Change We Don’t Believe In
BY PATRICK BAIRAMIAN
Growing up with two older brothers has its advantages, regardless of being three boys who like to disappear in the mountains for days at a time and give our parents the mini-heart attacks associated with the worry if something happened to us. But, those times of being around them have taught me, the youngest of the bunch, values that build the core of most of my personality. Take for instance, change.
As Armenian-Americans, we perpetually talk about change. Every day an article comes out, or a discussion is sparked about the change we need in our: communities, cities, government, people, politicians, organizations, businesses, schools, the new generation and the ‘homeland.’ With all this talk of change, comes the fervent flavors of opinion. After every opinion calling for “change, change, change,” one would assume the reader, or participant to be fired up. But fired up at what? It was early on that I realized I was supporting, and even participating in the opinion stream, and nothing else. We all wanted change, but that’s all we could do to achieve it; recognize change needed to happen. OK that step was necessary, but now what? I answered that question with something that I was raised with, my brothers. Both of them subscribe to the philosophy that if you want something in life, you must take it, no one is going to hand it out to you.
Coming from Armenia recently, I’ve noticed a trend that Diaspora Armenians love to expose: all the shortcomings of the ‘homeland.’ We point out the negatives, yet are absent to suggest any constructive solutions that could benefit the same news we are shooting down. After a while, it just seems like we are playing ‘whack-a-mole’ with anything that is trying to pop up from the ground.
Teghut, for example, has riddled the news this last year with reports from every Armenian news media on the ground in the region, and from Diaspora news outlets. Other than the efforts from various organizations including the ARF-Shant chapter, whose continuous help to bring 21st century protest and environmental advocacy methods to the people has gained traction; there has been little discussion about what lies beyond the protests. There has been an article almost every week highlighting the horrid aftermath of the mining, if it were to reach that level. The news also mentions how, for instance, the mine will create temporary jobs, but at too high of a cost, because there won’t be a mountain to go home to after the mining is done. OK, that’s fair; but now what?
From the people living in America, I expect more constructive plans. We talk about destroying old-growth forests. What does that mean to anyone outside of the United States who has taken a geography class? We talk about preserving nature and the people. What about a way to get both, but allow the latter to evolve. We protest about environmental rights! What environment is worth living in if people aren’t present? Why do I keep picking on the Armenian-Americans? Because we descend from the nation that took the idea of national parks and made it part of the national identity. Why can’t we imagine, ‘The Teghut National Forest,’ full of campsites, excursions sites, guided hikes, fishing hotspots, backpacking trails, and community lodges where school children can visit throughout the year to learn about environmental issues. Jobs in tourism, construction, cartography, hotel economies, management, reforestation teams, conservation officers, a botany institute, environmental awareness programs, and international research could take the place of the miners. It won’t be the estimated $20 billion promised by the mining company, but it’s a start to build a sustainable and permanent future for the country.
People don’t give themselves enough credit. Diaspora Armenians must shake off the idea that to help Armenia grow and preserve the heritage and advocate for the ’cause,’ we must be ‘rich, rich, rich!’ As much as money helps, it isn’t what creates ripples. A fan of Chaos Theory, I believe that everything is connected. From a geography teacher of an elementary school in Boston, to a software engineer graduate living in Gyumri, everyone matters to eachother. Both professionals stated above might not donate large sums of money to Armenian organizations, but imagine they meet and create an interactive software for Armenian-school children to learn about geography, weather patterns, and natural phenomenon, while at the same time the software is in English and Armenian to help children learn and refine both languages. I ask you, is that not change?
I’d like to take the time with the rest of this article to highlight some aspects of change that many Diaspora Armenian-Americans don’t believe can help the country succeed. In an effort to rid ourselves of the idea that only money buys change, we can start with thinking outside of the rectangle shape of paper currency that we confine ourselves to, and start investing our time and criticisms into ideas that must grow and will develop. Enough of the excuse that we are twenty years old; I’m even sick of saying it. We’re twenty years old as a country, that means this is the time to make new ideas germinate and flourish into foundational beams to build on. This isn’t only the land of opportunity, it is the nation that breeds scholars, logisticians, business owners, teachers, intellectuals, and advocates. Put showing the world what we can do on the back burner; that time will come. Let’s show ourselves what we’re made of; from what ancient kingdoms we descend from. Let’s give testament to the kings and queens that live inside every one of us that we are what create the ideas (and follow through with plans) necessary for change.
The main topics below are the first set of professions I chose to highlight because most might ignore their profile descriptions based on the fact that they are not the conventional steps taken to ‘help the homeland.’ Because if it’s anything that you love doing, it’s going to make a difference in your life and influence those in the same reality. We, the ‘Armenians,’ are the celebrated rugs we cherish. Every Armenian is of a different thread, texture and color. But in the process of the weave, we all add to the unity and patterns created. Every thread counts, no matter from the corner of the weave to the center of a pattern, we all make a difference in our own ways.
E-commerce has become a stand alone economy within itself. Such websites like ‘Amazon,’ ‘Ebay,’ and ‘Overstock,’ which have brought together vendors from all over the globe, and allowed them to set up shop from where they are and sell their products to anyone, anywhere in the world have dominated the Internet sphere. There is room for growth, but not only small growth, but rapid expansion and refinement; a digital revolution not unlike the industrial revolution that put so many superpowers on the map during the turn of the twentieth century. There is a benefit to digital data, and that is its abundance, and absolute ease of transport. Digital data is one aspect of ‘import/export’ that allows the user, or creator, to transfer as much of it as they’d like, for cents on the dollar. Thereon lies the truth of the export of data. Data such as: scientific research in medicine, chemistry, physics, as well as the jobs in the service sector that we will briefly preview below.
According to the United States Department of Labor and Statistics, graphic design jobs averaged $48,140 in 2010. In the United States alone, and according to the same data, there were less than 200,000 people that indicated their occupation as being graphic designers. What does this translate to you as a graphic designer who wants to live in Armenia, but be paid an American salary? Opportunity.
The website, www.elance.com, is by far the greatest example of the potential for a graphic designer to make their fortune from their computer, as long as they have the skill set necessary to meet client demands and an Internet connection. As the websites states, “Elance provides instant access to the world’s top pool of rated programming, marketing, creative and administrative contractors…hiring on Elance is easy, just post a job and receive competing proposals from qualified contractors.” The contractor in this case is the graphic designer, or the over 80 professions listed on the site. Designers are encouraged to refine their online profile to be competitive and attractive to clients, as well as showcase their experience, projects, and recommendations.
The benefit of going down this career path, and living in Armenia is the untaxed data being sold to clients. You’re paying Internet fees and the costs of living (rent, groceries, electricity, etc). But, since you’re still dealing with clients from the America’s, Europe, Asia, the Middle-East and Russia, you’re getting paid the same as you would in the United States. But in this case, there are no office building owners to raise your lease, no worry about location, and there is no risk of extortion or corruption.
There are countless examples of who would require these services. Small businesses in need of logos, brochures, fliers, and information pamphlets. The Department of Tourism needs more animated themes on their websites to attract tourists. Schools, universities, existing businesses need better graphics to refine their image in the eyes of potential partnerships and business ventures. With an international clientèle, your business can grow to include internships for locals, where you can train locals to work for you, and multiply your success.
Software engineers/computer programming
Software, like graphics and the digital creative arts is likewise, digital data. You don’t need a store on the street to sell it, it doesn’t need to come in a box, nor does it need to be transported by ship or plane. Software and computer programming do much more than create a product that can be sold on the international market. In a country like Armenia where such knowledge is abundant in the universities, it is one aspect of data that can help solidify the foundations to our prosperity as a country. The potential to hire able bodied employees is abundant, even if your skills are more business management; you can be a puzzle master and fit the pieces together; bringing together the talent and marketing their skills to the global economy.
Software and computer systems are taken for granted in countries where everyone always seems connected. It is this way in such countries because such software is profitable. With clients looking for conveniences in website functionality, enhanced audio programs, design applications, navigation systems, and smart-phone applications, the world of the Digital Revolution was born. Those interested in such fields have the advantage to be connected to the world that demands these things. In Armenia, where students are required to be analytical, one could bring together groups, “digital think-tanks” of sorts, and build wonderful software for Armenia, Russia, Europe, Asia, and North and South America.
This is an example of internal growth, where the resources come from the country, and your ability to bring together the will necessary to create a successful business. As with graphic design, your costs are minimal, as you must pay for some of the research you seek to refine and make it profitable.
It may come as a surprise, but there is no ‘MapQuest’ or ‘Google maps’ in Armenia. Meager if not any resources exist that tell the world a business exists in Goris, Ijevan, or Sevan. No ability to give the opportunity of podcasts for the politically active or independently creative. There is no such thing as ‘WebMD’ for Armenians. There are no systems designed to record weather patterns or Geographical Information Systems (GIS) used to substantially strengthen the efficiency in agriculture and irrigation methods. Even if there were, the people living in the country who could benefit from the information have limited access to it. There is existing software in America, Europe, even Russia, and one way or another it can be acquired by Armenians, but then there could be a technical miscommunication in the language that won’t allow such existing products to function to their full potential. That’s where the next category of professionals comes in.
People might take for granted the fact that anywhere in their travels, they have had the advantage of finding someone who speaks English. Either in a bakery in Marsailles, France, down to a manufacturing city such as Guangzhou, China – English is spoken wherever people have found that it leads to better business. Yet, such is not to claim that English is the only business language necessary to allow ones business to increase, but for the sake of this article, it will be.
As a native English speaker, who also understands Armenian, you put yourself at a very valuable position in the country. You make yourself the mouthpiece in which Universities, Government departments, Corporations, and small-businesses can speak through. You are the person who makes available University research to the Western world, and build a bridge for government programs such as tourism. You can be the liaison between a joint program between Caltrans, California’s hi-tech transportation department, and Armenia’s transportation department. Your skills in translation can help bring to light 3000 year old histories that a team of anthropologists in Armenia have compiled, or to translate the latest middle-class finance solutions used in advanced societies. Your skills can be used for the two professions mentioned before, to promote the services of a graphic designer, and help market the product of a software engineer. You can be the arbiter of creativity as you weave the poetry of Baruyr Sevag and Siamantos into products that the whole world can know about, and can inspire a Diaspora Armenian to search their ancestry between the lines of those poets’ translated texts.
Digital connectivity is one concept that the world is still new to. Just observe the popularity of email, and the ability to communicate faster with the globe at the push of a button. Websites like ‘Myspace’ and ‘Facebook’, which allow a deeper connection to be built between people. Now ‘Facebook’ has turned into the fastest and most intimate form of communication available. Websites like ‘HuffingtonPost’ have local and global news stories within minutes of the and events happening, while it constantly updates. There is one thing that is perpetual in the world: information is always in demand.
A great advantage to being in Armenia and exploring the career section of the communication branch is that you are in a country that is at the center of Asia. You are closer to Europe, Industrial East-Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. With the latter of these locations, consider the path of a journalist or photographer. Not as a conflict journalist, but one who is keeping up with Syria, Egypt, Israel, and post- war Iraq. This path is only if you’re ambitious to be a correspondent of news to the Western world – who is hungry for news from these regions because of the key roles they play in foreign policy.
These things have secondary advantages. Perhaps you start to rise as the main source of media in Armenia for Diaspora Armenians wanting to know what goes on daily in Armenia (but written in English). Your team grows and you ask the Graphic designer for a website and logo. You recruit camera operators, and ask the software engineer to help refine a high-definition video editing software. Your reporters start to learn English as they help write stories, and report the news so that it can be posted on ‘YouTube’, or besent to Armenian new outlets, Al Jeezera, and the RT network. In effect, your news story has helped three occupations keep their jobs, while strengthening your own. Why not work with businesses that are already established, with Western marketing practices that allow the business and your own expertise to grow simultaneously.
Your ability to reach out to the world and communicate with the international community, the Diaspora and Armenia also adds its own marketing factor. Sometimes it’s not about having the right major, or a specific skill set other than being interested in promoting a product or service, and being able to bring what we learned in high-school economics to Armenia. Coming with the idea that you can bring to light the skills of the young, intellectual professional graduates is already something that pays dividends for you as a developing professional, and them for their own portfolio and experience. You can work with the country to market businesses, tourist sites, and special programs that Diaspora Armenians or European tourists might otherwise not be aware of. The winter resort town in Tsakhkadzor, the 359 bird species of Armenia, and Archaeological sites from the surrounding epicenter of civilization. Rock-climbing the monoliths in the Syunik province, wine tasting in Areni and Ararat, Sevan lake summer cycling, and Tatev Monastery tours in the south. Everything is connected, and I hope by now you realize that no matter what you do in Armenia, it’s going to make a difference. Not only because I say it should, or know it will; but because we are the threads that make the weave in this reality possible.
As for myself, so that you know I’ve put my money where my mouth is (and it tastes surprisingly good), I’m working with a software designer to create a phone application to be released in December. The vibrant graduate is from the engineering school of Yereven, Polytechnic Institute; and boy is he diligent when it comes to work.
Patrick Bairamian is a recent graduate of University of California in Santa Barbara. He traveled to Armenia with Birthright Armenia.