Serhiy Nihoyan, who became the first man to die on Euromaidan last month, was the son of Armenian refugees from Nagorny Karabakh, born and raised in a Ukrainian village near the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk. Before his death Serrhiy gave several interviews in which he talked, in fluent Ukrainian, about his motives for joining the revolution, and read a poem by the 19th century Ukrainian romantic nationalist Taras Shevchenko in support of national liberation struggle in the Caucasus.
After Serhiy’s death the interviews were widely circulated in Russian and Ukrainian internet, and Ukrainians felt compelled to say their thanks, among them: “Hero of Ukraine”, “a friend”, “better Ukrainian than many Ukrainians”. Very few people recognized him as a Ukrainian. To be sure, Serhiy himself said that he “came to support the people among whom he was born and lives” and although I’m pretty sure he had a Ukrainian passport, he gave his “nationality” as Armenian. Ukrainian Foreign Legion, if you will.
There is nothing unique about Ukrainians and Armenians thinking of nationhood in terms of blood lines. Europe is made up of ethnic nation-states whose citizens think of themselves in tribal terms. There are Turks in Germany who are not ethnic Germans and Jews in France who are not ethnic French, nor will they ever be.
United States is a constitutional republic held together by ideas, and although we have significant racial division, the most hard core patriots want nothing more from the citizens than to drop hyphenated identities. Although we are a Christian country, religion and cultural heritage are a matter of personal choice and intermarriage is held up as a high standard of integration.