This book review is from Volume 14, No. 3 of the Journal of American Ethnic History (Spring 1995), pp. 52-56. The original pagination has not been kept intact and the paragraphing has been altered for web use. This web edition 2004 Dennis R. Papazian.


Review Essay

THE STRUGGLE FOR PERSONAL AND COLLECTIVE IDENTITY: THE UKRAINIAN AND ARMENIAN EXPERIENCE IN AMERICA

The Ukrainian Americans: Roots and Aspirations, 1884-1954. By Myron B. Kuropas. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991. xxvii + 534 pp. Maps, illustrations, tables, notes, bibliography, and index. $55.00.

The Quest for the Rusyn Soul: The Politics of Religion and Culture in Eastern Europe and in America, 1890-World War 1. By Keith P. Dyrud. Philadelphia: The Balch Institute Press, 1992. 15 5 pp. Notes, Bibliography and index. $29.5 0.

Armenian Americans: From Being to Feeling Armenian. By Anny Bakalian. New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 1993. xii + 511 pp. Tables, bibliography, appendix, and index. $39.95 (cloth); $ 27.95 (paper).

The three books under review are united chiefly by their being classified as "ethnic history." Myron Kuropas' book is a tour-de-force which relates the interesting, detailed, and tortured story of a people who evolved in America from Rusyns to Ukrainians in a complex interaction of history, old country politics, religious controversy, social development, and political transformation in the old world and in the new. Keith P. Dyrud's study is more narrowly focused and in some ways a sub-set of Kuropas' larger work. It deals specifically with the struggle among the Poles, Austrians, Hungarians, Russians, and Ukrainians to win the allegiance of the Rusyns both in Europe and in America and, finally, the struggle within the Rusyns themselves for self- and collective identity in the context of this larger competition. Anny Bakalian's work, on the other hand, although containing history, is largely a sociological study of the contemporary Armenian-American community in the United States. Derived largely from surveys, interviews and personal observation, it traces the acculturation and eventual assimilation of Armenians in America, from people actually "being" Armenians, by definition, to only "feeling" Armenian, by choice.

The Rusyns are Eastern Slavs who have lived historically in Galicia (north of the Carpathian mountains), often a part of Poland, and Subcarpathia (south of the Carpathian mountains), often a part of Hungary. In more modern times, the vast majority were "Greek Catholics," or "Uniates," that is, those of the Greek Orthodox (or Eastern Orthodox, Russian Orthodox) faith who became united with the Roman Catholic church in the Union of Brest (1595) when the Poles occupied the "Right Bank" territories of the Dnieper River (western Ukraine), an area of constantly changing borders.

The Rusyns became the object, for political and territorial reasons, of a three way tug-of-war, both in Europe and in America, among the Austrians, the Hungarians, and the Russians--all of whom wanted to assimilate them, or if not to assimilate them, then to win their allegiance as a separate, congenial ethnos within their respective territories. The Russians, if they could not russify the Rusyns under the banner of Pan-Slavism, were eager at least to see them return safely into the bosom of the Orthodox church, even as "Ukrainians."

In America this struggle was carried on by both diplomatic agents and church hierarchs, aided and abetted by their respective governments abroad. The struggle became even more complex when the Roman Catholic hierarchy in America began to insist that the Rusyns adopt the Latin rite and the practice of clerical celibacy. Finally, the Rusyns themselves, who were almost universally peasants in Europe and laborers in America, began to seek self and collective identity as they slowly moved u p into better paying jobs, private enterprise, the professions, and politics, and began to develop their own intelligentsia.

Both Kuropas and Dyrud deal with these complex issues in an intelligent, learned, and objective way. Dyrud's shorter work, with only 110 pages of text, is organized into sections on the development of Rusyn national awareness in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russian interest in the Rusyns within that Empire, theinfluence of the Russian Orthodox church on the cultural consciousness of the Rusyns in America, the Hungarian cultural and nationalistic activity with the Greek Catholic church in America, and the conflicts in the establishment of the Greek Catholic church in America. It is perfectly suitable for those who want a brief overview.

Kuropas' much longer and more detailed work, with 406 pages of text, covers a longer span of time and events in both a more specific as well as a more general way. Kuropas deals with the European roots of the Rusyns, under Poland, Russia, and Austria. Then, he moves to the American roots, the first "Ukrainians" to immigrate, ethnic awareness, and social attitudes and perceptions. He uses the term "Ruthenian" as almost synonymous with "Rusyn" and--as a specific national consciousness developed among the Rusyns--"Ukrainian."

Further, Kuropas covers-among other things-Ruthenian life in America, the making and tempering of the Ukrainian American, communism both in Ukraine and in America, monarchist, nationalist and religious aspirations and ethnocultural maintenance. Its encyclopedic coverage of the Ukrainians in America and how they have related to their homeland(s) will undoubtedly make Kuropas' study the standard work for decades to come.

Kuropas' theme is that Ukrainian consciousness and the desire for a free Ukraine developed only overtime. The concern of the first immigrants, who almost universally lived and worked in the coal mining towns of Pennsylvania under conditions which were hardly better than those in the old country, was survival. As living conditions improved, the immigrants established churches and a plethora of cultural and social societies. The church buildings often passed back and forth among the Greek Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, and the Russian Orthodox hierarchs as the parishioners sought respect and some control over their own destiny. The organizations united and split according to the personality of their leaders, the vagaries of politics, and the changing environment. Agents of influence, clerical and otherwise, served the interest of Russia, Austro-Hungary, and the Vatican in these struggles for the Rusyn soul.

The progression from "Rusyn" to "Carpatho-Ruthenian" to " Carpatho-Russian" to "Ukrainian" marks the metamorphoses of the fragmented immigrant population into a self-assured ethnic community in the United States, and, we should add, in Canada. Nevertheless, a particularly enlightening, if sad, element of Kuropas's book, is the story of the attempt of the Soviet Union to impose its influence on Ukrainians in America through the Communist party and front organizations. While the vast majority of Ukrainian Americans was anti-communist, especially after Stalin's excesses were exposed, there were some who became fellow travelers and others who even joined the Communist party. The response of the FBI and other American security bureaus was far in excess of the threat to America's interest, and a series of hearings succeeded, unfortunately, in casting an unjustified shadow over the patriotism of thousands of Ukrainians who were the most loyal of Americans.

In contrast to Kuropas' and Dyrud's works, Army Bakalian's study deals chiefly with contemporary concerns, the rate and nature of Armenian assimilation in America. She divides her book into an introduction on assimilation and identity theory, a discussion of church and politics, the Armenian-American community, the debate over the necessity to use the Armenian language, sources of identity, and a conclusion on intermarriage and "symbolic" Armenianness. Her concerns mark an essential difference in the emigration pattern between the Armenians and the Ukrainians and reflect the somewhat unique nature of the Armenian diaspora (dispersion).

The Armenians are a people originally from eastern Anatolia (present-day Turkey) and Transcaucasia (the area south of the Caucasus Mountains) whose history goes back more than three thousand years. The Armenians produced a number of kingdoms and one empire but, due to their exposed position on the crossroads of Europe and Asia, they experienced a long series of major invasions and occupations which caused many Armenians to fee to other countries for security, thus establishing a diaspora that stretches around the world. Armenians were also a commercial people, similar to the ancient Greeks, and established trading centers in many cities of Europe (including Kiev) and Asia (as faraway as Singapore).

Thus, in a way, the Armenians have learned to adapt to living away from the homeland and yet retain their Armenianness. This "Armenianness," as Bakalian observes, has traditionally been identified as speaking Armenian and belonging to the "mother church," the Armenian Apostolic church. It was the church which provided the Armenian alphabet, encouraging not only the translation of all the major works of the classical world (Latin, Greek, and Syriac) into Armenian but also the development of an indigenous intelligentsia, mostly clerical, which established a high level of scholarship. It was the "Church of the Armenians," consequently, which was able to maintain national consciousness over the millennium when there was no Armenian state.

The more rapid modernization of the Armenians in Turkey, as compared with the Turks, coupled with the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of pan-Turkism, brought about the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1916 by the Turkish government under the cover of World War I. Those Armenians who were not killed during the expulsion from their ancestral homes, mostly women and children, were driven into the Syrian desert to die. Many, however, were saved by charitable organizations, such as Near East Relief. The remnant either settled mainly in Syria and Lebanon, and to a lesser extent in Greece, Palestine, and Egypt, or came to America. Thus, the first major wave of Armenian immigration to America consisted of those of peasant stock who came not so much by choice but out of desperation. The Armenian genocidal experience, "being hated to death," has become the fundamental experience that today defines and unites all Armenians in the diaspora, and to some extent even in Armenia.

Those Armenians who lived in the predominantly Muslim countries, Bakalian argues, had little impetus to "acculturate," much less assimilate. They continued on the road to modernization as a minority ethnos. Nationality and confession went hand-in-hand, and there was little crossing of the ethnic/religious boundary. The rise of modern nationalism in the Middle East, however, caused many Armenians to leave the Arab countries (and Iran) in the 1960s and to resettle in America, providing a second wave of immigration, this time of a more educated and wealthy population. Furthermore, the national discontent in the USSR, coupled with the more recent opportunity to leave the Soviet Union, caused a third wave of educated, but not wealthy, Armenians to immigrate to America in the 1980s.

Bakalian avers that American-born descendants of Armenian immigrants have undergone significant assimilation in the United States and that Armenianness in them has acquired a "symbolic" rather than an "actual" status. They no longer use the Armenian language as a means of communication, only infrequently attend Armenian religious services, and participate less frequently in community activities sponsored by the numerous Armenian voluntary associations. Yet, she affirms, "the majority of Armenian-Americans, even the great-grandchildren of the immigrant generation, continue to maintain high levels of Armenian identity, fierce pride in their ancestral heritage, and a strong sense of we-ness or peoplehood" (p. 6). Thus Armenians moved from ascribed identity (the first generation), to voluntary identity (succeeding generation), that is, from "being" to "feeling" Armenian.

The very diaspora characteristic of the Armenian community worldwide has made the Armenian language the tie among the Armenian elites in various countries, a sort of international fraternity or club of Armenian speakers, while the Armenian language is being lost among the general community. Furthermore, unlike some other white immigrants, the wealthier and more educated Armenian Americans tend to assimilate at a slower pace than their poorer brethren. It should also be noted, because of their diaspora experience, that Armenians tend to acculturate at a more rapid pace than they assimilate. It is traditional for Armenians to adapt to the host society in their business and professional life while at the same time preserving ethnic standards in their home and social life. Although a traditional Armenian culture barely exists in the United States, the author concludes, Armenianness is being redefined to accommodate an Armenian "spirit" rather than an Armenian "life style."

Thus we are presented here with three valuable books: Kuropas' magisterial and definitive work on the Ukrainian experience in America, 1884-1954; Dyrud's insightful and specific work on the conflict for the Rusyn soul in religion and culture, 1890-1917; and Bakalian's theoretical search for the uniquenesses and similarities of the Armenian experience compared with that of other white ethnics in America. All three books should be of value to sociologists, anthropologists, social historians, and, of course, to all those interested in ethnicity. All three are excellent for the specific areas they cover. Certainly Kuropas' and Bakalian's books should be made available to wide audiences.

Dennis R. Papazian
University of Michigan-Dearborn

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