What Now? A Present and Future Plugged in With the Past

BY VAHE HABESHIAN

[Editor’s note: The following is based on a speech delivered in Armenian–on April 24–in Washington–during the local community’s commemoration of the 89th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.]

"And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye– but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" –Matthew 7:3

When I was thinking what it is that I could possibly say tonight–something that hasn’t been repeated for decades already?I became dispirited. Was there anything new to say?

So I decided to listen to some music for some inspiration–and from the pile of CDs I chose the one called "Unplugged" by singer-songwriter and physicist Armen Movsisian. "Interesting?an unplugged physicist," I thought to myself. The first song to come on was called?"My Muse." And I thought–"So far–so good." But the full name–I realized–was "My Muse–or Uncertainty." I thought–"Figures?just my Armenian luck."

While I scratched my head–Armen waxed poetic about uncertainty–about the woman he loved and the dance (staged by nature) that she didn’t attend; he sang a lullaby to his child and a dirge to his poet self; he conjured up the imaginary starship of his childhood and his grandfather from Moush; he recalled the soliloquies of drunken men and silent memories of sleepless nights; he dreamt about the mountains of Western Armenia and summoned the peasant songs of the plains; he sang about boys killed in Karabagh and those who migrated from Armenia; and he sang the ancient song of the plow in a new way? its essence intact.

Although I had not yet written my speech–I had understood what ought to be said. And whether I will be able to say what should be said–I’m not certain. I will make the attempt. Forgive me if its style is reminiscent of English; I can assure you–however–that at its core it is Armenian.

What took place 89 years ago? We all know the answer–of course–first from the immediate–personal–and emotional viewpoint of our grandparents:

Your little brother came barefoot over our mountain,
Your little sisters drank tears from our sea,
The soldier burned our land–remember it well–child.
The soldier extinguished our hearth–remember that time–child.

We also know the answer in the form of historical fact–seen from the distances of space and time: at least half the indigenous population of the Armenian Plateau was eradicated; an entire culture was annihilated (with–among other aspects–hundreds of its dialects–a horrifying loss for humanity–let alone for a small nation). An entire nation was plucked from its cradle–and as a result what had for millennia been called the Armenian Plateau became Anatolia.

Very well–we know what happened–and we also know who did it and why. Then what? What now? For a moment let’s put aside the "what" that others–great or small–would suggest we do now. What answers do we–Armenia’s–have to give?

Some–with an extreme emotionality–say that we must take revenge from the Turk–an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. And others–with an extreme rationality–say that the past must remain in the past–that the time has come to put the past aside and think about the future. Many are unsure about which is the correct answer. (Uncertainty–or my muse?) And some among them–rejecting the false logic of choosing one or the other–see a certain amount of meaning–and even wisdom–in both extremes. At the same time.

At one time–I didn’t understand what some people–who judged themselves intelligent and rational–meant when they referred to a "victim or slave mentality" from which some Armenia’s–those who assigned too much importance to the Armenocide as a factor in current reality–supposedly suffered. I didn’t understand–because–after all–I hadn’t noticed a victim mentality in me; I didn’t feel like a victim–had never seen and still didn’t see a reason to moan and groan; and the people closest to me–my family members and friends–didn’t exhibit such a mentality either?.

Therefore–at one time–when I was young–I thought: "Maybe we’re different. Maybe those Armenia’s who are not from Musa Dagh or are not Dashnaks or Dashnak sympathizers and therefore have not in the same defiant way fought against the Turk–maybe they in fact do suffer from a victim mentality."

There is–probably–a small amount of truth in that approach–but I think that the real issue is this: In psychology–there is the concept of "projection"; that is–an individual projects his/her thoughts–motivations–desires–and feelings–including psychological shortcomings and complexes–onto another person; and it is there–in the other person–that he/she perceives those motivations–shortcomings–etc.

In other words–those who preach leaving the past in the past?those Armenia’s who consider themselves more realistic–more rational–and more judicious than their countrymen–they are the ones who suffer from a slavish–victim mentality. But–through projection–they instead perceive that mentality in their fellow Armenia’s while they themselves identify with those more powerful–let’s say with the Americans or the Russia’s. In other words–the victim wishes to be like the master. And when the master counsels that the Armenia’s not be emotional–that they be conciliatory–sensible–realistic? some Armenia’s take upon themselves the responsibility to educate their more emotional countrymen–and–why not–to also lead them.

All of us–as individuals–yearn to be accepted and recognized–to belong and be considered worthy. The question is? to belong to or be worthy of what or whom? To those more powerful–who are representative of erstwhile ruling nations? Or to one’s own people and nation and homeland? Meanwhile–in some of us–that yearning to become acceptable to those more powerful presents itself as an insatiable desire? and is the expression of their victim mentality–in short–of their inferiority complex.

Those fellow Armenia’s who suffer from that complex are correct when they say that the consequences of the Genocide are with us still. But they are wrong when they behold the manifestation of those consequences–a victim mentality–where there is–instead–an insistence on justice–a demand for the restoration of national rights–where there is a spirit of struggle and nonconformity.

On the contrary–our countrymen’should seek the beam of a self-hating conformist mentality in their own eyes: for example–in the likes of the so-called Turkish Armenian Reconciliation Commission–where there are Armenia’s more American than Armenian–more Russian than Armenian–and more cosmopolitan than citizen of Armenia–who–as the puppets of their powerful masters–have pretensions of leading our nation and homeland toward a future severed from its past and history.

The syndrome of being the lackey of the powerful Other is nothing new for a nation like the Armenia’s who have been subjected to foreign rule for centuries; it has been an unfortunate reality for millennia. However–what matter most is that we recognize it–be able to diagnose it by recognizing its symptoms–so that recovery can become possible. We must be able to see how those symptoms find expression today in our reality–so that we may minimize their negative influence.

For example–let’s consider the symptom of suppressing emotion and taking reason to an extreme. Of course–not only Armenia’s suffer from this disorder. But when the children of a small nation that has been suppressed for centuries–though now independent–begin to equate emotion–conscience–and morality with weakness–and equate cool–calculating reason with strength? the result for such a nation can be tragic.

Our countrymen who have deified reason have–unfortunately–not understood that although reason is a splendid servant–it is a cruel and merciless master–which–if it gains supremacy–suppresses and crushes emotion and the creator that is in us–in a word–our soul.

"So what if sated? They have long been empty"–that is how the singer describes such people: their bodies full of sustenance and their minds full of knowledge–but their souls vacant; new–for the sake of novelty; merely form–without substance. And when a man’s spirit is hollow and his mind is enslaved by reason–he turns into a computer–a little man led by petty calculations? whose calculations often go awry–he is human–after all–no matter how pretentiously he believes that his views are based on learning–logic–and science and so concludes that he must be right. We all witnessed–for example–the fate of scientific socialism.

And we must admit that today our psyches bear the mark not only of the Genocide and the Ottoman Empire but also of Soviet rule–and the two often reveal themselves in very similar ways.

When–for example–certain Western historians–having in mind the model of the European nation-state–consider the concept of nation a mere artificial construct built on subjective foundations?and some ethnic Armenian historians simply imitate their colleagues’ approach–relevant to Western states in existence for a few hundred years–and attempt to apply their ideas to the millennia-old Armenian nation?they often reach absurd conclusions–without seeing that they are glaringly hollow. After all–they have arrived at those conclusions through rigorous historiographical logic. And should we be surprised when a historian president (even though a Musa Daghtsi–but also the son of a Bolshevik) terms nation-based policies "spurious?"

Should we be surprised–when so many of our newly independent country’s politicians consider themselves (as Eastern Armenia’s) immune to the consequences of the mentality arising from the Genocide and the Ottoman rule–without understanding that the present-day Armenia they lead is a mere fragment–with all the attendant vulnerabilities of that fragmented-ness–largely as a result of the same historical and political processes that resulted in the Genocide and in Sovietization.

In other words–do they understand that our present–both theirs and ours–with its arrangement of circumstances and its objective realities–is the extension of the same historical trajectory? I don’t think so.

Instead–both government and opposition–two faces of the same coin–are interested mainly in their reign over the people and in petty business calculations–feudal lords and princely houses have been transformed into present–day kleptocrats and "business" clans. The ones who suffer are the same: the people. This or that wing of the ruling elite genuflects toward the East or West or North–repeats like a puppet what it is expected of it–and exploits its own people for the sake of economic or political calculations.

Again–it is the slave mentality that expresses itself when the current elite rules–with the previous master’s arrogance–over its own people. And the idea of serving the people? is literally foreign to it. On the contrary–like the foreign rulers whose behavior they repeat–our present-day rulers expect the people of an independent Armenia to be satisfied with the crumbs–both of bread and democracy–permitted them. In the name of fairness–it must be noted that the Diaspora–too–has tasted–and too often still tastes–the bitter pill of the disease that is that leadership style.

Too often we are satisfied with too little. We do not pursue that which deserve both as individuals and as a nation. The reason is the same: we suffer from an inferiority complex and do not consider ourselves worthy of something better. The latest example is the inadequate settlement between New York Life and the heirs of Armenia’s in the Ottoman Empire who had purchased life insurance from the company. The fear of losing what we have–however minimal it may be–often results in our not receiving much more: what is rightly ours. I recall–10-15 years ago–some people argued–with weighty analysis and reasoning–that we not demand Karabagh–because in the process we could lose Armenia. Some say the same today about Javakhk–and Nakhichevan–and Western Armenia. After all–we would be labeled pariah and expansionist! But why are not Georgia–Azerbaijan–and Turkey–which occupy Armenian lands–not pariahs or expansionists?

If we want to keep what we have–we must continue to demand–shed sweat–and struggle. There has been–and still is–no other way. And if we understand the logic of that simple fact–victories will come our way. Yesterday the Boston Globe–then the New York Times–and now Canada’s Parliament?finally acquiesced to our demands–and yielded to justice. We were able to gain those victories after the decades-long–stubborn efforts of a small–defiant segment of our nation. Imagine what we could accomplish if as a people and a country we jointly rid ourselves of the chains of our slavish victim mentality that would have us abandon our rights.

All that we need is faith–in our own strength and potential; hope–that come what may truth and justice will be victorious; and love–toward each other and the Armenian people; and also–why not–both hardnosed calculation and a political vision–at the same time. In other words–wisdom.

And extending that message of faith–hope–and love–it’s appropriate that I end my talk with a prayer?that is–with a fragment of the singer’s song titled "Prayer":

No divine intervention can save you. Puppet and master–console each other; vice-saviors–climb onto the throne; walk–mobs of serfs; sing–devil genius. What difference who is deceiving whom: the king his serfs–the whore the male?The defiant songs did not bring spring–they did not bring spring; but as God is witness–the messengers of resurrection will come. No divine intervention can save you. Puppet and master–console each other; vice-saviors–climb onto the throne. Whereas I–I will pray for our soul.

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