BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
Both the Armenian “world” and the world as a whole seem to be in free fall. Perhaps we’re just in a time of transition to a new status quo which could be better or worse. Perhaps I’m just more aware of goings on. Perhaps developments are better reported nowadays because of technological advances. But here’s what I see.
On the economic front, China, that supposed paragon of “growth” coupled with the oft-ignored labor abuses, has hit something of a wall. Europe and Japan seem to still be wallowing in relative economic doldrums. Even the U.S. has not experienced meaningful restoration of its quality of life since the Great Recession, rather a meaningless stock market boom passes for economic progress!
The U.S. is in the throes of a presidential election which is exposing how sharply divided society is and how extensively dissatisfied people are with the political sectors of society.
The “Middle East” is chaotic. While a good portion of the disruption is rooted in George W. Bush’s extreme interventionism, a lot of it is attributable to too much dictatorship, artificial borders, unaddressed grievances, insufficient economic development due in part to the distorting effects of oil, and even climate change. That last item might come as a surprise, but there are already analyses out there that make the case for understanding that the troubles in Syria began in part because its agriculture has been severely impacted by climate change, leading to people’s dislocation and unemployment, with the resultant dissatisfaction being channeled as we’re now seeing it.
Of course climate change is impacting everyone on the planet. Even insurance companies and the military are now factoring it in to their calculations and forecasts. The rapid rate of change may also lead to significant numbers of species becoming extinct. That would exacerbate the extinction problem that we humans are causing more directly through the elimination of habitats and direct overconsumption. The most glaring examples are the hunting of rhinos for their horns and elephants for their tusks!
But what of the Armenian angle on all this? Clearly the biggest challenges confront our communities in the Middle East and Armenia itself. Iraq’s Armenian community has been decimated. Syria’s is rapidly following suit. Iran’s is still shrinking, though slowly, but our compatriots there seem to have developed a high rate of integration with neighboring Armenia – proximity and contiguity pay off. Also, being a much older community, and Iran actually containing a small part of what was historically Armenia, coupled with wise practices, have maintained a social-political space for Armenians in the country. Egypt’s once very important community has also shriveled, though it is still alive and functioning. Of course there’s Turkey, which actually houses much of our ancestral home, with its re-emerging Armenians and its president’s return to authoritarianism after a brief decade of hope for improvement.
Further west, our European communities face a different universe of challenges. Many of the smaller ones in Eastern Europe are composed of recent emigrants from the Republic of Armenia who are only now learning what it means and takes to live as Armenians in the Diaspora. There is a huge loss to assimilation. Generally, and unavoidably, all that buffets Europe will also have an impact on our compatriots there, too. But Germany is an interesting and seemingly different example. While our communities there are not huge, they do good work, politically speaking, despite the presence of some three million “Turks” (some of them are actually Kurds). But some of those Turks are like Cem Ozdemir, who as leader of the Green Party championed passage of Genocide recognition legislation in parliament!
In North America, and especially in the greater Los Angeles area, the sheer numbers of newer arrivals have taxed our communities. There is much opportunity, but it is also daunting. We have not done enough to integrate, connect, a large proportion of individual Armenians with our community structures. Perhaps South America’s communities, along with Iran’s, hold out some hope. There, our compatriots seem to have integrated well with the larger society but simultaneously managed to secure recognition within those societies as a distinct entity. This has had political payoffs as well.
We also have, EVERYWHERE, the problem of language loss, even in the once linguistically strong Middle East, and to my mind, Armenia!
Finally, we have Armenia itself with its brain drain, exodus, corruption, economic stagnation, creeping authoritarianism, and even the risk of desertification due to climate change and abuse of water resources. The bright spots are the energetic, if small, protest actions and movements, growth of the information technology sector, and the Diaspora inspired and/or funded programs such as Tumo, Tufenkian, Birthright Armenia, etc.
It’s probably time to start some thinking sessions, first at small, local, community levels, then growing to country-wide or region-wide levels, and finally, a Pan-Armenian level. The RoA government organized and led conferences have not yielded any obvious results. In all likelihood, they are, unavoidably, too structured and not freewheeling enough to get some real thinking and evaluation going on.
Let’s all start absorbing, digesting, and ultimately building a future based on the realities we confront today.