A sea-to-sea Armenia, Western Armenia, Wilsonian Armenian, Nakhichevan, Artsakh – I was taught to consider all of this the Armenia of my dreams. I recently realized that no one ever taught me to make it a goal of my reality.
Like other Armenian children, I learned about our history of losing land at an age too young to comprehend what that meant for any of us. It was part of every lesson plan during my 11 years in Armenian school – each time, just a reiteration of history, ending with “but one day, we will get it all back.” I thought we were just fine. Years and years of repetition made me believe the possibility was in our stars. The possibility remained a part of my reality through my adolescent years. With each AYF meeting, dance rehearsal, choir practice or protest that I attended, I believed I was contributing something to its actualization.
Why have we, the diaspora, collectively agreed to make this the focus of our lesson plan? Is it fair to give our youth the impression that they can, one day, have an Armenia that spans far and wide? I would argue that it is a complete disservice. It has created room for people (diasporans themselves) to make claims, such as, “the diaspora is useless.” It has created room for diasporans to feel entitled to the ability to advise Armenians in Armenia how they should fight for a better future for Armenia, based on some grand ideal we have for our country. Of course, if this is what we are taught to dream, we are going to appear and feel useless. We are completely misguided.
Believing in the gorgeous possibility of an Armenia spanning from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea distracted me, and seemingly others, from the fact that what we have now is an Armenia spanning from Turkey to Azerbaijan. The recent war, which I hesitate to mark with just one start date, was the one that brought me to the realization that the diaspora is so ill-equipped to help Armenia at this point in time. The forms of neglect that we have shown the country that we do have right now have made for a terrible disconnect. We wait for “people with money” or organizations to do the work. We take for granted every individual who inhabits the land and gives it life. We have a romantic idea of the Armenian landscape, but we are never encouraged to live it. Why aren’t we taught that the only way to keep land is by planting our feet on it?
I grew up with the idea that I am an active player in bringing about a free, independent and united Armenia. That’s great. But I have only just started creating a space for myself in said Armenia. While I can only credit Hovnanian School and my parents for giving me the language and communication skills to do so, the weight of shaping this space has been on my own shoulders (and on that of some friends and mentors whom I thank God for every day). This past spring, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend a few months in Armenia. I spent time with locals, diasporans who have moved there permanently, and diasporans, like myself, who come and go – and it was we who had it all wrong. It was we who believed that the Armenia of our fantasies somehow breathed hope into its struggling, exhausted citizens.
This gap comes from the cognitive dissonance that many of us are struggling to navigate through these days. The generation before us has worked hard to create a life for us that is “too good” to “leave behind.” At the same time, they have created a sometimes-overbearing space in our otherwise very American (or European, South American, etc.) lifestyle to be and feel Armenian. These two things, however, need not be mutually exclusive. The opportunities that first-generation diasporans have are not “too good” to leave behind. They are too good not to take back to our motherland. Instead of ingraining in us that one day moving to Armenia is a viable, and excellent, option, they have taught us that we are contributing something to our country by being “as Armenian as possible” somewhere else in this world – whatever that means. They have taught us that dreaming about Armenia is sometimes enough.
So how do we mend this gap? How do we shift our focus to one that empowers our diasporan youth to be and feel useful? The only way to do this is to now, collectively, ditch the notion that some future version of Armenia is our Armenia. The Armenia on the map now is our Armenia. It is a place where we can all live, work and create a fruitful future. We should realize that this notion is all we are useful for. The education of our youth outside of Armenia should be centered around who we can be in Armenia, only decorated with how we can support that with our endeavors in the diaspora. We have no right to dream of the romantic notions we have been so focused on all these years if we cannot hold onto and fortify the soil we have today.
A new friend, now a dear one, describes his recent move (from Canada) with his spouse (from America) to Armenia as “the most selfish thing he’s ever done.” Those of us in the diaspora who are struggling with the hows and whens of making this move should take example of this notion, while neglecting the one that lets us become too comfortable in the diaspora. We should refocus all that we aspire to do for our cause to be grounded in the land itself. If the diaspora suddenly decided to operate this way, we would be harnessing its potential in ways like never before. We would not just be useful to our homeland; we would be beneficial.
No one ever taught me how to make a sea-to-sea Armenia a goal of my reality, and rightfully so. That, in actuality, is out of my power. What is in my power is to become the best version of myself with all that I have, and in turn, contribute my greatest potential to today’s Armenia.