Six years ago, it was the euphoria of Gank, bidi mnank. I remember reflecting on the Centenary of the Armenian Genocide in a mood of extreme pride and jubilation, of nonchalance almost. Yes, there were countless unresolved issues regarding the welfare and the future of our homeland, but there was also the certainty that nothing could hinder our determination to keep on. Armenians around the world were celebrating a hundred years of the triumph of life over death. The mood was one of “rebirth from ashes.” We had the luxury to “remember and demand.” The systematic attempt to wipe a people off the face of this planet had failed. Nothing could threaten our identity as Armenians. We would get what we wanted. Our ongoing creativity evidenced it. History was clearly on our side.
Then something terrible happened. History changed course. In September 2020 the Azerbaijanis, with the support of Turkey, attacked the Armenians living in the mountainous enclave we call Artsakh. The horror of the massacres and the deportations of the years 1915-1919 was, once again, unfolding right before our eyes. In forty-four days we lost over four thousand lives, a significant part of our territory, and had to sign a most humiliating cease-fire agreement. It felt as if the natural course of things had reversed. Instead of moving forward towards the good and the just, as history must, we were reverting to a reign of evil. The beast had taken over.
We now find ourselves in the defendant’s seat, needing to argue that the mass murder of one and a half million Armenians living in Ottoman Turkey in the First World War years was the crime of genocide, committed under the pretext of deportation. Also, despite the piling evidence that what occurred in the recent Artsakh War — along with the ongoing vandalizing and desecration by Azerbaijan of our cultural artifacts and religious monuments — is ethnic cleansing, we have to go to Human Rights Courts to “prove” that the destruction of entire villages and the aerial attacks on the civilian population was a genocidal act.
Human Rights Organizations don’t seem to be able to do much to stop the perpetrators in their violations of right and law. To all appearances, the international community has compromised on its moral obligation. Perhaps they have chosen not to intervene because, to borrow renowned critic Edward Said’s words, we are not “worthy victims.” If the courts are “useless” one could argue, why not proceed as though the verdict has been pronounced in our favor? To say that the world is against us and to despair would be an invitation to doom. Constantly invoking our defeat and focusing on our, only a few months ago non-existent, existential fears would paralyze us.
Indeed, the deep shock of our military defeat could be a source of inspiration. Pain is known to enhance one’s perceptions and one’s imagination. Artists have used their life-changing illnesses to tap into their creativity, making their pain part of their “recovery.” We too could use our calamity to keep going forward, with even more determination.
Most amazing in our current reality is the ability of Armenians to go about their daily business as though nothing has happened. There is a sense of “normalcy” in the country. We read about the national soccer team’s surprising lead in the World Cup Qualifying Games. We also read about a beauty from Vanadzor participating in the upcoming Miss Universe Pageant. Armenian designers are featured in Vogue Italia. Three new collectors’ coins have been released by Armenia’s Central Bank. The Armenian rap group, Orinak, have started a program in a village in Artsakh to teach local kids to rap. On March 27, Armenia celebrated International Theatre Day “with proper pomp and circumstance fit for the occasion,” writes Gerald Papasian from Yerevan. The list grows longer every day. These are not matters of urgency or of emergency. Folks engage in such activities only when they can claim a stable, prosperous, and peaceful everyday life.