They speak a different language. Their engagement with one another and the world has a different rhythm and voice. They are globally mobile, technologically advanced and brave of heart and conviction. Their heroes and mentors come from the past but their vision is rooted in possibility. They ask the important questions, they use their logic and rationale but their actions are informed by an explicit sense of belonging and ownership. They are cognizant of the deficits yet refuse to be shattered by them. They are intuitive and brilliant beyond the stretches of our tired and worn down imaginations. They see the world through their own sense of time and space. And while I secretly fear that their fearlessness highlights my own obsolescence, I am awed by their mettle. They are the independence generation.
This new breed of global Armenians is not weighed down by the afflictions of my generation. While I suspect they struggle with questions of identity in the Diaspora and with what it means to be a responsible citizen in Armenia, they are raising the bar at every turn, sometimes leaving us breathless, trying to catch up with their actions. Their assumptions about the concept of nation and nationhood spring from a different narrative and their expectations of the homeland are far more real than ours. As one newly repatriated young woman often says, this isn’t your grandma’s Armenia. It certainly isn’t.
For them, Armenia was always independent. It was always theirs to claim or denounce and more often than not they claimed her. I’m sure they have their specific hang ups with what it means to be an Armenian on foreign lands, about how they can find their voice within staid communities who are often times failing them or with a leadership in Armenia that disappoints at every opportunity.
While they are not faultless, they certainly do inspire. From young Diaspora Armenians dismantling stereotypes and false perceptions to local Armenians trying to make changes that will somehow matter, they are unknowingly making us sit up and listen.
What is fascinating for those of us on the sidelines watching their tentative, sometimes bold and sometimes unconventional steps is that they are keenly aware of the shortcomings of our young republic, yet they don’t let those become a barrier to their engagement.
From slowly taking on leadership roles to campaigning for civil and human rights, to preserving the environment, to protecting women’s rights, the independence generation is pushing boundaries and breaking down walls of indifference and replacing cynicism with hope.
I met the youngest mayor of Armenia, Narek Sahakyan of Baghanis in the Tavush region. He’s 26 years old and in charge of a border village in Armenia that is within range of Azerbaijani sniper fire. He is bold and dauntless, full of energy and love for his birthplace and he’s operating and working in a way that most village mayors wouldn’t know how to do or be. Yes, he hails from a small village, drives a Lada and lives in a modest home, but his dreams and visions are big. He’s thinking outside the box and he’s determined to make a difference. When he speaks about the threats to his village, he seems to stand taller and straighter and he’ll boldly tell you that the villager is strong, committed and resolute…his sentiments and body language are clear and what he wants you to know is that they know how to take care of their own.
The young professionals in Yerevan who are actively protesting the introduction of the mandatory pension system, have not only taken to the streets using new methods and techniques to mobilize and build capacity but are using social media like never before. While they may have their own internal divisions and divergent methods, they are building momentum, which hopefully might have a spillover effect for others to begin addressing, in a very formidable way the array of injustices that keep springing up around us.
The youth of the Diaspora are beginning to disregard the utopian images of Mayr Hayastan and the sometimes dystopian version of present-day Armenia – they are refusing the status quo, the ‘vay mama jan’ breast-beating of those who only want to say negative things about the homeland from a distance, perhaps to justify their own paucity of commitment.
Organizations like Birthright, Youth Corps and other initiatives are giving the Armenian youth of the world the opportunity and capacity to engage in an authentic way with the realities of our country and these young people, in return, are using every weapon in their arsenal to make a difference. The recent #ArmenianGenocide action by the Armenian Youth Federation is a case in point. Sitting in Yerevan, late at night I saw their call to action on social media. I started following them, and then began spreading the word, then started tweeting myself. It was an amazing feeling to be sitting thousands of miles away from where these kids were and to participate in such a real way in an initiative that was cutting edge, at least for my generation. Did it change anything? Perhaps not, but it sure as hell highlighted the power of passion and identity and collective action.
While some of us may discount their new vision, their particular approach or method of working within the Armenian reality, I think we might benefit from the purity of their purpose. Maybe we could learn the lesson of loving unconditionally.