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?