While Mayr Hayastan stands high overlooking the hills and valleys of our beloved homeland, Snoop Dogg and his entourage will be sharing the tropes that made him famous in West Coast rap with the people of Armenia in a concert on September 23. Snoop Dogg has faced criticism for his objectification of women and his use of derogatory terms which perpetuate the negative stereotypes that are pervasive in Armenia’s often chauvinistic and sexist society. The Doggfather’s shameless use of chauvinistic lyrics like, “B*** ain’t shit but hoes and tricks,” combined with derogatory and dehumanizing visuals of women performing the most demeaning sexual acts, are often overlooked with his catchy beats and danceable songs. I doubt that the majority of the Armenians in Armenia who love hip hop have deconstructed the meanings and subtext of much of Snoop’s lyrics.
Let me preface this with the fact that I actually appreciate hip hop – it is the discourse of a generation, and I use it in the classroom in my lessons on register and code. To many generations of African Americans, hip hop is a genre that has complex meanings and implications related to their experience as Black Americans. There are numerous researchers who explore raciolinguistics, and there are even more hip hop artists who have become vehicles to express the oppression and plight of Black Americans. Pulitzer Prize-winning Kendrick Lamar, Alicia Keys, Mary J. Blige, Tyler the Creator, Jay-Z and our once pessa now “he-who-must-not-be-named” Kanye West have all woven the fabric of the rich genre of hip hop, which has propelled social change with its revolutionary undertones. Hip hop has overtaken rock and roll as the most popular musical genre, and I would be lying if I didn’t say that I have Lauren Hill and Rakim on my iTunes list. It’s clear that Snoop Dogg is a brilliant entrepreneur with cookbooks, wine branding, numerous philanthropic projects and many other talents.
But this is not what this piece is about.
Seeing social media posts about Snoop Dogg’s concert in Yerevan has made us, in many ways, wake up to the metaphorical opiate that has been nefariously pacifying the people of Armenia. It was Karl Marx who stated, “Die Religion…ist das Opium des Volkes,” which means, “religion is the opiate of the masses.” The new religion of Armenia is one of pacifism and apathy, blinding the people with the idea that “all is ok” – send over 50 Cent, Kanye and now Snoop Dogg. Give the baby a pacifier, placate your people, and you can guarantee a few hours (in this case a few years) to do the dirty work of rotting a country at its core. It is the stuff of a dystopian novel – burn the books, use rhetoric, make photo ops with famous pop figures and you have yourself a lovely little ochlocracy. “So what? We get drunk. So what? We smoke weed. We’re just having fun. We don’t care who sees. So what we go out? That’s how it’s supposed to be – living young and wild and free.” I never thought I would quote Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa in an article about my homeland.
As a teacher, I am generally focused on all things education related. When you study a country’s educational system, it gives you a glimpse of a disease that can be diagnosed and hopefully healed. Armenia’s education system is in a desperate situation. There is a lack of opportunity for students, not only in Yerevan, but also in rural Armenia. Armenia’s education system is not future oriented. Many band-aid programs have mushroomed focusing on robotics, and of course we have the amazing TUMO program. Yet as for the daily educational system, Armenia lacks the momentum to move away from Soviet-dominated pedagogical strategies that integrate critical thinking. I had the opportunity to learn about this firsthand last year at the Teach for Armenia conference held at UCLA, from educators such as Dr. Serop Khachatryan, director of the Children of Armenia Fund. Many of the speakers stressed the need for building infrastructure. I watched the Minister of Education take copious notes and agree that the failure was systematic in the schools of Armenia. Wendy Kopp, the CEO of Teach for All and one of my personal heroes, stated that programs such as Teach for Armenia create a collective purpose, and that we must cultivate leadership by teaching marginalized communities, a transformative process for students and teachers. Meeting teachers like Ninelle, a Teach for Armenia instructor from Artsakh, was inspiring. Now, I am devastated to see her social media posts as she reports from blockaded Artsakh. That spark of hope is still in her eyes, but there are other needs at stake. Pedagogy is placed on the back burner when you’re focused on picking the last of your tomatoes and don’t have the ability to shower.
The conference used the metaphor of the national dance of Armenia, the Kochari, the archetypal symbol of unity for our people. It focused on our own Kochari, the 2050 promise – a declaration to deliver the kind of education needed to be a leader in Armenia.
But that Kochari has been broken. In Artsakh, 120,000 Armenian souls are on the brink of starvation and blockade – that in itself is the pus-filled infection of the last few years, caused by a prime minister ransacking the country of its health. Meanwhile, PM Nikol Pashinyan and his “gangstas” are “Rollin’ down the street, smokin’ indo/Sippin’ on gin and juice/Laid back with (their) minds on their money and (their) money on (their) minds.”
Perhaps the nation should go back to our own children’s storyteller—Atabek Khnkoyan (Khnko Aper)—whose rhyming versions of Aesop’s fable “The Ant and the Grasshopper” ring true every time I see a post about Snoop: “Չաշխատեցի՞ր Ամառը, Ասա՛, ինչ էր Պատճառը:” (You didn’t work all summer…tell us the reason), and the dancing grasshopper, full of hubris, answers: “Էդպես բանի, Սանամե՛ր, Էլ ժամանակ Ո՞ վ ուներ. Էն խոտերում Բուրավետ, Երգում էինք Մերոնց հետ…” (Who had time for that? We were too busy dancing with each other in the fields). (Sippin’ on Gin and Juice…)
Forcing the country into a state of unresolved grief and blowing smoke into the faces of the Armenian nation has led to the kind of numb disconnectedness that opens the portal to the dangerous state of apathy that our homeland has now embraced.
Nobody is saying that our brothers and sisters in Armenia shouldn’t have fun. Fun has its place and time, and we are a country that is experiencing its dark ages. Just last summer, as I watched the mother of one of our soldiers tear at the granite of her son’s gravestone in the village of Akhpradzor, it became clear that our country is in a shared “brow of woe.” Grief is cyclical, and a person experiences a long list of a range of emotions while grieving. Yerevan had an aura of paralysis – people walked in the streets, cafes were full, but everyone was in an anesthetized state. Forcing the country into a state of unresolved grief and blowing smoke into the faces of the Armenian nation has led to the kind of numb disconnectedness that opens the portal to the dangerous state of apathy that our homeland has now embraced. It was Noam Chomsky who stated, “All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume.” We are not helpless. Armenian schools are growing in the diaspora; Armenian camps are full of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of genocide survivors; internships and non-profits in Armenia have proliferated; the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) is actively engaged in nation building; Teach for Armenia, the Hidden Road Initiative, AYF Youth Corps, the Armenian Relief Society and programs to build Armenia’s infrastructure are still actively engaged in nation building. We refuse to be patronized, infantilized and shamed into silence.
It is my hope that the people of Armenia will look up to Mayr Hayastan, reminding themselves that we are the people of stone, of women who raised arms to fight, of mothers who gave their sons to fight for our lands. We are not to be infantilized by puppet shows that attempt to distract us from the nation building (in and outside Armenia) that calls us to work. Almost 4,000 souls were sent to their graves in a war for Artsakh – and their mothers and families refuse to be silenced by the almighty pacifier that Pashinyan attempts to force into their (and our) mouths. Enough.
My writing of this may reach the eyes of some. I hope you, dear reader, feel the same kind of angst that so many of us do. I hope you are doing something – anything – while our homeland experiences the most catastrophic existential threat of our lifetime.
Nothing against you Snoop – we love your famous song, “Who am I (What’s My Name)?” However, the Armenian nation knows who we are. We have known for thousands of years. Even as we watch enemies, foreign and domestic, attempt to gaslight us into thinking otherwise, we must remind ourselves that the first line ever written in our ancient language was, “To know wisdom and gain instruction; to discern the words of understanding…” and refuse to close our eyes to the smoke that attempts to blind that understanding.
Let’s hope Khnko Aper’s grasshoppers don’t become the ultimate metaphor for our nation…
Երգո՞ւ մ էիր…
Այժմ էլ բռնի
Քամին ծափ տա,
(You were singing?
Oh how nice!
Once the cold winds hit you,
let’s see how you dance.)