An Armenian-American reader asks for an “all Armenian post.” So, let’s see what I can come up with:
– The basic cultural flavor of Armenians strikes me as Mediterranean — thus, this restaurant bloodbath near my house on Saturday immediately reminded me of the restaurant shooting scene in The Godfather. But just as Sicilian gangsterism in New York in the 1950s, while repugnant, didn’t ruin New York as a place to live, Armenian gangsterism in SoCal in 2010 seems to mostly consist of Armenians shooting other Armenians.
This Mediterranean flavor seems odd because the Armenian homeland is well to the east in Asia, on the south side of the Caucasus Mountains. The Black Sea, however, gave a huge section of Eurasia relatively easy access to the Mediterranean. In America, though, we don’t normally pay much attention to the lands around the Black Sea. We’re vaguely aware that Constantinople / Istanbul was long considered to have the world’s most strategic location, but we don’t really pay much attention to the lands east of Constantinople. Which is a verbose way of saying I don’t know much about Armenia. (I know even less about the other Christian Asian nation, Georgia, which shoved its way into the headlines in 2008 when it attacked the Russian Army.)
– A reader writes:
In addition to the critical mass issue, one of the interesting things about Armenian criminality, whether in LA or NY, is that it’s skewed overwhelmingly toward people from Soviet Armenia rather than Lebanon or Syria or Turkey or Egypt. And this is despite the fact that the immigrants from the former Soviet Armenia are almost all the first cousins, literally, of the people who came from the non-Soviet middle east, because the people emigrating from Armenia are those (plus their children and grandchildren) who made aliyah, as it were, to Armenia after WWII by the tens of thousands. The ones who stayed in Syria and Iraq etc. and then came to the US are basically successful middle class immigrants but their first and second cousins who lived under communism were basically wrecked, morally, by the experience.
The Soviet empire’s cultural legacy seems to be an advanced education for its inmates in Gangsterism 101.
– Armenian-Americans are unusual for a small immigrant group at doing well in both farming (especially orchards around Fresno) and in the kind of businesses at the polar opposite of farming, such as being a Hollywood agent. (In contrast, Jews don’t farm, while the Japanese made fine farmers in the West, but didn’t get much into Hollywood.) Anyway, it seems kind of an odd combination of skills. Perhaps an explanation is that California farming is more like running a medium-sized business with a hired workforce than is, say, dairy farming in Wisconsin, which is more classic do-it-yourself farming.
– There has long been bad blood in California between Armenians and Mexicans, such as gang fights at Grant H.S. in the San Fernando Valley going back to the 1970s. This is actually pretty funny considering how often you always hear people say that racial conflicts are due to people looking different and having different colored skins, or to having ancient prejudices against each other. But practically nobody in Mexico has ever heard of Armenia and practically nobody in Armenia has ever heard of Mexico. Yet, when the kids of immigrants from Mexico and Armenia show up at Grant H.S., they take one look at each other and decide they don’t like what they see.
Which is also ironic, because they really don’t look all that different. A few years I was walking around a neighborhood in the central SFV amazed at all the new gigantically expensive security fencing that was going in around each house. Each homeowner seems to be competing with his neighbors to buy the tallest, scariest, and most over-decorated steel fencing. Afterwards, I started wondering: “How can Mexicans afford all those lethal finials and wrought-iron fleur-de-lis?” The next time I was there, I noticed that all the Mexicans in the neighborhood seemed light-skinned and non-mestizo. And then it finally dawned on me that it wasn’t a Mexican neighborhood at all, it was an Armenian neighborhood. It was a stupid mistake for me to make, but it does raise questions about all the assurances we hear that racial rivalries are only skin deep.
– Those two very parallel English novelists, Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell, had famous things to say about Armenians. Waugh admired the urbane competence of the Armenian chauffeurs and hoteliers he met on a trip to Abyssinia and gave one a major role his novel “Black Mischief.” Orwell wrote in Down and Out in Paris and London: “after meeting him i saw sense in the proverb : Trust a snake before you trust a Jew, Trust a Jew before you trust a Greek, BUT NEVER TRUST AN ARMENIAN.”
– So, how smart are Armenians? It’s hard to say. They tend to have a wide variety of talents — e.g., the Mikoyan brothers in the Soviet Union: one was head of MiG fighter jet production and the other was one of Stalin’s inner circle of six. Armenians have owned and run major movie studios in Hollywood.
On the other hand, there isn’t that much depth in Armenian accomplishments — they are a small people who see to be pretty good at a lot of different things, which doesn’t leave them room to be be really great at too many things. In general, I ‘d compare them to Italian-Americans, a group that that lodged itself securely in the middle of the levels of American accomplishment.
Armenians tend to be considered white. For example, when Republican candidate George Deukmejian beat LA Mayor Tom Bradley in the 1982 and 1986 elections for governor of California, he was universally know as the White Guy while Mayor Tom was The Black Guy. On the other hand, I’ve heard an Armenian young man refer to “whites” as the non-Armenians, so attitudes could be shifting.