Thank you for sharing Apo Sahagian’s recent piece (“We, The Bad Armenians,” Jan. 11, 2013) in the Armenian Weekly. As an Armenian from America, an English teacher in Armenia, and a current graduate student in England, parts of the article really resonated with me. I found other bits (please excuse me for saying so) a bit misguided. He makes a really important distinction between Armenia as a country and Armenia as a state in his article, and yet, he has vowed to turn his back on both. This, I do not understand.
For many of my students at the public school in Armenia where I work, education is a ticket out of the village. Students internalize this sentiment at a startlingly young age. Parents and teachers repeat it to no avail: Succeed in school and escape this place. Though this narrative contains a partial truth, it fails to impart upon students the sense of social responsibility vital for any kind of reform. Mastery of my content area in particular—English—might lead to another country, more money, a better life. But academic success cannot be the path toward only an international education, marriage, and a Range Rover. If Armenia is to thrive, education must also be the path toward community engagement and contribution. Quality education cannot only be a way out. It must also be a way forward for students and communities because the futures of individuals and the futures of communities are inextricably intertwined.
My students badly need role models who realize, as you have, that borders are contrived, that ethnocentricity insulates, and that art and language can poke holes in our mental walls. My students need to see people who understand the multitude of problems facing Armenia, who are infuriated by them, and who choose to engage with this country anyway.
It seems to me that humans find happiness, not by pursuing it, but by having purpose in life. Armenia, the country (and not the state), my students (and not the hooligan oligarchs he describes in his article), have given me this sense of purpose. This does not make me a good Armenian nor does his decision to take a 10-year hiatus from the country make you a bad one. As a novelist, he must know that there are many ways to tell the same story. The very bleak assessment of Armenia’s current state of affairs in his article is apt and honest, but it is only one slice of a greater narrative. His view, with all due respect, cannot be the only one my students have.
While I hope to see him in Armenia sometime before 2024, I wish him all the best wherever life may take him. Happy travels in Europe and beyond!