Just when I thought I’d hit on a topic with no political overtones. . . .
At dinner with my Armenian cousins a couple of months ago, my older cousin shared the story of his sister’s wedding which might not have happened. He said a family friend approached their father about Araxy’s fiancé, warning him against allowing his daughter to marry this man. “He is Tashnug (also known as Dashnak)!” the friend exclaimed. “You are Rumgavar!” My uncle was, apparently, unmoved. Bottom line, my cousin married the Tashnug – they had three children and lived happily for many decades.
As my cousin was telling this story, I was confused. I had never heard the terms before. But I didn’t want to admit my ignorance so I let it go. I tried to search for the terms, but didn’t know the proper spelling, so nothing turned up.
Fast forward a couple of months. I was making cream kadayif with my new friends at the Armenian Apostolic Church. Two of the more elderly women were talking about “the other Armenian church” in the area. “They are Tashnugs,” one said, with a swipe of her hand. “We are Rumgavars.”
There were those terms again.
“Are those political terms?” I ventured to ask, hoping they’d take pity on me, a humble Protestant, and explain.
The elder of the two ladies nodded. No further explanation.
“How do you spell them?” I asked, hoping to search for the information that was not being shared.
The two ladies looked at each other and shrugged.
So I took the question to an Armenian friend. Here is what it boiled down to: “Tashnugs” view Turkey as their homeland. It was theirs before it was the Turks’, and they’re still prepared to fight to the death to get it back. Rumgavars view their homeland as Russian/Communist, and are content with the homeland they now have.
Tashnugs (Dashnaks) are the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, an Armenian nationalist and socialist political party founded in 1890. They traditionally advocated democratic socialism and have been a member of the Socialist International since 2003. It is the most politically oriented of the organizations and has been one of the staunchest supporters of Armenian nationalism. The party campaigns for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and the right to reparations. It also advocates the establishment of United Armenia, partially based on the Treaty of Sevres of 1920. In 1918 the party was instrumental in the creation of the First Republic of Armenia, which fell to the Soviet communists in 1920. After its leadership was exiled by the communists, the ARF established itself within Armenian diaspora communities, where it helped Armenians preserve their cultural identity. After the fall of the USSR, it returned to Armenia, where it now has a presence as a minor party in Armenia’s parliament. The party lost political representation after the 2018 Armenian parliamentary election after receiving only 3.89% of the votes, which is lower than the 5% minimum required for representation in the parliament.
Rumgavars are the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party – an Armenian political party in the Armenian diaspora, including the Middle East, Europe, the Americas and Australia. The Rumgavar party advocates liberalism and capitalism, unlike the other two classical Armenian political parties (Social Democrat Hunchakian Party and the Constituent Democratic Party) which both have the leftist ideology. It was established in Constantinople in 1921 as a result of the unification of 3 political parties: the Armenakan Party, the Liberal Party of the Reformed Hunchakians, and the Constituent Democratic Party. The Armenakan Party was founded in 1885 by Mekertich Portukalian as part of the national movement in Van in the Ottoman Empire. In the Armenian parliamentary elections on May 25, 2003, the party won 2.9% of the popular vote but no seats. Ever since, the party has lost all presence in the political landscape of Armenia. A few pockets of its presence exist in the diaspora with ever-decreasing numbers, a far cry from their heyday during the Soviet era.
In the 21st century, most Armenians are Christians (94.8% and are members of Armenia’s own church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, one of the oldest Christian churches. It was founded in the 1st century AD, and in 301 AD became the first branch of Christianity to become a state religion.
According to a Pew Research publication in December 2018 Armenia is the 2nd most religious country among 34 European nations, with 79% of respondents saying they believe in God with absolute certainty.
The largest minority Christian churches in Armenia are composed of new converts to Protestant and non-trinitarian Christianity, a combined total of about 38,989 persons (1.3%). Non-Christian religions have only a few adherents.
No surprises, actually, that political parties within other countries battle ideology. The surprise for me came in the form of how the political party of our Armenian ancestors translates into competition within religious sectors here in America.