (дух) in totality. Yet it is not the same as the human spirit, but rather encompasses only a certain aspect of spiritual (духовный) life.
The other important part of our spirit and spiritual life is the instinct, which is an internal power, a type of impulse or tendency, unconscious and unmeditated, yet deeply capable of foresight: Whenever we meet a stranger, we seem to understand his disposition in a remote and unconscious way, penetrating inexplicably into the depths of his spirit and individuality, and perhaps without having even exchanged words or knowing the person, we already feel some sympathy or antipathy toward them. That unconscious, inexplicable and insightful feeling has nothing to do with our [conscious] mind and intellect, but is a purely intuitive phenomenon.
As a psychological factor, our instinct is not merely a hollow and meaningless automatism, but a great spiritual force, albeit of a quality that is different to the intellect, yet no less powerful and insightful, with its own unique laws and effects. It is the instinct that illuminates our path in the vital moments of the struggle for existence. It works silently and mutely within us when we are hungry and thirsty, when we love and are in love, or when we struggle for self-defense and freedom.
In being a principal motive and motivator of self-preservation, self-development, and of life in general, the instinct is a natural force that also plays a major role in the affairs of national solidarity and unity.
There is some sympathy and compassion among members of the same nation that is instinctive and not conscious. The closer and deeper the connection of any member of the nation is with his national-cultural community, the stronger that instinct is. In cases of denationalization and separation from one’s national-cultural community, this instinctive sympathy gradually weakens.
The denationalizing elements are like withering trees, which no longer receive nourishment and life from their motherland and gradually lose any spirited and direct feeling of interest and compassion for their native environment. If the members of the nation who speak foreign languages and have received a foreign education remain connected to their nation, it is because they [i.e., their ancestors] shared a historical fate, the preservation of which benefits the national community against the politics of oppression and persecution against it.
Denationalization has become rife among well-to-do urban Armenian families. These classes, which are gradually losing their connection with their national-cultural community, also lose their interest in national life. On the contrary, the Armenian villager and laborer are closer to their nationality, and the bonds of their instinctive compassion to their national community are stronger.
This instinctive or intuitive bond of national unity, which is not expressed consciously, is overlooked by those who define nationality as a conscious union. Because of that, their definition is wrong from a psychological point of view.
Recognizing that both consciousness and instinct form the basis of national unity and solidarity, it would be more accurate to say that the psychological bond of a nation is based on a union of spirit. By spirit, we mean the combination of the intellect, which is endowed with consciousness, and unconscious instinct.
Therefore, we regard the nation as an independent spiritual-cultural collective, where the common cultural heritage, the unified cultural activities and national creativity of the collective form the basis of nationality.
The great spiritual-cultural activity of the nation does not merely have a narrow national significance, but is the most important factor of human life, and with its creations becomes the property of all humanity.
He who does not accept the national-cultural concept and its positive significance will not be able to discourse and reason properly about the meaning of national existence. The very existence of many nations and languages turns, for such people, into a mindless game of historical evolution. If nationality is considered a void form, then one can say that policies of assimilation are legitimate, and it is not clear how the progressive political parties will be able to support the demands for national development and self-determination that they simultaneously claim to uphold.
The demands for national development and self-determination have a defensible basis only if the positive significance of the nation, together with the huge, beneficial role of its cultural and spiritual creative powers, are accepted. Otherwise, one must resign to the fact that the nation, being devoid of a positive essence, is an obstacle and impediment to cultural assimilation.
We admit that we can speak in a certain sense of a universal human culture, however we must bear in mind that cultural humanity is not an abstract, anti-national idea, but a historical whole and assembly consisting of cultural nationalities, for as a national group consists of individuals, so does humanity consist of individual nations.
To declare war against nationality and national cultures in the name of humanity and a universal human culture is simply nonsense. Denationalizing does not mean a return to the universal, but the eventual assimilation and disappearance of the nation into some other viable nationality. From this point of view, all the anti-national elements of society, no matter how enlightened and progressive they declare themselves to be, are blind instruments and joint allies of nation-devouring and regressive state powers whose objectives and desires are the forcible annihilation of small nations.
In accepting nations essentially as spiritual-cultural collectives, with their own distinct individualities, we naturally consider all definitions of the word “nation” that ignore this essential characteristic to be faulty and doomed.
The most recent works of sociology and jurisprudence do not consider race, language or any other objective characteristic to be indispensable and distinguishing features of nationality. Now this is also a big misconception that comes from the muddled use of the word “nation” and the upside down and formalistic attitude toward its definition.
Those who do not accept language as a characteristic feature of nationality adduce the “Swiss nation,” which does not have a “Swiss language.” This objection is a misunderstanding based on the false notion that there is such a thing as a “Swiss nation.” As indicated above, Switzerland is not a national-cultural entity, but a confederation of various national-cultural collectives. The multilingual and heterogeneous people of Switzerland cannot be called a nation in a cultural sense.
These scholars also adduce England and the United States, and Spain and Latin America, which speak the same language but do not form single nations. This example also confuses the idea of a cultural collective with that of a state collective. England and the United States are two independent and self-contained states. From a cultural point of view, they are a part of the same Anglo-Saxon culture. However, the Anglophone Americans, being situated in unique geographical, state and historical conditions, are progressively turning into a new national-cultural collective, and English has already started to transform into a different dialect among Americans.
Those who deny the significance of language for nationality also point to the Jewish people, who, although they have lost their ancient language, nonetheless form a national whole. This evidence also proves very little. First of all, it can be objected that the large majority of the Jewish people have created a modern language for themselves in the place of ancient Hebrew, which is even used today as a national literary language.
The Jews are recognized as a nation because of their great national culture, which is based on the national language of ancient Hebrew. Without that language, the ancient Jewish national culture could not have existed with its voluminous and distinctive spiritual works, and without that culture, Judaism would not exist as a basis for their national collective. Even if all the Jews today spoke a foreign language, this would only go to show that the national-cultural collective, under certain favorable conditions, can maintain its existence for a long time by the force of historical inertia and live as a national-religious unit based on recollections of the past.
Yet this situation would be pathological for the spiritual culture of a nation, because without language, the national culture ceases to develop, national creativity becomes impossible and the nation becomes subject to danger. A nation without language is dumb and mute as a spiritual-cultural collective. Modern Judaism understands this very well and is therefore making every effort to restore its national language.
Language is not only the most superior and sublime good for the nation, but is the only foundation on which the magnificent edifice of a distinctive national culture can be built.
In defining nationality as a spiritual-cultural collective, we naturally consider the national language to be the most essential feature of the national collective and the most indispensable element for the development of its spiritual life.
Nationality, these scholars [also] say, is not characterized by certain races, where race refers to the division of humanity into groups that are distinguishable in terms of typical external features.
Anthropologists have not yet reached a general conclusion regarding this issue. Some of them accept skin color as a basis of division, others the quality of the hair, and recently, a majority has come to consider the shape of the human skull to be characteristic of race.
From the craniological point of view, as is known, there are three types of peoples: long-headed [dolichocephalic], middle-headed [mesocephalic] and short-headed [brachycephalic].
Now all these [racial] divisions really have no significance for defining nationality. First, these divisions are so general that each racial group contains within it a long line of nationalities. Nationalities are mostly subdivided between races and cannot necessarily be recognized as self-contained and independent races in the anthropological sense.
Furthermore, regarding craniometric divisions, it is necessary to observe that there is no nation at all that is entirely long, middle or short-headed. Those three skull types occur frequently within the same nation. If we are to accept the shape of the skull as a racial characteristic, then it would be necessary to conclude that in reality every nation is a racial admixture, and that such mixtures took place not only in historic, but also in pre-historic times.
According to the renowned German scholar Jellinek, the natural and common origin of a given race cannot serve as a characteristic of nationality, because all modern nations are formed mostly of mixed stock. For example, the modern Italian nation is descended from the Etruscans, Romans, Greeks, Germans and Saracens. The Russians are a mixture of many Slavic and non-Slavic tribes. Such applies also to the other nations.
That every modern nation as a racial and lineal phenomenon has a mixed composition and has emerged from the unification of various stocks is a historically accurate observation. It is also accurate to say that anthropology, which examines human races using methods of the natural sciences, gives us such a general and elastic description of race, that it is at once utterly useless for defining the concept of nationality. At the same time, these observations do not give anthropologists and jurists the right to insist that properties of lineage do not form a specific and substantial element of nationality.
These features should not be sought solely in the shape of the skull, the size of the nose, the color and quality of the hair, and so on. These features, which are not always so obvious and conspicuous, nonetheless exist.
Nationalities have a complex lineal composition and description, but as complex lineal mixtures, they differ from each other. The English and the Russians, the Armenians and Turks, are of different stocks. In order to understand the differences in their typology, one must turn to the study of their history and historiography. Yet history can only point to those racial and lineal elements from which one or another nationality was composed or created.
Based on historical research, it is not difficult to deduce that nations, as mixtures composed of different racial and lineal elements, cannot share a [single] common physical substance. It is also true that their physical differences are sometimes so subtle and imperceptible that they are not measurable with the methods of anthropological science. That those distinctions are a matter of fact, however, is not an insignificant condition for the characterization of nationality.
The nature, language, culture and spiritual capacity of each nation are closely linked to its lineal origin. That lineal origin can be complex and composite, but that does not change the issue.
Considering the nation as a cultural collective, we can’t fail to accept that, together with language, the lineal origin of a nation also characterizes and defines its national culture, and this important factor is therefore also an essential and indispensable feature of the concept of nationality.
The universe of a given culture is born and developed on historical lands, and a common history shapes the essence of that culture and determines its future course. The common past connects members of the national collective with common memories. The members of the nation, as part of a whole who shared the same fate, lived together and felt its good and bad alike.
The example of the Jews shows what powerful factors a common life and shared fate are for national unity. The Jewish nation has since lost its ancient language and homeland, and been deprived of a cultural society, and yet persists as a whole, principally due to their sharing the same [historical] fate.
Without a common past based on a shared fate, no nation or national culture would have come into existence. It is clear, then, that the historical past is another foundational and indispensable feature for defining nationality.
According to our examination, then, the characteristic features of nationality are the following 4 principal elements: i) a common culture; ii) a common language; iii) a common lineal origin, and iv) a common history. These elements both create and delimit the nation.
These elements, like the nation itself, should not be thought of as permanent and unchanging; on the contrary, they are constantly in motion and subject to transformation. In the words of our ancestral sages, they are “in flux and in flow, and do not encounter pause, and contain various times in their variety.” (David the Invincible).
Let us consider the following example. The Armenians described by Xenophon are certainly not the same as the Armenians of the Golden Age, and the latter must also be considered not too similar to modern Armenians. The Armenians of those three different time periods are united together through the ties of their natural heritage and cultural succession, and it is due to those ties that they form a legitimate and intimate whole.
These characteristics—common culture, language, lineal origin and history—each play different roles in nationality. The national culture is the essence, signification and substance of the nation; language is the mediator and creator of the cultural universe; the lineal origin is the embryo and root of the nation; and common history is the parent and preceptor of the culture, language and lineage. The latter three, as we can see, are mediating or formative forces for nationality, while its very essence and apex is the unique national culture.
We can now define the concept of nationality by taking into consideration all its characteristics and their roles: We consider the nation to be a unique cultural collective, based on and delimited by a common lineal origin, a common language and common history.
Some sociologists add a common habitat and religion to the four aforementioned elements as characteristic and essential features of nationality. That point of view must be considered mistaken.
Although a common habitat and common religion bear significance for the nation, they are not necessarily indispensable features of nations.
It is true that national cultures emerged in common homelands in the historical past, but such commonality can thereafter be preserved beyond the borders of that common habitat. A majority of Armenians, for instance, who for centuries have been living outside of their historical homeland, in Constantinople and in various parts of Asia Minor and the Caucasus, have not only remained Armenian, but also often play leading roles in the revival of their national culture. A common habitat is not a distinguishing characteristic of nationality for the simple reason that nationality, in many cases, contains foreign collectives founded on their respective cultures.
Thus, while the common habitat has relative significance for the existence of a nation, the culture, based on a common language, origin and history, has absolute significance. It is possible to leave the borders of the mother country and nonetheless remain a participant in the national-cultural universe and an inseparable part of the nation. The nation is not erased when its homeland is subjected to or torn among a few states, but nationality disintegrates when the subjugating influence of a foreign culture dissolves its national culture.
The common habitat, as we have said, bears importance for national existence, but only to the extent that it determines the culture. National settlements that are established in faraway lands very often get cut off from their native cultural realities, lose their natural lineage and are subjected to cultural assimilation and denationalization.
Separation from the mother country creates centrifugal conditions that favor denationalization, although these conditions are not singular and they are not equally dangerous and threatening for the nation. While the Armenian settlements of Poland and Hungary separated over time from the whole of Armenian culture and lost their nationality, the Armenian emigrants to New Julfa in Iran have preserved their nationality and continue to participate in Armenian cultural life. Cultural universality is therefore possible under certain favorable conditions in settlements that lie far away from the mother country.
However, separation from the motherland is, even in this latter case, a pathological and harmful phenomenon for a nation and a factor that favors national dissolution. The dispersion of the nation is an obstacle to the development of the common national culture. Cultural society demands constant contact and interaction within the nation, and the dispersion of the nation makes this contact and interaction difficult and slows it down.
The common habitat of Armenians, as we see, is not an absolute and substantive characteristic of nationality, but a relative factor of special importance.
Let us now see what significance religion holds for nationality.
That religion is not one of its distinguishing features is clear without much explanation.
In modern life, most nations deny the national significance of religion. Participants of the national collective can be adherents of various different religions. Leaving aside the great European nations, we Armenians, who are divided among the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Catholic Church, the Protestant Church, and other denominations, nonetheless form a national universe from a cultural point of view.
Who can deny the national-cultural role that the Armenians who are not a part of our Apostolic Church have played and continue to play in national life? It suffices to remember what a huge and honorable place the Mekhitarists of Venice and Vienna occupy among the cultivators of the Armenian language and literature.
That everyone professes what they can and wish goes to show that religion is an individual and private matter and has nothing to do with nationality. This is a principle and right that has been acquired through centuries of struggle and gigantic efforts.
This right did not exist in antiquity and especially not in the Middle Ages, and even now it does not exist in the Middle East and especially not in many Muslim countries.
In the Middle Ages, as in the Middle East today, religion and the church had an exceptional historical position. Every nation’s spiritual culture, as well as the state itself, was subject to the influence of religion and the church.
Because the essence of medieval spiritual culture was predominantly religious, it is very natural that national consciousness was mixed and confused with religious consciousness. Outside of religion, there was essentially no other life and objective.
Although there were national cultures at that time, too, the cultures were either religious or subordinate to religion: Converting one’s religion meant separating from one’s religious culture; that is, denationalizing.
When an Armenian of the Armenian Apostolic Church adopted Catholicism, he was not called a Catholic Armenian, but a “Frank.” If an Armenian converted to Islam, people said that he had “Turkified,” which is still the case even today. If the Catholic Armenian was able to retain his nationality in the militantly religious Middle Ages, the reason is that there was no “Frankish” nation in the land into which he could assimilate. In other circumstances, it has been found that Chalcedonian and Muslim Armenians have assimilated with the surrounding Greeks, Turks and Kurds.
The remainder of the Chalcedonian Armenians appear to be Armenians Rums, or (Greek) Orthodox Armenians, who speak Armenian and live mostly in the region of Kars and the environs of the Black Sea.
The flip-side of this denationalization took place in late antique and medieval Armenia.
A part of the Caucasian Aghuans, along with other [neighboring] foreign lineages, assimilated with Armenians and adopted the Armenian Apostolic religion. In this case, the religious union brought about an assimilation that contributed to the Armenianization of foreign elements.
Thus, we see that religion, in some historical periods and conditions, has been a most powerful factor in the organization and dissolution of national collectives.
The extent of its effect is very easy to determine: The stronger the religious element in the society of a national culture, the greater the role of religion in relation to nationality. If the national-cultural community has an absolutely religious nature, then religion and nationality become almost synonymous.
The role of religion in modern life is very insignificant in relation to nationality and basically negligible in enlightened Western countries, whereas in the East its influence is strong or weak depending on the degree to which this or that cultural union is devoid of a secular essence and subject to the absolute authority of religion.
Religion, then, like habitat, is a relative and conditional factor of nationality, and thus cannot be accepted as an indispensable and distinguishing characteristic of nationality.
Defining the “national” concept as a unique cultural collective, it seems to me that we find ourselves on the correct path. Our definition, which emphasizes the very substance and essence of nationality, makes it possible to logically connect all the elements of nationality with each other and to subject the explanation of their mutual relationships to some system.
From this same starting point, it is also easy to explain and clarify the role of land and religion in nationality.
And this circumstance is in itself already a convincing statement that our aforementioned definition of nationality has scientific bases and advantages, which many other incidental and formal determinations lack.
Our definition of nationality points to the critical and foundational value of the originality, individuality, creative capacity, and most sublime creations of the language and culture of every nation.
If the national culture forms the essence and substance of nationality, and language is the indispensable tool and mediator of creation, then it is abundantly clear that the existence and development of every nation becomes endangered when its national language, unique culture and lineal structure undergo dissolution.
That danger is now reaching great proportions among today’s Armenians, who are gradually being subjected to the influence of external cultures and separated from their native national culture. For Armenians, denationalization is a calamity and danger, perhaps even more threatening and destructive than the horrible external blows that threaten the physical existence of Armenians. Although bloodshed and rape have devastated and exhausted Armenians, they have not been able to shed the blood of our inner essence and destroy our individual national spirit. The Armenians, despite having been trampled and enslaved, have remained a nation at once alive and lively.
As for the future, the decay and purging of the national language and culture is an organic and internal wound to the heart of the nation, as a result of which its spiritual essence will be dissolved and destroyed.
The Armenians, who have worked with all their might to preserve their physical existence, must never forget about national preservation, and that the tens of thousands of denationalizing Armenians who deride and scorn their language and culture pose a greater danger to national existence and development than any external enemy.
Beyon Miloyan is an epidemiologist turned translator. He is the publisher of Sophene Books, dedicated to reviving classical works of Armenian literature. You can also read more of his writing on his blog.