Did We Dream a Bit too Much?

Special for the Armenian Weekly 

Did we dream a bit too much, a bit too soon?

After 25 years of not achieving this dream, do we go on romanticizing something that is still not—and may not ever—be?

We dreamt of an independent homeland. A republic worthy of a people that hailed ideals, principles, and hope for a great future.

We got the independent country, but at the price of a failed state, where successive governments have constantly tread on the people’s dignity. We’ve gotten a regime with no sense of justice, but a really good appetite to rob its citizens of any decent livelihood—a republic essentially lacking the public.

But somehow we dream on. We hold on to symbols: a flag, a poem, a song; some cultural art that can’t be translated into tangible results. We fool ourselves into believing they’re part of a greater achievement. But they’re only symbols of a country broken by poverty and mass emigration, a confused nation with a worrying future.

We offer excuses that the region is to blame. We’re blockaded on both sides by our ancient enemies; to the north we border distant cousins with an ocean of differences in between us; and to the south we border a people who the world refuses to accommodate.

But where do these excuses fit when the government fails time and time again to uphold a semblance of justice when dealing with its own people? What does the justice system in Armenia have to do with the negotiations between Armenians and Azeris? Excuses of external circumstances unnecessarily overwhelm a debate that is strictly internal in essence.

A bullet from Azerbaijan can excuse the incompetence and corruption of the mafiosos running wild in Armenia and stealing the riches of the nation and citizenry. Long after the war is won, the warlords still reign because the state has failed.

When parliamentarians, whose names we all know and whose evils we all see, walk with immunity, the state has failed.

When opportunity is constrained or not given to ordinary folks trying to sustain their lives in their homeland, the state has failed.

It is no news that a handful of brutish parliamentarians make sure no competition arises in their field of business, and they use the rule of law in Armenia to squeeze out any competitor—even ordinary people trying to make a meager living.

The state has failed not only its citizens, but also those that dreamt to be a part of its citizenry.

But we’re all too comfortable in overlooking these grave faults in our dream. Some news pops out of some European institution mentioning Armenia as a beacon of this or some beacon of that, and we are pleased for that one moment in denial. We deny the true reality. No matter how many times the EU says Armenia is on the right track, we know the government has taken Armenia a long way off the track.

It has put up a façade for the world and especially for the diaspora. They give us our symbols, we give them the benefit of the doubt. They give us excuses, we give our sympathy. But it’s all a vicious cycle of denial.

Our nation got a country but not a state. Far from it. We got an estate, ruled by those who deflect any criticism by saying, “It’s easy to criticize.” Their solution is patience, and if you don’t have enough patience then put some money in the banks here. Because, as we all know, that is the most sensible solution to the lack of a justice system.

The government speaks about an economy they don’t understand when people speak about the rule of law that the government doesn’t want to understand.

But our dreams are far too stubborn. We get fooled by concerted efforts under the disguise of a purple forget-me-not flower, a large demonstration, a declaration by some foreign government whose words have no tangible effect on a worn-out villager in Armenia reaching his last straw—who has a government that doesn’t want to acknowledge him, and a nation too busy to acknowledge him.

Symbols take priority in our dreams and in our lives. A local villager proudly proclaims that he will not abandon Armenia, and our hearts grow to love his resilience. We hear about a diasporan who has repatriated to Armenia, and our souls want to make that big move as well. They tie us back to a dream that we insist is coming to fruition. Because that dream is the final destination, no?

Yet what about the many who want to remain and persist in Armenia but simply can’t when the government does not offer the chance? Where do they fit in our dream?

Or those who return to their adopted homes abroad with a suitcase full of stories about government lies and trickeries? Where do we put them? They are the inconvenient symbols of this elongated dream.

So we run back to a picture of the Kardashians in Armenia to re-pump our romance with an aspiration betrayed. Because admittedly symbols can unite us all, and they surely have their rightful place. We search for mountain dances and melodies to tie us to the highlands, or a chess champion to reflect our collective’s intellectual skill. But can we run back to a republic? Are we able to say, “Well, Armenia has a developing economy, but we have a good justice and legal system that has given the citizens the comfort of knowing that the state is theirs” and not to hooligans in suits?

We don’t. Our dream is that of symbols only.

Is this the crowning achievement of the republic: one layer donned with symbols, another layer reeking of sad truths? On the one hand, a citizenry that is sweating day in and day out for some act of consideration from the government; on the other hand, a diaspora and a whole nation indulged by baseless declarations from a government they know to be the cause of a coming catastrophe.

Maybe it’s time we treat our dreams with some harsh reality.

Apo Sahagian

Apo Sahagian

Apo Sahagian is a Jerusalemite-Armenian musician and writer.
Apo Sahagian

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  1. Please don’t say that. We have come too far to give up now. We have to protect our little homeland.

  2. Too negative, too harsh, too hopeless.
    “May not ever-be”, is the false attitude. We cannot give up hope.
    Dreams are aspirations, reflections of our desires and perceptions, of hopes,of wishes.
    Some dreams come true, most do not. But we should not despair nor give up. Objectivity and realism is needed.
    To many, it is frustrating, disappointing and disheartening that the pace of progress is too slow( to many regression).
    But 25 years for a new Republic-Nation is not a very long time. It takes longer to clean the system from old blood, old habits, old attitudes, old mentality. It needs a generational change, and it is coming.
    Change will come. Change has to come. We should all believe.
    Vart Adjemian

  3. Apo,

    I truly detest some of your writings. We had to endure your columns last year about what posh Europeans think of us. There were some other excursions, one of which AW took down 10 minutes after it was put up.

    All of your writing is vague. Name names, and be specific so debate can be joined. Otherwise you are defaming a nation and evading specificity or argument.

    You conflate a state which fails at things with a failed state. For all the storied corruption etc., Armenia is not Somalia. Your comlaints about mafia, corruption etc. are made here too by the left.

    These vague verbal excursions on AW are truly poor examples of writing and thinking. Ask more of yourself, and give us something important.

  4. This adds nothing to an old argument. As you said yourself, it’s not news that the economy is choked by arm-twisting “politicians”, but by calling the state “failed” rather than “failing” you suggest irredeemability. Are you proposing we all just declare the state “failed”, fold our arms and watch it crumble?

    I find it pretty despicable that this article was published the same day that Armenian citizens stood up for their rights, peacefully staging a sit-in protest, and faced down water cannons and underhanded police tactics. Not every Armenian has the ability to leave the “failed” state. Not every Armenian feels that the dream has ended definitively. For them, and for all people who live in Armenia, declaring the state “failed” is desperate, depressing and ultimately betrayal.

    For a diasporan, whether a single journalist or the publication for which he writes, to declare the Armenian state “failed” is betrayal of those very symbols we hold on to so tightly, and of the sad truth of what it’s like in Armenia, and of the citizenry and of the diaspora. You may have washed your hands of the future of the state, but don’t speak for us all. Change certainly won’t come if nobody tries.

  5. All we hear is negativism and despair. I am sick of hearing complaints. Rather then just blaming, suggest constructive ideas to make things better. By being negative you are not helping! You are discouraging people and encouraging them to leave the country. Shame on you!

  6. So well written…the sad truth.

    i related to every single sentence that you wrote, whilst they tug at my heart. it’s exactly how i feel upon my return from Armenia. Returning to my “adopted home with a suitcase full of stories” still trying my best to hold on to that “dream”…

    your piece should resonate with many people. well done. maybe you should send this letter to the president himself

  7. Badmouthing Armenia and her government will do no good!
    You have not provided a shred of evidence in support of your pontifications.
    So, rollup your sleeves and move to Armenia and contribute.

  8. Apo-djan:
    You are indeed handsome but I fear a tad negative at times. While I agree that much remains to be done, I would rather read about suggestions as to how the Diaspora and others can work to help ameliorate the situation. Many diasporans have helped with charity work and a few with businesses, but few have ventured into the field of human rights and government building. Perhaps that is the/an area to insist on moving forward. I am also surprised sometimes–and here I am nota ttacking you persoanlly by the naiveté of some who believe that after what, 600 years of Ottoman backwardness adn 70 years of KGB-communism, that the formerly Soviet Armenians were going to emerge miraculously dmocratic, Western and corruption free. that attitude smacks of a type of reverse racism to me–i.e well of course the surrounding states (Moslem–Turkey and Azerbaijan and Christian-Russia and Georgia) are corrupt, but we are Armenians, we are somehow better? Yes, you’d think that given our history we’d be more tolerant somehow, but “it is what it is.” So here is a suggestion: let’s all work together at finding more clever and effective ways of helping Armenia. The alternative, giving up, is not an option if you love your people and you love people in general.

  9. At first I thought that the point you were trying to get across was that the Diaspora should stop dreaming and start doing, an idea I could definitely get behind. Instead you concluded on a really dark note that lacked any real call for action, leaving me disappointed. Yes, Armenia is comprised of a lot more gray area than the general Diaspora is aware of. The light side, the dark side (which you did a fair amount of expressing), but also the stuff in between. The recent protests on Baghramian street are nothing short of inspiring! A movement put into action by none other than the Armenian youth grew into a demonstration of unity and might. There are so many initiatives which push for real and tangible change. Dem em, ATP, One Armenia, Tumo, Pink Armenia, River Fest Armenia, HDIF, Idea foundation, National Competitiveness Foundation of Armenia, Luys Foundation, Women’s Resource Center… I could literally go on and on. People working and fighting daily, not because they have hopes and dreams based on symbols and excuses, but based on the sweat of their own efforts. A disconnected Diaspora couldn’t possibly know about our little victories, and so I can see how your perspective has become jaded with grief, but as a repatriate I consider myself lucky that I’ve come to this nation at a budding time when there’s more hope for creating our own future than there ever has been before! Come visit us someday and I’ll show you a side of Armenia you’ll unlikely forget ;)

    • {“ Come visit us someday….”}

      He was already there.
      But he decided to turn his back on Armenia and move to London where he could..…feast on lasagna and fine red wine…..with an unusual collection of diverse and posh English friends.


      btw: Angela, you forgot the most important positive accomplishment about RoA (and NKR): the young men (and many women*) of the Armenian military. The most combat ready and capable military in the neighborhood. Without them, none of the positives you mentioned would be possible.

      Let us _always_ remember the young sons and daughters of Armenian Nation who are standing guard, and often being killed, so that Armenians can peacefully protest in Yerevan in complete safety and security.

      * a female Armenian sniper (!) recently took out a commander of an Azerbaijani sniper team.

  10. Whew. Another depressing article. Failed State? You mean Armenians in Armenia are no better than Libyans in Libya? For more than 25 years we have heard the same refrain, there is no hope. Even as life in Armenia improved, it still was no hope. When I visited in the 1970s everyone told me there was no hope. Do you depressing people know how hard you make it for those that look at each day as an opportunity to do something good?

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