Do Armenians have a future as an independent nation? Part 1

Or are we satisfied with a status similar to that of Assyrians today?

Celebrations on the streets of Yerevan after the declaration of independence (Sept. 21, 1991)

Author’s Note: This series aims to spark a conversation about our nation, defined as Armenia, Artsakh and the Diaspora, and the potential perils and opportunities ahead of us. Acknowledging that optimism and strategic thinking and planning are key components of our future success, we must temper them with our past experiences, our shortcomings and failures and our strengths. Otherwise, we are doomed to repeat the vicious cycle that we are currently in, with significantly worse outcomes as we see day by day. These pieces are not meant to be exhaustive nor definitive; rather they are meant to provide a nidus for additional conversation, high-level planning and execution, as time is not an ally in our current reality.

The Armenian nation is in a state of mourning, shock and indifference, rendering her incapable of visualizing a viable path tomorrow, one toward an independent and prosperous nation. Incapable or unwilling to accept the calamities that have befallen the Armenian nation, some have doubled down on their support for the system responsible for this calamity, and some have simply opted to detach themselves from the current predicament. It is much easier to decide that “others have made decisions for us and we must submit to it,” rather than getting one’s hands dirty toward building a nation, as imperfect as it may be. 

our most important goal is to give the Armenian nation a reason and a realistic plan to believe in itself again

Those who foresaw the current calamity understood the catastrophic damage that a fall from the artificial euphoric high would inflict upon the nation – a fall that will require every available or imaginable ounce of resolve and strength and alignment of the best of conditions for Artsakh and Armenia to rise again. Therefore, our most important goal is to give the Armenian nation a reason and a realistic plan to believe in itself again and that its best days are yet to come. Inasmuch, this exercise is intended to provide a better understanding of the ills of the new and the old regimes to dissect the causes of our catastrophic failures, if we are clever enough not to repeat them. It aims to offer a potential solution that capitalizes on our strengths and capacities and sets conditions that we all must participate in, in order to build a strong, equitable and innovative nation with international, economic and military clout to thrive in a particularly challenging corner of the world.

Assigning blame to others or assuming a victim mindset removes all consequences from our actions or lack thereof, which stem from shirking of individual and social responsibilities. This is the escape route that we all have subscribed to, knowingly or unknowingly, which has reduced Armenia, a country with millennia-old history, to a group of individuals living on the same land, devoid of any social contract or responsibility toward one another or to the greater good, with a singular focus on maximizing personal gains. This fundamental problem must be laid bare and addressed before any meaningful steps can be made toward building a better Armenia and Artsakh. 

How do we frame our problems and potential solutions?

Problems abound, but we have committed an original sin and some fundamental mistakes with cumulative effects that have led to where we are today. Our original sin lies with the current  republic’s founding leadership, who propagated the self-preservation mentality, one of our worst traits, in the early years of the republic, as opposed to setting the tone for a culture of civic responsibility and accountability. This singular, yet crucial, mistake led the nation down the path of adopting extractive political and economic institutions, the ramifications of which we face today. One would have expected a higher-minded approach from a well-educated historian and an articulate person. Yet, the first president of the new republic failed to rise to the occasion, instead embarking on a path of petty and divisive politics. He cemented this path into our national ethos by stealing the 1996 presidential elections, setting the stage for the corrupt followers who were to come. The black and white dichotomy, set in motion by the current government, was only a follow-up act of division, subsequent to the vilification of the Artsakh Armenians by the republic’s founding leadership in 2008, a vile and unforgivable step by a president.

Our first fundamental and collective failure to establish inclusive political and economic institutions in the new republic resulted in the perpetuation of a self-centered and mediocre mindset and prevention of the requisite education and precedence to establish a social contract between Armenians and their representative government. I submit that the majority of the public’s outrage at the establishment of the oligarchy and the ensuing corruption has little to do with altruistic motives and more to do with feelings of anger and jealousy that it could just have easily been them riding the gravy train. The people clearly saw the oligarchy as common men, and in some instances uncouth outsiders from Artsakh, who usurped power and reaped the benefits. So why should it be these oligarchs who enjoy those ill-gotten fruits and not them and their circles? Owing to centuries of subjugation and rule by governments not of the people nor for the people, the Armenian psyche is highly tuned to unprincipled adaptability, self-preservation and primacy of personal gains, as it has not enjoyed the benefits of a benevolent system, designed to propel the populace forward and upward. 

Extractive political and economic institutions thrive on and induce environments with a dearth of accountability and general impunity. This decades-long exposure has resulted in the conditioning of the populace to rationalize its own unaccountability to fellow citizens and to the state. Why should one be accountable for his/her minor misdeeds, where the oligarchs and the politico-economic elites engage in serious crimes and misdemeanors with total impunity?

In this spirit, I present our second fundamental and collective failure: shirking of responsibility and unwillingness to be accountable for our actions and to hold others, including the government, accountable. Our national modus operandi has become one of each individual left to his/her devices to extract as much gain from the system and others as possible, lest he/she be labeled a հարիֆ (harif). This is partly understandable, given how Armenians have been dealing with many traumatic events, forcing them to adopt a hyper-survivalist posture. The Soviet years introduced some calm into the populace despite the purges, established education and industrialization but was interrupted with the ravages of WWII. The post-war years saw peace and a continued path on education, research and industrialization. However, it came at the expense of a rooted Soviet mentality, an untenable economic model, highly-flawed approach to innovation and reward systems and the indoctrination of a busy work mindset to show “accomplishments” as opposed to working toward actual accomplishments. This mindset carried into independent Armenia, saddled with a terrible earthquake, the first Artsakh war and a leader unequipped with the tools and the frame of mind to successfully carry the burden of nation building. The republic’s founding leadership did not see a need nor have a vision for Armenia as a thriving independent nation. This vision never had the chance to take flight, nor did any of his successors take any steps to right this wrong. But, it is clear that this must stop…and immediately. The trouble is that one cannot wave a magic wand and undo this pervasive mindset overnight. 

To this end and as a first step, a social contract is to be established to balance individual and social responsibilities, where people can freely pursue their individual freedoms and gains in parallel to their tax and societal responsibilities, something that Nordic nations have been successful at. Such a contract, fundamentally built upon an idealist vision, can be established and nurtured on the basis of accountability, transparency and evolution of value-based societal norms. To do so, we have to clearly define what Armenia stands for as a state, how the Armenian nation (those residing in Armenia and the Diaspora) sees its responsibilities and expectations from one another and from the state, and how we define our state interests. One can argue that the interests of a state subjectively express the objective needs of the society. Fundamental to these interests are the security of the nation, including territorial integrity, political sovereignty/independence, establishment and development of inclusive political and economic institutions, reconstitution of a social order based on equity, justice, inclusivity and respect (especially the oligarchy and past and present ruling elites) and promotion of national and cultural identity. These interests must be ever evolving to reflect social processes and changing societal needs (e.g. a mature middle class will necessitate the pursuit of modified interests than those implemented to grow the middle class or when the concept of national identity matures beyond feudal and micro allegiances of the current setting).

Social contracts are only as good as those citizens who choose to pursue and implement them. Such citizens are not born but developed through their environment, education and value system, and at times an unforgiving punitive element for those choosing otherwise. 

Such citizens will:

  • respect and care for one another
  • value each other’s dignity
  • believe in their cumulative power of goodness
  • not be jealous of each other’s successes
  • support each other in difficult times
  • value and pursue justice
  • exercise a strong work ethic
  • value and pursue education, science, arts and intellectual pursuits – a small nation that is capable of producing Narek Hakhnazaryan, Nareh Arghamanyan, Sergey and Lusine Khachatryan, Levon Aronyan and many others must cherish them like no other
  • not aspire to գողական and ռաբիզ mentalities
  • respect laws that they have helped to craft for the benefit of the system
  • pay their taxes and contribute to charitable causes to the best of their abilities
  • treat all Armenians as one family, rising above the micro-divisions imposed upon us to tear us apart
  • buy and support Armenian products
  • not support our enemy’s economy
  • understand and internalize who our enemies are (as if more evidence was needed) 
  • not use language skills or other avenues as a tool of suppression and/or false superiority against their own
  • take pride in what they do, be it a janitor, scientist, server, banker, etc. 
  • not pay or receive bribes (be it to buy a degree, a permit, a new position, etc.) and will act upon seeing others engaging in such behavior
  • not value toxic macho masculinity and engage in sexist behavior
  • accept the consequences of their actions
  • value physical fitness and mental toughness 
  • treat the marginalized and the needy in the community with care and love

The average Armenian citizen does not demonstrate even a fraction of these traits. 

Figure 1 illustrates everything that these citizens will not do or stand for. It is essential to launch serious educational campaigns to inform and educate the next generation of citizens. Military service can be a perfect example to educate and empower our youth. For the current generation, we have to combine education, accountability and zero-tolerance punishment to inform and enforce these values and to embark on the desired social contract with which to build our nation. Exacting punishment without providing solutions to take the right steps are just as damaging as inaction.

Figure 1 courtesy of Arman Kuchukyan’s Facebook page
Ara Nazarian, PhD

Ara Nazarian, PhD

Ara Nazarian is an associate professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a degree in mechanical engineering, followed by graduate degrees from Boston University, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Harvard University. He has been involved in the Armenian community for over a decade, having served in a variety of capacities at the Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Society, the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center, Armenian National Committee of America, St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.

15 Comments

  1. We as the collective Armenian nation have yet again demonstrated why we will never be a prosperous nation, we have failed to seize all opportunities to build a prosperous nation, from the criminal gangs that led our nation from 1991 to 2018 and then to a spinless leader who fell for the promises of Western support. What we need is for the disapora to wake the hell up, we need a strong and capable armed forces and MONEY, the rest is utter garbage, Russia, USA , NATO, EU all will betray us as they have always done, with a strong military and strong finances we will overcome, otherwise please start practicing the azad and ankhagh revolutionary songs. We need to take the initiative and annually raise $5 Billion USD NOW, not in 10 years time but now. Otherwise watch as the Turks divide our nation between themselves and Russia. Appoint a board of trustees from Non Political groups, manage and spend the funds only for military and economic projects, then watch how they all take us seriously, in short the Israeli model. I dont trust a single Armenian politician, including the current and past.

    • Definitely we must be like israel as politically but for this we must give up good relations with lran for west politics to create balance russia and west

  2. its not only the diaspora that ‘needs to wake the hell up” its the Armenians in Armenia that need to wake the hell up big time. Maybe too many over there are more concerned with what to drive or what the latest styles are…they need to become politically aware and realize the current government is selling the country out to the turks – who are only too happy to oblige. the turks will overwhelm and turkify little Armenia with turkish goods and immigration….

    the genocide meanwhile seems to be an increasingly annoying ‘thing of the past’ among people in Armenia who see it as an impediment to ‘normal’ relations with the turks – they don’t understand that the turkic objective is still eradication of Armenians – ‘peace’ is purely a smokescreen in this case.

  3. Dr, Nazarian.

    I don’t usually comment on articles such as this because I am not Armenian. But I have invested in the country for over 10 years and have 100+ working for me [the largest payroll in Gyumri]. It is working with these 20-something young men and women, I can honestly simply say shame on you. How dare you judge these Armenians you clearly know nothing about. I have several young men who could have opted out of going to war but chose to risk their lives for Armenia. Where were you? Did you fly over and take up arms and risk your life? These people are not fish in a fish tank swimming for your pleasure and judgment.

    Then after the war when many were depressed and disillusioned as you are, they chose to stay in their country, city and community to make it better. Over 90% of people who work for me could go get a job in Europe at any time. They are top-tier specialists who want to rebuild and change the city and community they love into a prosperous eco-friendly for their children and are starting with Distrikt.am .

    Your so-called social contract is alive and ubiquitous in Armenia. The problem is they don’t want to have it with petty people like yourself who are filled with spite and condescending judgment. You wrote above “unwillingness to be accountable for our actions and to hold others accountable”. Well I am holding you accountable and calling you out for your inaccurate and incautious article. It might make you feel better, but is devoid of patriotism.

    I will be traveling back to Armenia in the last week of September and the first two weeks of October. I invite you to come with me and experience the incredible young men and women who have taught me what the true definition of patriotism and success.

    –Todd Fabacher

  4. sorry it should say “I have several young men who could have opted out of staying home safe, but went to war and chose to risk their lives for Armenia.”

  5. Soviet minded Armenian politicians wasted diaspora fund money for personal purchase,while hundred thousand armenians suffer in middle east arab countries also lran&turkey plus central asia we need bring back them to Armenia while unskilled local armenians leave to work in russia population decrease solution is persecuated but skillful armenians in middle east move settle in Armenia. Armenins should serve in their country for their nation not turks arabs persians kurds

  6. “The average Armenian citizen does not demonstrate even a fraction of these traits.” OK – but an awful lot of those average citizens have and continue to serve in the army and/or send their sons to the army. An awful lot of those average citizens and/or their sons were killed or wounded in the last war. It’s those average citizens who go to work everyday to supply the gas, water, electricity, transport, education, food, etc. that allow Armenia to live. Perhaps all efforts should be aimed at creating an Armenia that is worthy of the sacrifices of the “average Armenian citizen” rather than an Armenia that serves any oligarch or armchair diasporan patriot.

  7. Armenia’s natural place in the world today is in a close union with the Russian Federation. Armenia was resurrected in the early 19th century by the Russian Bear. For the past two hundred years Armenia has been able to live in a dangerous neighborhood like the south Caucasus only because of its ties to Russia. The last few years have shown beyond any doubt that Armenians are not ready for independence, and may not be ready for well into the foreseeable future. Armenia’s independence from Russia will therefore only translate to Armenia’s dependence on Turkey. And if Russia for any reason pulled out of Armenia today, Armenia will disappear from the map the very next day. For better or for worst, Armenia is wed to Russia. If you are an Armenian patriot, support the marriage…

  8. Dear Serop, no matter where you go in the world, the average citizen does most of the heavy lifting. Tbhose average citizens who live in better off nations, get to enjoy the benfits of a system that works for them. The average citizens of Armenia and similar countries don’t, unfortunately. While you are absolutely right that a better Armenia should be built for them, but it is these citizens that need to do so through extra effort. Nobody else will do it for them, just as nobody else buildt Sweden for the average Swede, other than generations of average Swedes. The point of this exercise is just that – we want everything but we don’t really want to do muh about it. All those experiences of the average Armenian that you mentioned are personal responsibilities. We need to augment them with societal responsibilities. Then, we will build the Armenia thqt you and I would love to see.

    • Both the article and the follow up comment over generalize the nature of the average citizens of Armenia. Did 4,000 men just die for their “personal responsibilities”? Do 10,000 wounded need to make Armenia better “through extra effort?” When that many families are willing to sacrifice life and limb, that clearly evidences a general responsibility to the greater good. Whatever Armenia’s shortcomings (and they are many), even the Swedes could learn a thing or two from the Armenians. Never good to sacrifice obvious truths to make an argument.

    • Serop – the point is to engage in discussions we do not have, unfortunately. Stating things such as swedes can learn from us, or we have the strongest lobby in the US, simply allows us to believe in a comfortable narrative and again preclude us from taking action. why would we want to do anything if Swedes can learn from us? Of course, this is a simplificaiton, but you get the concept.

      we lost a treacherous war because our leadership “fought” to lose a war. We paid dearly with the life and limb of a generation. these heroes made the ultimate sacrifice following a commander-in-chief who wanted to capitulate and could only do so under the guise of a massive loss. These heroes and their families deserve our utmost respect and support.

  9. Dear Ara, by your article you mean that newly independent Armenia never went through the process of thinking about and establishing a state that will support a modern country. After all, Armenians have not had the experience of having and running an independent country for centuries, unlike Turkey, Russia and Iran. There was never a process of state-building in Armenia. The kind of government the country ended up with, after independence from the Soviet Union, was basically continuation of the Soviet government with elections thrown in as substitute for real democracy.

    • correct – yet, we must do so, albeit late 30 years, but better late than never – we simply need to make that conscious decision as a nation

  10. The sub headline of your article says it all. “ Or are we satisfied with a status similar to that of the Assyrians today ?” .You seem to answer your own rhetorical question as YES. Parts 1 -3 of your article gives a long list of problems facing the Armenian personality, society and government. The cure for all these ills will take at least a generation or two if not longer. Yet Armenia and Artsakh face existential threats today. You don’t say so in the articles but similar issues have faced the diaspora for at least 100 years. A fundamental question to ask is WHY IS THE ARMENIAN SOCIETY THE WAY IT IS? Can a society that has behaved as irresponsibly as it has, deserve to have a country? I am not questioning for a minute the selfless patriotism of the men and women who have sacrificed for Armenia’s defense since 1991. But to have a country with defensible borders, one needs much more than brave fighters. As you point out in parts 1-3 one needs a complex functioning STATE and diaspora NATION with advanced education, modern economy that provides jobs and livelihood for a family, advanced technology for defense, a wise diplomatic corp , a strong leadership and opposition that knows the difference between internal OPONNENTS and external ENEMIES, and finally a VISION of where the country should be in 2122.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*