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.