By Araxi Arslanian
Armenia adopted Christianity as it’s faith in the 4th Century (Payaslian, 2007), and thus boasts the longest tradition of structured Christian philanthropy. Today the Armenian spirit of giving is alive and well (Libaridian, 2004). Armenia is a created state, like Israel. The Diaspora maintain their identity not only through their faith and language, but through their philanthropy (Dobuzinskis, 2005).. The generosity of Armenian cultures manifests in three ways: The Church, the Armenian Cross, and individual donation.
While European churchgoers with gold-lined pockets could buy their way to salvation, the Armenian parishioners gave money for their dearly departed to assure their way to heaven. This money would go to build and repair churches, schools and orphanages. Often the religious minority in the mostly Muslim communities they lived in (Payaslian, 2007), Armenians quietly organized themselves to keep their poverty and vulnerability a secret. Food stores were organized, money was set aside for the regular event of raids and violence.
Eventually this violence would culminate into the full-scale Armenian Genocide during WWI (Miller, 2003). Churches, villages, and entire populations were systematically murdered by the Young Turk’s solution to “The Armenian Question” (Payaslian, 2007). This began a new phase in Armenian philanthropy called The Armenian Cross (Libaradian, 2004). This non-political organization of businesses used their best accents of acquiescence and political savvy to get life-saving supplies, traveling papers, and safe haven for hundreds of thousands of Armenian refugees (Miller, 2003). Working in concert with local missionaries and wealthy Armenians in larger centers, The Armenian Cross gave relief and basic supplies of life to those who survived the death-marches and mass executions. The Armenian Cross still exists today, and has branches all over the world. It’s current focus is to aid the created state of Armenia (lean on resources since the fall of the USSR) to build hospitals, schools, and orphanages (Libaridian, 2004).
Many Armenians have been blessed in the New World with great wealth and success (Dobuzinkis, 2005). Combining the sacred with the secular, many of the elite of Armenia make personal donations in the name of a loved one who is deceased. This is done directly to an organization in need, often a school (Libaridian, 2004). It is considered the height of a life well lived to be able to donate most of one’s wealth to Armenian causes, and less to one’s family (Libaridian, 2004). The purpose of this is to keep sowing the seeds of Armenian culture to ensure its legacy of survival and perseverance through Genocide (Miller, 2003).
The generation trauma instilled by the Armenian Genocide has had a great cost to the people of Armenia (Payaslian, 2007). Yet it’s cultural tenacity has never wavered due to its reinvestment in its future. Armenians always build their schools first, and have always invested in education (Miller, 2003). The empowerment not only of funds but of knowledge has kept this dynamic community robust through any misfortune (Libaridian, 2004).
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Dobuzinskis, A. (2005, Mar 1). Armenian charities get genocide settlement. San Gabriel Valley Tribune,
Libaridian, G. J. (2004). Modern armenia: People, nation, state. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers.
Miller, D. E. (2003). In Miller L. T., Berndt J. (Eds.), Armenia: Portraits of survival and hope. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press.
Payaslian, S. (2007). The history of armenia: From the origins to the present (1st ed. ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmilla