Commentary: Twenty Years of Independence

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By Nubar Dorian

After centuries of occupation, exile and the great Genocide of 1915, our survival was indeed a miracle. Armenians thought that Providence would smile on us and we were fortunate to declare the first independent Republic of Armenia in 1918. The event that we had prayed for, hoped for and died for was Providential and filled our hearts with gratitude and eyes with tears of joy.

Unfortunately our celebration was short lived and lasted only two years. Once more our land was occupied and we were forced to live under the communist regime. Decades-long Soviet life however, while difficult, at least had stopped our bloodshed. We were wrong to assume that Armenian misery would recede but a massive earthquake in 1988 killed more than 40,000 innocent souls, left close to a million Armenians homeless, helpless, devastated and ruined.

God however, had not forgotten the Armenian and in the whirlpool of poverty, sickness, hunger and pain and the demise of the Soviet Union we once again declared independence two decades ago and finally became free to become a real nation with our own flag and language as members of United Nations. We were free to live and love and grow and multiply. Our destiny was finally in our own hands and henceforth we would make our own history.

The chilling truth is that after some 20 years the history we wrote is in reality grim, unpromising and unfortunate. While some will disagree with this assessment and even consider one word of it too long and wrong, here are some thoughts to ponder: Armenia is independent yes, but people are unhappy, confused, perplexed and divided. More than a dozen political parties fight each other for influence, position and power. There seems to be no one to sound the alarm and demand unity, order and discipline. Bribery, cronyism, rigging of elections when possible are rampant. Somehow some people have become billionaires, leaving the majority of Armenians in poverty and still others in soup kitchen lines in order to survive. Those who still deny the situation in Armenia presently are either in a state of denial or are deaf to hear or blind to see.

Diaspora Armenians all across the universe have demonstrated unprecedented and exemplary love, generosity and caring for the homeland and continue to pour billions of dollars to alleviate the suffering of our loved ones. The governing body of Armenia however, takes all this largesse for granted, plays on our emotions and demands more and more help without consulting diaspora leadership on important decisions that they make. They invite some extremely generous donors to wine, dine and decorate with medals. Appointing a representative to be a liaison between the homeland and the diaspora they assume will satisfy everyone. On occasion they will declare a world Armenian conference with thousands of people and this showcase becomes a circus. They sent Diaspora Armenians a clear message: give money, not advice.

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The governing body of Armenia has attempted and succeeded in doing everything possible to make Yerevan a glittering adventureland full of bars, four-star restaurants, boutiques and an atmosphere full of lights, music, laughter, dance and frills. Indeed, they succeeded in creating a hydra which blinks its millions of lights all the while leaving villages and hamlets in abject darkness, poverty, sickness, unemployment, homelessness, pain and suffering.

Diaspora Armenians did not even know where Karabagh was located, let alone how to spell it. But yet Karabaghtsies took center stage. The first president of the Republic of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosian of Yerevan, a seasoned intellectual, charismatic, highly respected orator and linguist, was elected and re-elected for a second term but resigned in disgust due to a hostile political environment of protests and in-fighting. Robert Kocharian from Karabagh was elected and reelected as president under a political cloud. After serving two terms, we presently have Serge Sargisian from Karabagh surrounded by all his political friends from Karabagh. So many Armenians in the diaspora are wondering what is so special for Karabaghtsies to control Armenia?

To add insult to injury, even the official government admits that during the period of independence, some 1,300,000 left the homeland to seek security, comfort and happiness elsewhere. Presently we have fewer Armenians than before our independence, with fewer young brains, fewer muscles and less potential. Is this progress or a cause for joy? Or is it cause for mourning, ashes and tears? The unfortunate part is that many more Armenians are ready to leave the homeland if they could find the ways and means to do so, always hypocritically singing, Hyastan kez bide chimoranam (“Armenia I will never forget you”).

Armenia has promises to keep and will do so. Its people are all educated, intelligent, innovative and industrious. They have proven their ability to survive. They also have a loving, strong diaspora which cherishes the homeland and is ready to help in the name of a future that will banish these dark pages. They simply want to make sure that official bodies do not take this huge reservoir of love and caring for granted and consult with diaspora leadership before taking decisions that would decide the future fate of the homeland.

All Armenians around the world respect independent Armenia as it fills all Armenians will pride, sweetness, respect, awe and love. Its president, Serge Sargisian included, is the answer to centuries of our prayers and hopes and dreams of independence. He or any subsequent presidents, will be a waterfall of grace to cleanse the tortured mind and heart of all Armenians. That is the reason, the best reason, for an Armenian president not to be entangled with miserable details of ugly politics or to be smeared by slime, dirt and darkness of division, disunity and hatred. Nor, we all agree, should the president of Armenia govern with the authority of the nightstick or the bayonet.

After centuries of heaving, groaning and dying, we now have independence. But so far we have been unable to think or work in harmony. To paraphrase Jefferson, “Armenia belongs to all of us, not just a handful few.” After 20 years, it is therefore time to create an atmosphere of light and sunshine, and when it rains, Armenians should no longer feel they are tears of sorrow and pity for us but for serenity, happiness and gratitude.

(Nubar Dorian is a resident of Cliffside Park, NJ. He is active in the community, including as a Diocesan Delegate.)

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