“Hi, are you from Armenia?”
“Yes, how do you know?”
“I just read the last three letters of your surname on your badge. Nice to meet you, I am Pablo from Spain. I was a tourist in Armenia two months ago.”
At that moment, there was no mirror in front of me, but I felt my eyes shining with happiness and my entire posture bending toward Pablo, anticipating of tasty descriptions about the deliciousness of Armenian food, ecstatic exclamations about the beauty of Armenian landscapes and spontaneous evidence of vivid and spirited dances of my motherland. I had not been home for an entire year, and meeting someone who had a fresh sense of post-revolutionary Armenia seemed to be a great opportunity to get informed and excited about these monumental events in my country.
“Such a blessing for me to meet someone who has visited my home! What did you like the most? Was there anything that surprised you? Was…”
For a minute I felt as if the full essence of my profession was being encompassed and revealed within the first seconds of my dialogue with a newly met stranger. “A journalist with never-ending questions and boundless curiosity,” was the self-image in my mind, but, like every self-respecting journalist, I cared the most about the issue at hand and the least about myself.
“Armenia is a beautiful country, beautiful in every sense of the word. I was almost falling in love with your country, but…you know, your country is a great place to visit, but…but not to live.”
Instantly, the journalist was transformed into an indignant nationalist. Now my self-respect and identity were the issue at hand. Meanwhile, my mind was suffering from a heavy load of questions that I, luckily, did not have to pose to my interlocutor, as Pablo himself continued.
“I was just walking my way to the city center when I saw a nearly 40 year-old man beating his wife…wife?…sister?… I do not know who exactly she was, but she was a woman. I did not want to believe my eyes as all I had heard of Armenia and Armenian men was positive and admirable, but that man… Or, you know what, I just remembered that Armenia had many tourists this summer, probably that man too was…”
“Exactly! He could have had any other nationality but not Armenian. We have many tourists in Armenia, especially in summer. Armenian men do not beat women; it is against our cultural values and principles. As someone who has lived in Armenia for 17 years, I can ensure you that my country is a great place not only to visit, but also to live.”
I handily changed the topic from men to food – something I could discuss proudly and without blushing. I myself had been witness to a few cases when an Armenian man had been beating his wife in a street or yelling at her at a café. In those moments, for a second, I was led to the thinking that Armenia is ‘‘not a great place to live.’’ Then, instantly, I changed my mind, remembering the love and affection that my Armenian dad had always shown for my mom, remembering the great literature in which Armenian poets had so greatly honored Armenian women. I reminisced about the toasts at every Armenian feast including words of praise and admiration for Armenian mothers and the great statue of ‘‘Mayr Hayastan [Mother Armenia]’’ that so neatly illustrates the immense importance of women and motherhood in the Armenian culture. Finally, I was recalling the fact that, yet during the first Armenian Republic, at a time when many Western societies were fighting for basic women’s rights, four Armenian women were already elected members of Armenian Parliament. I was reflecting on the unbreakable spirit of our Queen Parandzem and the power bestowed upon her. My moment of disappointment was in the shadows of the bright light of faith and love toward Armenian culture and traditions.
Yet, my conversation with the Spanish stranger had left lasting questions in my journalistically curious and patriotically thoughtful mind. Why, despite our inherently high-standing values, do we sometimes present ourselves as harsh and violent creatures in front of the ‘Western’ eye? Why do we, despite being inherently cultured Armenians, hurt our women and harm the minds of our impressionable children who are so easily indoctrinated by no other lesson than that of personal example from their parents? Unhealthy father-mother relationships give rise to mentally and emotionally impacted children who later create their own families on the basis of violence and power as opposed to love and mutual understanding, resulting in a vicious cycle of physical and emotional outrage and an overall unhealthy society.
Along with creating a false image of our country, our culture and our people, along with serving as a terrible example for the young living in Armenia, the irresponsible actions of these hostile men have another implied, but dangerously threatening side-effect. In fact, these are these few pieces of evidence of violence that provide some international organizations with steadfast arguments to intervene in our national affairs as if to educate and teach us. Teach us about the importance of respect toward women, about the significance of their role in our day-to-day life, educate us to become civilized, to become cultured, to enlighten us, to liberate us from ourselves. But aren’t we the ones who have known these truths for millenials? Aren’t we the ones who have proven to live up to these truths in practice as opposed to some foreign theory-based lectures? Aren’t we the ones whose culture and history award them with the ultimate and utmost right to teach other nations about the importance of women as mothers, sisters, doctors, warriors…about the importance of women as women?
We have the right, but we also have the responsibility. The responsibility not to leave the sweet words of toasts to be drowned in the bitterness of alcohol, the responsibility not to leave the praise and promises of the gorgeous poems of great Armenian poets fade on the paper, not to blind the vivid glitter of hope and love in the eyes of our children with the darkness of violence and fear, and, finally, the responsibility not to disappoint a young Armenian girl who will always believe and will always convince any ‘Pablo’ she meets that Armenia is home.