During the twentieth century, Soviet Armenian society has been witness to numerous situations in which national identity has become an expression of cultural paradox. From the 1940's to the 1990's, Armenia has been in a transitory state, oscillating between seemingly contradictory categories of East/West, capitalism/communism, traditional/modern, past/present and death/survival. Despite this state of flux, Armenian self-representations insistently point to a collective identity that defines itself as firmly rooted, fixed in space and enduring in understandings. This project explores stories and histories, especially anecdotes collected in the course of fieldwork in Soviet Armenia conducted over two extended periods from 1987 to 1992. What was sought were mechanisms that lend to culture the malleability to bend and twist without radical rupture, allowing culture to reinvent itself endlessly in the face of social pressures and to allow space for new cultural constructions of meaning.
I chart the deeply contradictory symbolic structure of Soviet Armenian society as an instrument by which these reworkings are achieved. In so doing, it becomes clear that contradiction does not lead to cultural paralysis. On the contrary, the articulation of contradiction within a narrative mode allows for mediation of difference in a manner that is non-divisive.
Further, I trace the modern history of Armenia to reveal the ways in which Armenians manage the affects of Sovietization, of the Diaspora and repatriation, and of Armenian independence and emergence into a new geo-political matrix. Special attention is given to the Soviet Nationality Policy of the 1920's and 1940's and to the disastrous earthquake of 1988, both of which have led to a renewed sense of nationalism and of peoplehood among the Armenians. In tracing symbolic repertoires, I reveal the transitory character of meanings and their implicational associations as culture repositions itself and renegotiates contradictions in new settings.