North American anthropologists have long complained about Christians going to live in and work with people of other cultures. Why do the anthropologists object? Because the entrance of Christianity changes both the people and the worldview of their culture.
That was certainly true for the Armenians. The entrance of Christianity into their nation in 301 A.D. changed many aspects of the Armenian perspective of the world.
Previously, Armenians worshipped many gods, much like the people groups around them. And, like those groups, fatalism would have been the underpinning of the Armenians’ worldview. Their thinking would have been overshadowed by an internal struggle to accept what was. Well, this must be the will of the gods. There is nothing I or anyone else can do about it.
When Christianity came, Armenian people and their culture gradually reflected a more positive stance in their worldview. Learning about the gift the one true God gave the Armenians through His Son Jesus turned their fatalism into progressivism. Through Jesus, every human being can have forgiveness of all they have done wrong. God cares about us. He has given us His best. God expects us to do our best. He promises in His Word to help us do that. God keeps His promises. We Armenians have hope.
In the historical fiction Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it, the two main characters, Nazli and Annie, give voice to these two world views – fatalism and progressivism.
Nazli has been steeped in the Ottoman Turk’s worldview of fatalism. On top of that is her mother’s disdain for Armenians. Her thoughts likely were We Turks are followers of Islam. We have the sacred book, the Koran. Although our religion offers us no guarantee of forgiveness, we must be right and everyone else is wrong. Nazli’s father overlays the fatalism and the disdain with the third world suspicion of Armenian progressiveness.
Through Annie, Nazli gets a glimpse of a totally different worldview. She doesn’t understand it at first; then questions both what her culture has taught her and what Annie tells her.
Annie’s family, on the other hand, is evangelical Christian. Their understanding of God is that He loves the people of the world so much that he sent His Son Jesus to offer Himself so that everyone could have forgiveness. Having received that forgiveness from God, Annie is free to love other people, including Nazli. Annie puts her belief into practice, doing her best to benefit her family and friends, as well as herself.
In this excerpt from chapter 4 of Lavash: What Armenians ate if they could get it, Annie and Nazli are sitting on the carpeted floor of Annie’s bedroom that is above the Gregorian family’s kitchen annex to their two-room farmhouse. Annie speaks.
“Why do you say we Armenians are rich, Nazli? My family lives on a farm, for all the saints’ sake, not some grand house in town!”
“But look at it. Made of quarried stone. Carved ceiling beams. Decorative wall tiles. It’s not a hovel.”
“You’re right. It’s comfortable, even if it isn’t huge. But it didn’t just appear from a dervish dancer’s vision.” Thinking about the relatively recent arrival of Nazli’s family when her father was appointed as mudur, I said, “My friend, you’ve been in Kemahcelli only two years. Do you have any idea how long my family has been here?”
Shaking her head, Nazli shifted on the rug.
“My brothers and I are the twentieth generation to be born on this farm.”
“That’s hundreds of years, Annie! … But I still think you Armenians must be rich. You have many thick, gorgeous carpets and kilims, like this rug in your bedroom.”
I folded my arms across my chest, exasperation putting an edge in my voice. “Nazli, we knotted and wove them ourselves.”
“Oh, I’d forgotten about that. Well then, all the Turks of Kemahcelli believe that you Armenians have buried gold in your houses, in your courtyards.”
“Where did they get that idea? Have you ever seen my mayrig, Aunt Shoshanna, or me wear any gold jewelry or coins?”
“No, but you family sells so much on market days. You must have lots of money.”
“That all goes for my oldest brother Mesrop’s education.”
“Education? Ha! What does Mesrop want with that?” …..
In this scene, Nazli expresses the common themes of Ottoman Turkish thinking. Assumptions always die hard. What Nazli voices to Annie becomes the excuse the average Turk uses to justify participation in the horrendous treatment of their Armenian neighbors during 1915.