Every Which Way But Down

Patrick Bairamian
(Los Angeles, USA)

How would you feel if your mother lost her job, a natural disaster destroyed your home, your father left you during those two crisis’, she had to take care of you when she had no money or home to raise you in, and on top of all that, both sides of your family refused to talk to you or help you in any situation? Our mother, Armenia, who suffered an economic collapse, earthquake, volatile fever of war, and closed trade along her two longest borders, was in this situation twenty years ago. Twenty years ago, she should have given up. She had no reason to build again, try again, live again. But she didn’t give up. She faltered, she stumbled to regain balance, and limped forward, and carried on. She then started to rebuild. She rose up and reached out. She rose up and began to breathe. But she was tired…she is still tired.

These people, our people, aren’t lazy, scared of oligarchs, against change, against societal evolution, modernization…essentially, a fresh start. When you search beyond the facade of their daily lives, and look past the leaking pipes of their apartment, broken roads to their village, simple meals of bread and cheese, you see that there hangs a heavy burden on our people. Since twenty years after our independence as a stand alone country, we (Diasporans) are expecting too much of a nation in repair. They aren’t broken, they aren’t weak. Give a man a reason to fight here and he will until his death. But,we, expect Western standards of living, governance, and civility, yet few are willing to implement these ideals in the country , and with the people they criticize daily for their lack of XYZ. The people, this country, is exhausted. Not of their potential, not of their resources, but of their hope.

The country isn’t in the dark, but some issues are. And these are issues which the Diaspora can help shed light on. Sure, the country is 20 years old, and we understand it’s still trying. But know that for longer than 20 years, the people, the country, has existed, preserved and maintained its identity for over 3000 years. That’s quite the information stream and burden on the people. It’s time to debunk all the rumors, and be present in this country. It’s time to reinspire the troops with the roar of our freedom to the drumbeat of our heritage. We’ve taken the country back, now we must be present in its refinement.

We fought for our independence, now we have it. But if we aren’t present in the independent state that we have fought for, and continue to fight for from our adopted citizenships, how can we garner the change we all expect to be here when we land at Zvartnots in the succulent Summers, wonderland Winters, blooming Springs, and majestic Falls? There is a need for presence here, and the provinces, the cities, the villages, the nation, and most importantly the people – need it. What can presence do though? Money is all that can change anything in this country, isn’t it?

It’s with presence that Armenia wasn’t devoured in the 1946 when there was the “nerkahkt” (great migration) from all the Diaspora Armenians living abroad who moved back to the homeland to build a life here so that Armenia would not be consumed by its enemies. More recently, it is the people’s presence that won the battle of environmental rights at Mashdots Park, bringing attention to the neglect of green-space in the city by the government. It was with presence that the international Armenian community has been informed about the forests of Teghut, and are leading one of the strongest grassroots campaigns to put an end to environmental destruction. If you look at more subtle change, change that came from the presence on the day-to-day, look for example at the taxi drivers and companies. There was so much backlash from the groups that wanted fair taxi rates that the majority of taxi companies have installed and require meters in their cabs. It’s a Western standard that was brought in demand with an injection of Western minded people.

Don’t believe that there needs to be a bridge built between the Diaspora and the Fatherland. A bridge represents separation. There is a sea of diversity, change, turmoil and typhoons that can be mixed and confused under that bridge. We are two different entities, just like the villages or towns in different regions of this country. But, just like those villages that have their own landscape, dialect, and way of life, they still exist on the same soil. We, don’t need a bridge, we need a road, because we’re not oceans apart, we’re only down the road from one-another.

We have mountains to move simply with our opinions! Who can say that about an opinion? Who can say that by speaking to the local citizens, and telling them that you (the Diaspora) want to live in Armenia, is enough to inspire hope in them; and that by actually moving here- you become a beacon of hope to look forward to. Even if your lifestyle doesn’t allow you to move here, there are now so many opportunities to become immersed in this country’s issues and influence change from your respective countries that there should be no Armenian living abroad, that wants to be involved, to stay idle.

I have been fortunate enough by my volunteer placement to realize why presence matters. By telling the children in SOS Children’s Village, where I volunteer, that i’m staying for longer than one day, they’re eyes SHINE with glee and excitement because someone from outside of their village has stopped by and WANTS to spend time with them. Every-time a Birthright Armenia volunteer says that they are living in Armenia for two, three, six months, in conversation with a local, i’ve seen their reaction of surprise. Comically, the locals say, “why are you staying, if everyone is moving?” But the next day, when they see you participating, being involved persistently in their daily lives, something wakes up within them. They realize that people from around the world are paying attention to Armenia; that those people from around the world ARE Armenians. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, but what ride down a road that isn’t paved, isn’t? We have the roads, we have the trails, we have the willingness to stay on that road as it bounces and turns, zig zags and narrows…but the view is worth it, the view- to see this majestic landscape, and hear it come to life and bustle with growth is the best sounding, best tasting, best feeling of life’s essence that anyone who is looking for a purpose in life can ask for. I’m staying.

3 thoughts on “Every Which Way But Down

  1. Dear Patrick:
    I am humbled by your wisdom and clear vision of what we diaspora-born Armenian can do.
    I am a 2002 AVC-er. I had posted on my blog the following text in 2009 which goes along the lines of what you write, and would like to share it with you:
    Saturday, March 07, 2009
    Letter 26: We’re in March, don’t leave us alone!
    Letter 26: We’re in March, don’t leave us alone!
    Saturday, March-07-2009 to April-02-09
    Here again, hanging on the steep slopes of our mountains,
    In the middle of our gardens devastated by the elements provoked by climate change,
    We do what the unemployed do, what prisoners do,
    We cultivate hope!

    We’re a young country with a long history, but have become less smart.
    The IMF and the WB still let us borrow and mortgage our children’s future!

    Here, on the steps to our house, where the smoke rises
    From last fall’s leftover leaves and the street garbage
    We can’t breathe. I say, better not to be able to breathe from that than from the smoke of the guns….

    But spring is in the air, our apricots have blossomed before the cherries and I hear the buzz of the bees who come from far (Vardkes has left his beehives elsewhere this year). The local black-flies are out, they bother everybody else for 10 days, but they don’t seem to like Canadian-Armenian blood.

    Everyone talks of the “Jknazham” (The Economic Crisis) and wants to know how it affects us in Canada). Some people have lost their home. Others who lived beyond their means, those who borrowed money for consumer goods rather than investment will sell their car, their furniture.

    Ararat is still there, shining from our window. We can always count on him, whether we see him or not.

    Our living room is without its beautiful wooden floor. It was infected by wood borers and I had asked Vardkes to take it away and burn it last winter, but I had left him with the new wood to prepare for installation upon my arrival. He broke his arm in an accident and he now walks around, frustrated, in pain, unemployed, not from lack of work, no insurance except his family.

    Had the policeman, who used his club to beat-up peaceful opposition demonstrators a year ago, in March, contemplated his victims’ faces and reflected upon what he was doing, he may have remembered the faces of his grand-parents during the “Metsn Yeghern”, he may have set aside the might of the club, the might of the gun.
    This is not the way to build a country!

    Alone, we are alone up to our elbows, but for the rainbows that visit us every once and then;
    We know we have brothers and sisters beyond these rainbows.
    Good brothers and sisters. They love us.
    They look at us and rain Manna on us from time to time; then they say:
    Why can’t they solve their …. But can’t finish their sentence, for they don’t know what hit us.
    Don’t leave us alone! Don’t leave us !

    Antoine S. Terjanian
    Went there to attract rainbows
    after trying to move mountains with little success
    Patrick, please come and be my guest on top of our mountain in Yeghegnadzor. Come with your friends if you like
    after unsuccessfully trying to move mountains

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