Monthly Archives: February 2011

To Be, or Not to Be, a Country

Lately I’ve been ruminating about this malaise that is rampant in Armenia, the notion that the “country’s not a country.” This mentality has really been bothering me lately and I just don’t know how to ignore it. The more I hear it or imagine people thinking it, the more frustrated I am.

I can’t remember the first time I heard this phrase. I’m guessing it was back in late 2004 or perhaps 2005.  At first I used to hear it regularly from someone who I consider an extended family member, even though we aren’t related. But when he used that expression, it was to vent his anger and frustration with having to contend with paying bribes, high taxes and other bureaucratic issues  on a near daily basis when he was farming twenty hectares of land in the Ararat valley. Now you can hear it from anyone on the street if you listen carefully enough, young and old alike.  I’ve heard teenagers say it, without even understanding what the implications are for saying such a thing.

The world is changing and with it costs for food and utilities are rising though the roof. And as I’ve pointed out in a previous post, the authorities are taking away jobs, not creating them. I keep hearing stories of people being offered contracts to relocate to Russia where they’ll have a job and home provided for them, and they’re signing up. Then, as I wrote about before, I think about the untold number of people that have left so far from all over the country. Entire villages have supposedly moved en masse. How can the government continue to turn a blind eye to this problem?

I also hear more and more about twentysomethings applying to study abroad, somewhere in Europe, the US or wherever. I know of at least three people who are doing that. There is a huge drain of talent and intellect, and there doesn’t seem to be any kind of discussion about how to reverse the trend. Why don’t officials try to understand why it is that so many citizens of Armenia live day to day believing that their country is not a country?

Now I find myself thinking about this exodus when I get into bed at night. Here am I, an Armenian from the US who came to Armenia to be a part of something — a movement of change for the betterment of the homeland. I felt that civil society was strengthening and that soon the people would reclaim their government from the oligarchs, and work for the common good of all citizens, not an elite circle of families. I’ve only seen things get worse. Dissent is put down and some people live in fear. Apathy is thriving. Protests yield no results. People are leaving, and the government is letting them go.

The country’s not a country. But what does that really mean for Armenian citizens? And what will make Armenia a country for Armenians to stick around and rebuild it, nurture it for future generations? Why can’t anyone answer these questions?

Can Armenians Be Like Egyptians?

cairo protestsThe Egyptians did it. They dispelled a regime that they knew to be oppressive and corrupt, which limited their freedom of expression and movement and held them hostage to failed opportunity and poverty. For over two weeks they struggled against all odds to bring about the change they expected and they eventually reached their main goal–to push Mubarak out of office. And it was all because of the youth, a dedicated corp of individuals who decided that enough was enough. Through social networking they got the message out and people took to the streets, refusing to relent until their demands were met. Mission accomplished.

But here in Armenia, chronic whining reigns society. People here, young and old alike, are so obsessed with the idea of “the country’s not a country” that they see no other way out of the similar problems that Egyptians dealt with for over 30 years. Prices for energy and food keep going up while wages stay the same, and thousands of people go out of work overnight because Yerevan’s new mayor can’t stand seeing people sell fruit in courtyards and alleyways.  And not to discount the Armenians’ suffering, but Egyptians seemed to have suffered far worse during their decades of tyrannical repression and “emergency” rule. In the meantime, more Armenians in the new year are doing without and no one’s making any noise about it. They only complain to each other. And when the opportunity arises they leave, never looking back.

Armenians take pride in their millennia-long existence, their churches, their heritage, their sacrifice, their values. The Armenians governed vast kingdoms and controlled routes of commerce. They wielded influence throughout the Near East, Asia and Europe, trading and networking, winning the respect and admiration of other nations, notwithstanding the hardships they endured for centuries,  deifying their enemies, refusing to abdicate their faith.  Their courage is what made them endure, their perseverance and resilience brought them the independence and freedom they enjoy today.

But they’re disappointed. The country’s not a country. They want a better future for their children, free from nepotism, corruption and inequality.  But they don’t want to work for it, they want it handed to them on a silver platter. They’re quick to criticize but are hesitant to enact the change they expect–whatever that is–citing fear or more often than not, apathy. Can Armenians really afford to be afraid and indifferent to each other?

I’ve had a few conversations with people about the events in Egypt, and they recognize the need to do the same here. They realize the missed opportunity they had in March 2008. But they also know that no one’s ready to try again. The youth, as a dynamic source of potential, are inactive. The opposition is as fragmented as it ever was. There’s no unity amongst the Armenian people here, and until everyone gets on the same page to work for the common goal, the country, in their eyes, will remain not a country. That shouldn’t be an option.

Photo: Al Jazeera English