An Inspiring Metaphor for Artsakh and a Question for Us

Artsakh State Minister Artak Beglaryan addressing the Armenian community of Greater Boston, Armenian Heritage Park, November 7, 2021 (Photo: Knar Bedian)

As many of you have been following, Artak Beglaryan, State Minister of the Republic of Artsakh and former ombudsman (human rights defender), has been visiting the United States and is currently on the east coast. He is simply a remarkable individual. At a young age, he lost his father who was killed in the First Artsakh War. Two years later, he lost his eyesight in the horrific explosion of a land mine from the war. His physical survival is a miracle, but what he has done with his life is even more impressive. Never limiting himself to be a victim, Beglaryan earned advanced degrees and attended the renowned Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts. His young life has been completely devoted to service to his people and nation. This past weekend, three events were hosted by the community that afforded us an opportunity to hear his thoughts on Artsakh, the regional political climate and the diaspora. A Friday evening leadership forum was sponsored by the Armenian Assembly. On Sunday afternoon, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) hosted a rally and remembrance for those lost in the 2020 war. Finally on Monday, NAASR hosted a live streaming interview with Mr. Beglaryan.

When public figures, particularly those in the vast Armenian nation, meet with our communities, most participants are seeking their insight but want to be inspired. Let’s face it…that is not always the case. In fact, many times we may leave disappointed in both the content and style of communication. In my view, this was not the case with Artak. He is articulate and serious with a subtle but clear sense of humor. What impressed me immediately were two things. First, he speaks from his heart. He does not sound like a politician or someone playing a role. He is a patriot with a passion for service. His message was honest and practical. I felt no anxiety when he spoke, no disagreement with his points or frustration with an absence of key issues. His approach was logical and complete. Secondly, due to his sight challenge, he obviously cannot use notes. The content of his address was filled with statements such as “here are the five priorities for Artsakh” or “these are the five areas of how the diaspora can help.” He was able to share that level of detail from memory without any flaws. My interpretation was that he was truly speaking from his heart.

I am not certain about the background behind his tour, but it was a very credible move. Mr. Beglaryan is clearly a metaphor for the Artsakh cause: selfless, humble, practical and committed. His physical limitations are a result of the atrocities, yet he has immersed himself in the rights of the Armenian indigenous people of Artsakh. If we seek inspiration from leaders, I can offer no better example. He is young, forward thinking and motivated by his love of Armenia and Artsakh.

I must admit that in contrast to the brilliance of his presence, I felt a bit frustrated and maybe embarrassed. The crowd size was disappointing. Despite this feeling, we have to be careful about how we address it. This should not be like a sermon in church urging people to attend. I think that is how the phrase “preaching to the choir” originated. The attendees at the rally were committed and spoke with their presence. It is always about those who choose not to attend. Why? The weather? Sure it was a little chilly on the Greenway, but that is a small sacrifice. Ambivalence? Busy? I would like to explore what I think is one of the root causes.

There is a difference between ethnic pride or identity and patriotism. We have an abundance of the former in the diaspora, but the latter is limited. Most Armenians have an identity with their ethnicity through their culture, religion and other branches of our civilization. We worry about future identity in the diaspora, but there is a sizable foundation. This can manifest itself as peripheral identity or active members of our community. The identity with patriotism is a smaller subset of our population. This is where the activists and political participants reside. There is a significant gap between the two identities. Why? If you look at our community structure in the US diaspora, it is difficult not to understand the impact of pre-1991 (when Armenia became independent). Prior to that period, the torch of nationalism and patriot thought for Armenia was promoted essentially by the ARF and its sphere of influence. It was in this segment of the community where Hai Tahd was taught and activism continued. I have said this before that the ARF has made its share of mistakes, but they clearly kept the concept of nationalism alive in the worldwide diaspora. We should all be grateful for this contribution. This awareness actually gave birth to other non-partisan advocacy groups such as the Assembly, which has advocated for many important issues including patriotism. When Armenia gained its independence, there was a common bond between those citizens of Armenia and patriotic Armenians in the diaspora. I used to joke with my friends from the Diocese that when Armenia adopted “Mer Hairenik” and the tricolor flag, that many of us already knew the anthem and owned many flags at home. Humor aside, a large segment of the community had a great deal of updating to accomplish around history and political realities. This has significantly impacted the path to patriotism, and we are still working to close that gap today.

True patriots do what is in the best interests of the nation.

Many Armenians exercise their identity, but they have a superficial understanding of the need to be active in support of Armenia and Artsakh. They may beg off as not being “political,” but patriotism transcends partisan issues. True patriots do what is in the best interests of the nation. In our current environment where government credibility is a major issue, it can be difficult to understand patriotism in the context of supporting or not supporting a government. It is quite possible to be constructively critical of the governments of Armenia and Artsakh and still be patriotic. In fact, many consider their criticism to be acts of patriotism. The operative term here is “constructively.” Insulting and degrading the government without any solutions is not constructive and does not add to the solutions. Patriots defend the sovereignty of a nation and are part of the solution.

In our quest to increase the patriotic content of our diaspora, we need to adjust our thinking away from “for or against the government” and toward a deeper long-term commitment to nation building…independent of political affiliations and governments. We have seen the impact of bitter partisan divide on the perception of patriotism in America. Everyone thinks they are right, and everyone else is wrong. The result has been legislative gridlock in our nation’s capital. Frequently, our thinking becomes stalled around the current political environment thereby dismissing the larger issue of what internal political conflict does to Armenia’s security. There is no doubt that dictators Aliyev and Erdogan are emboldened by the lack of action in the world and by the disunity of Armenians. When we fail to comprehend what’s at stake in Armenia and Artsakh, we are more apt to take positions that add to the debate but not to the solution. When building our patriotic content, we should look less at the government of the moment and more at the people of Armenia/Artsakh. It is fairly clear to me that Mr. Beglaryan understands this, which is why I believe he will be a credible advocate for Artsakh regardless of what job he holds. When assembling a government, there must be experienced personnel who can succeed against challenges, but we also must have professionals who exude a pure love and credibility for the homeland. These individuals offer people hope. Beglaryan contributes to both attributes with his depth of humanitarian work and his sincere persona.

There are several ways to increase the patriotic content of our diaspora. There are some signs of progress that we should acknowledge and build upon. At Sunday’s Greenway event sponsored by the ARF of Boston, most of the clergy present were not from the Prelacy. There were several from the Diocese and other denominations. This is progress. Thank you to the ARF for its leadership and also to the clergy for attending. As our pan-Armenian mentality continues to mature, we will purge ourselves of the residual nature of past conflicts that add no value. The new generation of youth in the diocese in the US have a deeper understanding of the historical background in the modern era that encourages patriotism. I will cite as an example that since 1991, we have seen educational content on the tri-battles of 1918, the first Republic and resistance to Turkish oppression in the diocese camps and other educational formats. Their parents were generally from an era where this was not available. In my time as a volunteer Armenian history teacher at the diocese’s St. Vartan Camp, I have witnessed the raw enthusiasm of the youth filled with knowledge that leads to a love of the homeland. This work must continue in the home and in our institutions as the threat of assimilation is constant in the diaspora. Patriotic identity in the diaspora is a choice. We must influence that choice with family, education processes and a positive environment. These are some of the thoughts that Artak inspired when I was standing at the Armenian Heritage Park with others on a brisk November afternoon. Individuals who have the gift of inspiring motivate creative thought that drives us to fulfill our potential. I am grateful that in this sea of confusion and conflict, we have such a bright light as Artak Beglaryan to illuminate the path for our love of Artsakh and pursuit of justice. 

Stepan Piligian

Stepan Piligian

Stepan was raised in the Armenian community of Indian Orchard, MA at the St. Gregory Parish. A former member of the AYF Central Executive and the Eastern Prelacy Executive Council, he also served many years as a delegate to the Eastern Diocesan Assembly. Currently , he serves as a member of the board and executive committee of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR). He also serves on the board of the Armenian Heritage Foundation. Stepan is a retired executive in the computer storage industry and resides in the Boston area with his wife Susan. He has spent many years as a volunteer teacher of Armenian history and contemporary issues to the young generation and adults at schools, camps and churches. His interests include the Armenian diaspora, Armenia, sports and reading.

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