BY PATRICK AZADIAN
Every nation suffers from certain illnesses and insecurities. The Armenian people are no different. While we are not a homogenous bunch by any means, the absence of genuine self-criticism and loyalty to absolutism in our society are plagues that have sapped our potential as a nation and have bred victimhood and helplessness at every juncture of our recent history. They also hinder our progress as a people on our ancestral lands.
The recent events in Armenia, the taking of hostages in the Erebuni district of Yerevan by a group of war veterans and the killing of an Armenian citizen, has brought to fore some of the worst features in our people. While some politicians and self-proclaimed leaders are busy labeling the armed takeover of the police station in a negative light, others are outspoken in blindly throwing their support behind the armed activists, justifying the act based on the fact that some government officials have done worse things to our people. And they have. But once again, we have forgotten our collective responsibility of how we have arrived at this unpleasant crossroad. Many of us are satisfying our desire (not a hunger, because if we all had an insatiable hunger, we wouldn’t be where we are today) for positive change by proclaiming symbolic statements in support of the armed group and looking for saviors. Others are using the opportunity to strike a more ‘moderate’ note by claiming that acts of violence are not a solution to the ills of our society and implying that we are slowly and diligently making progress.
Today, more than ever, it is popular to sound and act militant and pinpoint the responsibility of all evil on a corrupt leadership that has lead our motherland to this dark day. They have. They have had the power, maybe not the competence or the vision, to lead us to greener pastures (as if we are a herd of sheep to be led to the promise land). We are blind to the reality that, as a society, we can only think in absolutes. Two viewpoints are emerging and being cemented in stone and ripping our society apart. One dogmatic view claims that if you are against this act of desperation, you are a reactionary who supports the government, and therefore a ‘traitor.’ The other, no less cynical, claims that if you are in support of this symbolic and violent act of protest, you support chaos and ‘terrorism.’ Both arguments may have some merit, yet, in the big picture they are irrelevant. They highlight the distinct roots of an ongoing problem, two of the illnesses that plague our society – absolutism and an unwillingness to take responsibility.
History will be the judge of what unfolds in the coming years because of this bold act, but regardless of what happens, our shortcomings as a society will not be erased by this bolt of lightning. I suspect we will not be wiser, more free or better because of it. The militants have taken action the only the way they know how, by being militant. How about the rest of us? With all due respect to a small and silent minority of do-gooders, besides fault-finding and whining, that’s the expertise of the rest of us, and have we channeled that expertise into building a better society?
Let’s me focus on responsibility for a brief moment. We inherited an independent republic and won a battle for self-determination but we have failed to make the best of our opportunities. One thing most of us can agree on is that our current political leadership is corrupt. Let’s take that as a given. We know how the leadership in power has contributed to our ills. But does the nation as a whole, the Diaspora included, have any responsibility in this current impasse?
We complain about undemocratic processes in Armenia, yet there is no pan-Armenian plan to nurture the democratic and civic society movements that do exist within Armenia. Moreover, vote rigging does not happen without the passive and active participation of our society and political organizations. What was the price of a vote in the last elections or the referendum? Undemocratic elections do not become status quo without our collective complicity, whether that’s through silence or other degenerate means. We call out economic hardships and lack of opportunity but have no strategy to organize labor and encourage investments and self-sufficiency within our society. Gaudiness is the norm for many who have the means and the ability to do good, to enable a people who has suffered under foreign and domestic yoke in the last century. We decry possible land concessions in Karabakh but have failed to create a model state in the lands that we have acquired and inherited. Take a drive around Armenia and Karabakh and see the desolation and the abandoned villages and homes. With the population of Armenia dissipating, who will defend the borders in the coming years? We complain about human rights abuses but we are not vigilant in protecting the rights of workers, men, women and children. Are the civic society organizations in Armenia well supported by our prosperous diaspora? How is the women’s shelter doing in Yerevan? We are good in labeling voices of dissent and discontent as un-Armenian, unpatriotic and a danger to our national security. Aren’t poverty, domestic violence, environmental misuse and worker exploitation threats to our national security? And perhaps our biggest sin has been the lack of recognition of the humble servants and contributors to the Armenian society and our unwillingness to highlight their dedication to the wellbeing of our people.
Calling out deficiencies and not doing anything about them is being part of the problem. Yes, that’s a cliché but it’s also a malaise; if we don’t have a plan to improve things, let’s try not to moan. Moaning does not make us patriots, neither does calling our neighbor a traitor because she may have a unique perspective or labeling someone a thief just because he may be driving a nice car or living in a nice house.
Regardless of what happens in the vortex of our current crisis in the coming days, our societal ills will persist, our collective and grotesque passivity in the face of poverty, mass migration and economic decline will not change, unless we, as a people, are willing to take responsibility for our current state. Building a prosperous nation takes sacrifice; that’s paradigm shift that many of us are unwilling or unable to undergo. Desire for change has to become an imperative for all segments of our nation. Anything less is a hollow slogan and comfort food for our sorry souls. The lightning bolt will not strike from the sky and cleanse us from complicity. Perhaps we deserve better, and just maybe, we don’t.