BY GARO B. GHAZARIAN
Nation building is not a game. Politics should not be a game. Gamesmanship belongs in sports, and even there, it bows to a higher concept: spirit of sportsmanship.
As I get ready to embark on my sixth trip – within the last 17 months – to Armenia, I look at the horizon and assess the many “teams” on the ground that are engaged in gamesmanship in the name of nation-building. They hail from all corners of Yerevan and speak from all podiums and in all forums. The words they utter are more akin to a verbal stoning of someone who, in the old days, would be targeted an aberration and pegged as a freak of nature. Yet, what is freaky about today’s show-boating of morality and high values from those on the sidelines – who day after day increase the velocity of their throws, who launch sticks and throw stones in the direction of those who have replaced them in government – is their myopic vision. These men and women within the borders of our homeland, and outside of it, cannot see clearly. They have lost most of their mind’s sight. These tortured souls are affected by the tree-trunk stuck in their eyes. Today, they are simply unable to see anything other than the hay in the eyes of others.
Back in the early 1980s, in the summer of 1984 to be exact, I was approached by a young Armenian athlete, a phenom in his 20s who was born in New York, and who had become a track and field star at the University of California, Los Angeles. He asked me to join a team he had put together, a team which he had given a name to, a team which was called “Team Armenia!“
We were a collection of athletes of varying degrees of athletic prowess. Led by him, we spent the next 30 years living by the spirit of what united us, doing all things as a team that had come together because its members all shared a common objective and feelings which united us and propelled us forward: the love of track & field and the pride of being an Armenian.
As the years went racing by, we evolved. Soon we were past our prime as athletes, too old to race faster and farther than our younger counterparts. Too injured to heal from injuries and return to our old and younger selves, and drifted to shapes far more oversized to our chiseled shapes of yesteryear. So we evolved. We transformed ourselves from students of the sport and from college students, to students of law as law school students, to future lawyers, and eventually, members of a different kind of a Team Armenia known as the Armenian Bar Association. Ultimately, we found ourselves in the ranks of a large roster of lawyers, practicing law in the state of California and advocating for reforms in the newly independent Armenia of the 1990s, 2000s, and the 2010s.
Decades did pass by, but we remained true to what got us started on the path of pushing and pulling one another forward. We brought our team spirit from the fields of track to the indoors. Our track and field turf gave way to a new turf: the courtroom. We discovered ourselves anew and perfectly at home in Liberty Square and Republic Square. We finally found ourselves in the place pined by our parents and grandparents. We “found“ ourselves in Armenia.
“Team Armenia” was the brainchild of the late Chairman Emeritus of the Armenian Bar Association – Vicken Ishkhan Simonian – who after a long and heroic battle, succumbed to ALS five years ago. His legacy is best summed up by the meaning of the two words from the summer of 1984: Team Armenia.
To be clear, a sport is very much different than the politics of nation-building. Yet those who are in sports, as athletes or fans of a sports team, share an equal denominator with those who are in politics, as political leaders and as members or supporters of a political party: prowess is not infinite, and in neither arena can a “player” stay at the top of the “game” forever.
You see, in sports as in politics, whether it be a champion of a sport, or at the helm of government, everything is anything but forever. There is no such thing as eternity when it comes to sports or politics. And while in both cases – sports and politics – the objective is to excel, those who are at the top of their game are always going to be the objectified targets of a mission by those who are on the outside looking in. They’ll perpetually be on the receiving end of the daily gunning for the front runners, aimed at its core, with the single objective of bringing them down. But there is a fundamental difference between sports and politics:
Sports is a game, politics is not. At the end of a game of sports, fans go home and, athletes do the same. There are celebrations or reflections depending on the outcome of the game. But, in politics, the game is never ending and though the casualties of “the game” on the surface appear to be those who are playing “the game,” in truth, the damage inflicted is much more far reaching than the members or supporters of a political party. The aftershocks of a seismic move in politics goes well beyond elected officials, beyond disgraced former officials, and beyond those who pine to be officials in power again. It affects the entire Armenian Nation.
Therein lays the 21st century’s greatest calamity. People today, whether in power or in opposition, speak, write, and disseminate ideas and information with conviction and commitment to what each thinks to be the right idea according to them, the correct way in their opinion, and the best course of action as they see it, for today’s New Armenia.
Three concepts describe these people: belief, action, and persistence. And of course, good things come to those who believe, better things come to those who take action, and the best things come to those who are persistent.
But, there’s another concept. It is not a complex one. Rather, it is a simple thought. You see, no matter whose side one is on, regardless of what political party or political figure one supports or abhors, a person who is able to go on chastising without constructing, and who can with one hand perpetuate a rhetoric of venomous ridicule, but fail to extend the other hand to help with restoration, is a person who is desperately in need of embracing the simple truth that, no matter one’s political affiliation, there is a sacred mandate which reigns as the supreme imperative for all Armenians. In all matters Armenian, in all affairs Armenia and Artsakh, and in all places beyond Armenian lands, there can be only one team:
Garo B. Ghazarian is a criminal defense attorney. He is a member of the Glendale Civil Service Commission, and the Former Chairman and current council member of the Board of Governors of the Armenian Bar Association as well as Co-Chair of its Armenian Rights Watch Committee.