Letter: A Response to Apo Sahagian

Dear Editor:

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!

Sincerely,

Talene Boodaghians

Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor

Guest contributions to the Armenian Weekly are informative articles written and submitted by members of the community, which make up our community bulletin board.

2 Comments

  1. Because we are Armenians we must demonstrate the depth of our experiences by using trials, tribulations and stumbling blocks as opportunities to challenge our creativity and finding innovative ways to solutions. Money will create temporary happiness but as human beings we must strive for multi-dimentional physical emotional, spiritual view to find true meaning and purpose.

  2. “ethnocentricity insulates”

    Yes. This. As much as I feel a connection with my Armenian heritage and history and Armenia and the communities, we cannot live in isolation. Armenia and Armenians everywhere must engage and participate in the world (which for the most part we do).

    We are not the same exact Armenians we were centuries upon centuries ago. We have adapted and must continue to adapt. In fact it is inevitable for us to adapt.

    “Students internalize this sentiment at a startlingly young age. Parents and teachers repeat it to no avail: Succeed in school and escape this place.”

    There are many countries who have generated diasporas because of a history of internal pressures. Ireland and Italy for example. But there are also so many countries which have transformed and improved their situations by dealing with their problems themselves. It is difficult for me to say this because I don’t live in Armenia and thus not contributing to her improvement directly. But there are lessons to be drawn from countries Such as the US, which has faced major internal issues. And they were either resolved or improved upon by open discussion of the issues and putting pressure on their government and taking action at the grass-roots level. Democratic institutions help greatly in this.

    I don’t live in Armenia and I don’t feel I have the right to lecture the homeland about how to improve no matter how painful it is to read about what’s going on. But I’m hoping that the younger generations pick up on the self-determination, and not escaping the country, and improving their communities and countries through their own actions.

    Wonderful article by the way. In defense of articles such as Apos, they are a start in openly discussing issues. It starts the ball going.

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