The admirable attributes of the greater Armenian nation far outweigh our weak points. Were it not for those strengths, the term Armenian or Armenia would have been assigned to ancient history. I must admit that my passion lies in problem solving and improving our collective lot. This has substantial downsides since one can easily be labeled as “negative” or even disruptive. Most people prefer to remain in the mainstream and limit their exposure to social risk. A significant portion of our discourse today is focused on the external threats to our way of life as Armenians. Media outlets such as the Weekly have devoted their efforts in the interests of keeping our communities informed and thinking. One of our challenges that unfortunately has a prominent place in our collective behavior is our inability to manage differences and find compromises. I will avoid the word “unity” since that term has been tainted particularly in the American diaspora as a reference to the administrative division of the church. Unfortunately, our unresolved differences extend far beyond the church and exist in virtually every aspect of our society. My intent is not to advocate for the elimination of differences or limiting diversity. Diversity is a hallmark of democracy and embraces the most important concept in communal experiences—inclusion. This weakness has existed long enough that we make jokes about it such as, “If there are four Armenians in the room, there will be five opinions” or “Two Armenians stranded on an island decided to build two churches.” It is healthy to laugh at ourselves, but all satire has an element of truth. The tragedy lies in limiting our potential.
We have all experienced both the healthy aspects of different opinions and the destructive nature of unresolved issues in our community life. How many church parishes and organizations have been weakened by unresolved differences that lead to negative consequences such as members leaving or a major reduction in services? We also have many examples where healthy debate is encouraged and consensus is reached. The difference in these circumstances is our egos. Our egos limit our ability to listen, prevent us from compromise and most destructively eliminate forgiveness. I have always found it sadly ironic that we as a people proudly proclaim to the world that we are the first Christian nation, yet many of our internal problems are plagued by our inability to forgive each other. Many of us have admired leaders who shun power and display only what’s in the greater interest. We have also seen manipulation and influence obsessions. Leaders are not simply those appointed or elected to administer the group. They are the individuals who are selfless and deeply committed to our collective success. Personal agendas and exclusion do not exist. Based on that criteria, one can understand why we are suffering from a leadership crisis at many levels of our greater nation.
I remember years ago in business school a case study on leadership styles. Our professor reviewed a style where the leader would hire people similar to him or her, thus limiting conflict and focusing on execution. The alternative was to invite diverse thoughts in the team and create an atmosphere where the best solutions could be reviewed. We engaged in a discussion on which style is more effective. The answer is either can be, but it helped me discover that I believe diversity is a strength. It is more challenging for the leader to manage to debate and still arrive at a decision. Many organizations fail with this model because they cannot make decisions. The debate continues, and it descends into chaos. We have all been there particularly in volunteer or non-profit organizations. I believe that we must focus on developing strong leaders who encourage diversity, make clear decisions and arrive at the best solutions. Success will be what binds the group together. That success, however, is dependent on the quality of leadership. This discussion is directly applicable to our challenges in the Armenian nation from local communities in the diaspora to the republics of Armenia and Artsakh.
It has become quite popular in the diaspora to be critical of the current administration in Armenia. Criticism based on performance is fair game in a free society. We have wept over the last 30 years as we watch our homeland in freefall based on corruption, ineptitude and the absence of experienced leaders. If we are to become a people with a common vision, we should start by being fair to each other. We seem to have no problem going beyond the normal standards of criticism and venturing into the world of slander, degradation and humiliation. I would be less concerned if we showed an equal ability to praise improvements. There is no doubt that the Pashinyan government was venturing in an unpopular foreign policy domain but has recently made significant gains in attracting the diplomatic attention of a world that ignored the Armenians in 2020. Navigating the treacherous waters of a wounded Russia, courting the West and encouraging open dialogue with Iran and India is no small feat. Armenia has attracted foreign observers to the eastern front which has certainly served as a short-term deterrence. Pashinyan has been particularly strong in his approach to the CSTO and directly to Russia as recently as last week at the defense pact meeting in Yerevan. A risky but potentially beneficial three-way parallel track with Russia, the EU and the US is unprecedented and reflects Armenia’s ability to take advantage of certain geopolitical dynamics. Have any of the government’s opponents offered any encouragement to the Armenian government, or are we bound by political alignment? It is easy to be cynical and doubt the value of any move from someone who has traditionally been opposed. Honestly, if someone other than Pashinyan had made these gains, would you be complimentary? It takes courage and wisdom to applaud the move of someone you have criticized.
We seem to be consumed with “binary politics.” In this country, we are so polarized that we can’t even acknowledge something good simply because it is sourced with the Democrats or the Republicans. This is a dangerous approach and harmful to our democracy because it fuels unresolved conflict. A number of Armenians were euphoric when Pashinyan rose to power in the Velvet Revolution of 2018. As the complexity of governing versus protesting became the reality, an equal number lost confidence and feared for the sovereignty of the Armenians. Locking ourselves into a “pro” or “anti” Pashinyan position is a shallow approach. The world is too dynamic. We should judge according to the issues and by the rule of law. Most importantly, we must refrain from burning so many bridges that the probability of collaboration is minimal. What is the point of a sovereign nation if we are in constant internal conflict? If we can’t find common ground, we weaken what we claim to love. When that happens, it is time to pause and re-assess the direction. Put personal agendas aside and leave egos at the door. This is patriotism and what our global nation needs at the moment.
I was distraught over the inability of our nation to come together for the Global Armenian Summit. At face value, it looked to be a successful venture with rich content and intriguing topics, however we were all aware of the boycott/exclusion of major elements of the global community. How can such an event take place when some major political groups and the national church are not participating? I will not judge the causes. I am sure there is ample accountability to go around. Let it suffice to say that for a nation that is struggling to survive and fights injustice on multiple fronts, we should have no tolerance for such public display of division. There was sufficient time to resolve any differences to ensure full participation. Like many of you, I have heard many embarrassing reasons such as some don’t care for the High Commissioner; others claimed not to be invited and that the church would not subordinate itself to a government event. Most of this is commentary that apparently we think we can do more for the Armenian nation without aligning our thinking and actions. In community work, I have found that there are very few of our problems that cannot be resolved if the participants are willing to subordinate their individual views to the greater purpose. It is when we introduce “agendas” that our collaborative thinking dissipates. I hope that the High Commissioner maintains the resolve of the Summit and works to assure full participation. For those who did not participate, consider whether the outcome is greater in your absence. The government should be listening and acting on the concerns of those who did not participate. Those on the outside have an equal responsibility to resolve their differences. Boycotting and allowing differences to fester have no real value.
Our critical thinking must include understanding the boundaries between expressing differences and unresolved conflict that leads to destruction. Many of our church parishes have been plagued by this “my way or the highway” approach to participation and leadership. Developing and supporting strong leaders who have the wisdom to prevent these dynamics from escalating must be a priority. If we use our communities as a playground for our egos and influence, we are damaging not simply the legacy we have inherited but the future we invest in for our children. Whether it is the communities we have built in the diaspora or the homeland we love, our first move in engaging with each other must be respect. If we have come to the point where maintaining the function of our communities, organizations and countries based on respect and love is considered naïve, then we will continue to sub-optimize our future. Each of us is individually and collectively responsible to contribute to a collaborative environment. Debate and diversity with respect and leadership will always produce more sustainable results. Do we have the humility and the will to look in the mirror?