BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
The last thing you see when you leave Armenia from Zvartnots Airport is Mount Ararat. When I left Armenia on Monday it was an unusually clearish day and the two summits—Sis and Massis—were clearly visible, peaking out from a cloud enveloping them.
It was an awesome sight. It is a view that signals that a return to Armenia is inevitable and, at the same time, sears in the reality that there is so much to do in our ongoing effort to strengthen our nation and build a homeland.
I was in Armenia to attend two media conferences. The first was a gathering of ARF media representatives from throughout the world and the second was the Fifth Pan-Armenian Media Conference organized by Armenia’s Diaspora Ministry (more on this at a later date).
Clearly, 10 days is too short to fully absorb every reality of Armenian life, but it is long enough to observe that our nation is still at war on many fronts—domestic and foreign—and the challenges facing our nation are far more complicated than the rhetoric we are used to hearing here in the Diaspora.
When I arrived in Yerevan the city was celebrating its 2792nd anniversary. Republic Square was closed to traffic with an elaborate stage at the center of the square awaiting that night’s closing concert and ceremonies. All around the city events, performances and shows were taking place to mark this “momentous” anniversary. Residents of Yerevan had come out in full force. But, one wonders were they there to mark an anniversary or to enjoy a free festival that culminated in a performance by a member of the 70s group Bonny M? The price tag was said to be in the millions—dollars and not drams. Many attending the event said that the 19th anniversary of the independence, which was several weeks before, dwarfed in its scope. This posed a serious question as to whether marking an obscure anniversary of Yerevan was more important that the establishment of our independent republic. What was definitely lacking at the Yerevan birthday party was any message of national significance. Remove the tri-color flags being carried by mostly school-aged children and the event could have been mistaken for a random festival or, dare I say, a Soviet-era event complete with fireworks and slogans.
The encouraging part of the event was the presence of young people who danced the night away at Republic Square to the tunes of Inga and Anoush, the famed Eurovision finalists, among others who, with armies of back-up dancers in glittery outfits professed their love for everything… The incidental mention of Yerevan in a song or two reminded us that we were gathered at the square for a purpose: It was, of course, Yerevan’s 2792nd birthday.
The question that arises is whether living in Armenia alone preserves our national values, or is there a need for reminders to bolster the idea and ideal of a nation—a homeland. Am I, as a Diasporan entrenched and not merely engaged in Armenian matters overreacting to the absence of any national fervor? Or, is that void reinforcing the growing Westward gaze of a post-independence generation?
A week later I was in Goris. That city happened to be marking its 140th anniversary with a rather different celebration. Residents, young and old, had flocked on to the city streets and the main square where children, dressed in traditional outfits were performing Armenian dance routines and our national Yerkouyn were all a symbol of pride and not a mere accessory being waved by schoolchildren.
And then there was the truly magnificent marriage of the ancient and the modern at Tatev. The 10th century monastery up on the hills surrounded by the grandiose mountains and hills that in October were still lush and green as if summer had just started was welcoming a new neighbor: An aerial tramway that will whisk tourists and visitors to one of the most awe-inspiring sites in Armenia. We arrived at Tatev four days before the official opening of the “djoubanougi,” which is a stroke of genius in Armenia’s efforts to bolster its tourism and encourage locals to visit historic sites and monuments and preserve our millennia-old heritage. Armenia’s President and the Catholicos of All Armenians were joined by high-level government officials, foreign dignitaries and guests for the inauguration of the newly-preserved monastery and its new partner making it a celebration of Armenians’ ingenuity—both ancient and modern…
The sign reads: “Azad Artsakhe Voghdjounoum eh Dzez” (Independent Artsakh Welcomes You.” This is enough to know you’ve entered the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The last time I was in Karabakh was 13 years ago when the signatures on the cease-fire agreement were barely dry and the savage markings of war—bombed buildings, grad missiles, broken windows, bullet markings—were reminders that a generation gave its life for the survival of an entire nation. With its majestic beauty and unwavering soul, Artsakh is the epicenter of our modern-day liberation struggle and is the very symbol of our national existence today. But, the clouds of war still hover over our black garden in the mountains and danger looms as Azerbaijan continues its threats. The people of Artsakh are resilient and ready to confront the enemy, for even the new generation will not give up one inch of its liberated land. Walking around in a new Stepanekert, where almost every inch of the capital has been rebuilt through the collective efforts of the people of Karabakh who persevere every day and remind us that the blood shed for this land was not in vain.
However, the same cannot be said for Javakhk. While I did not travel to the mainly Armenian-populated region of Georgia, I had the opportunity to meet with journalists from there who were attending the media conference. Their situation is bleak. The Georgian authorities are stifling the centuries-old community and depriving them of their right to education, practicing of religion and other freedoms. With the scheduled repopulation of Meskheti Turks along the region that includes Akhalkalak, Akhaltskhe and Javakhk, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the Armenian population is under siege and a threat of ethnic unrest provoked by the central Georgian authorities is imminent.
I’ve barely scratched the surface with the aforementioned quick observations. There is a lot to be said and stories to be recounted. In the coming days and weeks, I will chronicle my short, yet eventful, trip back to the homeland.