BY MARIA TITIZIAN
It recently dawned on me that I don’t know how to have fun anymore. Work is about the country. Home is about the country. Dinners out with friends or social gatherings are always about the country. I can’t recall what we used to talk about before moving to “the country.”
We rarely talk about movies or books or art or interesting touristic destinations because even when we do travel it’s usually work-related or back to the country we came from before moving to “the country.” If we talk about events occurring in the world, it’s usually through the prism of how it affects us in Armenia. If we dare to discuss novel ideas, more than likely it’s about potential solutions to the plethora of problems we confront. And since there’s never a dearth of issues presenting themselves, we always have things to talk about the country.
A friend came to see me in my office a few weeks ago, and after having a heated discussion about the country, with a trace of sympathy said, “Maria, really? You need to learn to have some fun.” I thought about it and for the next few days kept thinking about it but couldn’t find the answer to the question – when did I forget how to have fun?
A few nights ago, another friend invited us to his place for drinks. While we didn’t discuss art or literature or recreational activities, while silly jokes weren’t told, it was the first time in a long time that I had fun. The peculiar twist is that all we spoke about was the country, almost non-stop till the early hours of the morning, and after coming home and trying to sleep, I finally found the answer…I had been having fun all along.
I acknowledge that fun might not be the correct adjective to depict the currents of our lives, but the intensity of emotions, the depth of our frustration and ultimately the sense of purpose and fulfillment had enriched our lives beyond our wildest expectations.
And yet, as I publicly acknowledge that life has been fun and fulfilling, the events of the past week have been weighing heavily upon all of us. On September 3, President Serzh Sarkisian, in the name of Armenia and Armenians decided that we would turn our backs on the Association Agreement that he himself had been actively negotiating for with the European Union since 2010 and instead signed the Russian-led Customs Union with Kazakhstan and Belarus, which foresees the creation of a Eurasian Union by 2015.
While we were naively preparing for Armenia to initial the EU Association Agreement in Vilnius (which included the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area) at the end of November, along with Georgia and Moldova, our country’s leader already knew that he would steer us toward a closer association with Russia dashing any immediate hopes of future integration with Europe.
The Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), which is the economic component of the Association Agreement, would have allowed free access of Armenian goods to the European market. Most importantly, it would have raised the quality and standards of Armenian products due to strict European regulatory criteria.
After this dramatic policy shift, Stefan Fuele, the EU Enlargement Commissioner said that “…the compatibility of obligations to the Customs Union with those under an Association Agreement/DCFTA with the EU looks problematic.”
There are those who believe that Armenia didn’t have a choice in the matter, that Russia had forced our leadership to join the Customs Union or suffer the consequences. There are others who believe that this was a sound decision taking into consideration national security issues (Russian troops protect our borders with Turkey and Iran), including the security and viability of Nagorno Karabakh and was a natural choice because Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Signed in 1992 by Russia, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Belarus, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, CSTO is a military alliance which among other things states that aggression against any one signatory would be perceived as an aggression against all.
There are those who are passionately opposed to the Customs Union because they insist that the country’s sovereignty has come under threat. It is no secret that the Russians still consider the former Soviet Republics as satellite states, comrades and have recently drawn parallels between Armenia and Kaliningrad, the Russian exclave located on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania. The irony wasn’t lost on anybody…comparing an exclave with a sovereign state.
The question of whether or not the EU understood the dynamic of Russian influence and pull and the Armenian leadership’s real intentions, of whether they were transparent or aggressive enough with the Armenian leadership, of whether they provided security guarantees to our country are not clear.
The question of whether the Diaspora understands the consequences and many layers of this decision is also not clear but it should be. This is not simply a choice of Russia or the West – this promises to be a serious blow to any hopes for democracy, social justice, media freedoms, and human rights, dismantling of monopolies in our political and economic life. This presumably dangerous dance with Russia to ensure the alleged prosperity of Armenia and security for Artsakh, is ambiguous and could have perilous ramifications for the country’s future. Many questions remain unanswered – what are the economic and political benefits of the Eurasian Union versus the European Union? The people of Armenia, in whose name the President purportedly speaks, have a right to know the answers and ultimately understand what kind of country they will be living in at the end of this journey.
Autumn promises to be difficult, tense, and intense. I’m not sure that it will be fun, I’m not sure that I will be having fun, but I am certain that I will be present.