After years of being what I called a die-hard Armenian, this year I went soft. Maybe it had to do with the pessimism I have towards the world in general; perhaps it finally crept into my sentiments of my Armenian heritage. Whatever the cause, I came down from the ladder of resolute nationalism, while my 18-year-old brother climbed up and has been going higher every passing day.
I see in him who I used to be: dedicated to the struggle of justice for the Armenian Genocide, supporting any anti-government protestor in the streets of Yerevan, and a convinced believer in the unique greatness of these unique Armenians. It is not that I have lost my commitments to these ideals. I have only changed my perceptions of them, and with the changed perceptions, I have re-evaluated my approach to them.
He, along with the rest of my family and close friends, believe me to have fallen away from my Armenian roots, due to my “supposed” constant critique of Armenians, gloomy assessments of Armenia (though I correct that it’s a realistic assessment), and my unorthodox presentation of Armenian culture. Thus to them, my behavior has been highlighting the norms that are uncommon—or, to an extent unwanted—in our traditional communities. I use the word “traditional” in the sense of what socio-political ideas are dominant.
This past summer, while in Armenia, I decided to wash my hands clean of the country and return in 10 years. The rising poverty, evident unemployment, and degradation of justice had made me heavily disillusioned.
I saw how Armenia has been reduced to a simple breeze on the international arena, where Russia pulls strings comfortably from Moscow or the EU threatens our political reforms from Brussels. It is then you realize that Armenia—as a state, not a country—is a failure that hasn’t produced a single worthy contribution to the world; it has only given emigration. The oligarchs have hijacked the government for their personal benefit, and the opposition is so pathetically divided and scattered that the likes of Shant Harutyunyan and his Nazi-loving hooligans have taken over the streets of Yerevan.
Thus, I turned my back on Armenia. Maybe I was too weak in the face of disappointments. Maybe my expectations had been too high. Maybe the traditional ideas fed into me by the community no longer had their effect. I was stuck between a directionless-country in a down spiral and a lethargic, delusional diaspora on an endless wander. I woke up to find us a lost nation.
Then I traveled to Western Europe…
It was in the beautiful hills of the Basque country that I, lost in translation, understood from a stranger that the theory of their supposed Armenian roots is quite known in the region. We said goodbye with a simple exchange: “Yo Armenos, tu Basque.”
It was during a stroll in Vienna that I accidentally found an Armenian couple chatting about the price of jewelry. My self-imposed introduction triggered only enthusiasm, and we departed after comically agreeing that “there are a lot of Turks in this city.”
It was a random left turn that brought me in front of the Armenian embassy in Madrid, “the closest embassy to the Royal Palace,” as the ambassador stressed when he invited me in for a chat. I left with this comfortable feeling that for once, the Republic of Armenia had lived up to its responsibility to the Armenian people, and not only to the citizens. “Can a French person knock on the French embassy’s door and sit down with the ambassador,” I later asked myself. I think we all know the answer.
It was hearing two men arguing in the dark-lit streets of Berlin that led me to follow them for a good 15 minutes to understand what language they were speaking, knowing that although it sounded like a functional mix between Turkish and Russian, it was undoubtedly Caucasian. And when one of the men sighed, “Vosh insh, vosh insh ara,” I knew I had just witnessed Hamshen Armenians from Abkhazia debating in front of the Reichstag.
And finally, it was the chanting of Gregorian music that reminded me of the goosebump-producing effect that Komitas and Armenian folk music have on me. I sat in that church and listened to the serene melodies, interpreting them in my mind as the seducing whispers of our beautiful mountains.
I found our lost nation, and I joined them in the loss. Although I still hold my “pessimistic and provocative” views on our people, and persist in my defiance of the traditional ideals, I have found pleasure in these disagreements and see it as the only way forward to a more comprehensive understanding of where we as a nation are heading.
Apo Sahagian is a Jerusalemite-Armenian musician and writer. He holds a bachelor’s degree in government, diplomacy, and strategy, and is currently involved with NGOs that work for peace between Palestinians and Israelis.