Transformations: Wood Stoves and Faith

Maria Titizian


Most days you just want to turn the switch off, go home, sit on the couch and watch a meaningless movie. You don’t want to think about work, about deadlines and responsibilities, about the upcoming presidential elections or about your crazy, chaotic life. You crave boredom, monotony, a peaceful existence.

And then a 23 year-old journalist goes ahead and files a news report about the first presidential elections (1991) in a free and independent Armenia, an Armenia you didn’t believe would exist in your lifetime and you realize that you don’t have the right or the luxury to switch anything off.

It wasn’t so much the substance or content of her report that moved me but how she had made herself part of the story she was trying to tell. And as her friends and colleagues shared her clip, they began to reminisce about those early years of our country’s independence. Most of them were mere children, some not even old enough to talk or to even have memories. Yet oddly they recalled similar things. Like the smell of potatoes baking on woodstoves in their apartments, the darkness, the cold winter nights, the candlelight. They remembered their euphoria when the electricity would unexpectedly return or how they would play games or do their homework by candlelight; or how the neighbors in their building would all come together for warmth, for some company and compassion. An entire generation of Armenia’s children grew up in the “cold and dark years” of the early 1990s. Most of them grew up without the basic comforts we took and continue to take for granted, like warmth, light, clean water, proper nutrition, a carefree and blissful existence. They could have been my children…

Many of that generation have left Armenia and many continue to leave. But for those who have stayed, those young men and women who paid a high price for something they didn’t understand, it is for and about them that we should all continue to work, regardless of where we live, whether in the homeland or the Diaspora. None of us will be able to give them back their childhood, but we can try and restore their faith in the future of Armenia.

Yet, as I write such lofty sentiments about how we should ‘restore their faith,’ it dawns on me that they are the ones who are restoring ours. The steadily growing environmental movement is Armenia is teeming with young people, who see themselves not as temporary residents in search of a visa guaranteeing their departure but as the rightful owners of this land. There are those dedicated group of activists who are on the frontlines to ensure the protection of human rights in the country, and who consistently address different kinds of abuses and injustice with conviction; there are those women’s rights activists who confront stereotypes and rigid gender roles on a daily basis yet who carry on to ensure that women’s voices, perspectives and needs are guaranteed in decision-making; and there are those young journalists who try to enlighten us by writing articles and filming reports about the state of the country from their own unique prism. It is true that journalism in Armenia has much room for improvement but there are some news organizations trying to fill that void. And while there is an army of those who complain or simply write statuses on Facebook, there are just as many more who are trying to ensure a dignified life for everyone.

I work with a lot of different people, most of them considerably younger; it’s not always pleasant being the oldest person in the room, but I have come to realize what a gift it has been for me. Every day I interact with young, bright, and, energetic people who work hard, dream big and strive for excellence. I forget about their personal stories, their memories and recollections of those difficult early years of our country’s independence when they huddled around woodstoves, trying to warm their frozen little fingers so that they could play the piano, or read a fairy tale or simply run around to play a game of hide-and-seek.

The generation of the ‘cold and dark years’ are now young adults, studying, working, serving in the army, getting ready to chart their journey through life. Their passage through childhood was not an easy one, it was fraught with hardship and many deprivations but their nostalgia when recalling potatoes baking on woodstoves and fond memories of candlelight in the darkness simple proves, yet again, the strength and resilience of the human spirit.

I read a saying today, “A smooth sea never made a skillful sailor.” If there’s any truth to these words, then our future is indeed bright.


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  1. Catherine said:

    Can somebody tell me why I’m crying? Hi Mary, this was so “KUN-KOUSH”

  2. Knarik Meneshian said:

    I remember those “dark days” very well, and I remember with great admiration and fondness my students (in the village of Jrashen, next to Spitak) as they worked so hard, and with great determination, to learn English in a frigid classroom, actually a dilapidated janitor’s closet with a rotting wood floor, in some places wet, in some places icy, with no desks or chairs, just four decrepit walls, an equally decrepit ceiling, and a rattling, drafty window. Despite the horrible conditions—the cold; the darkness; the hunger; the illnesses; the deaths; the horrid rats scurrying about in the open, in the piles of rubble that were once homes; the damp, moldy, and rusty domeeks; and the tents—there was a great dream that one day Armenia’s future would be bright for all. That dream was everywhere—in the villages, in the towns, in the cities, and in the capital.

    May that dream never be forgotten, and may those wonderful students—now grown men and women—work as hard now as they did then in that little “classroom” during those trying days of their childhood to make that dream for Armenia and all her people come true!

    Knarik O. Meneshian