Alexander Iskandaryan
Director, Caucasus Institute, Yerevan 

I carefully read the discussion paper, some parts even not for once. Firstly, let me “propose a toast.” I read it not to please the authors. I know Ruben to say hello to, but I don’t know Nune at all, except for a single telephone conversation. Although, of course, much of what Ruben does in Armenia seems to me important and necessary, therefore, naturally, I could not refuse him. However, my main motivation was that I sincerely consider important the conversation on the topic that is the central theme of the paper. 

Who are we, where are we from, where and why are we going, what is possible and what cannot be done? The comprehension from the “bird’s-eye view” is a rarity in the modern Armenia and the diaspora, and believe it is bad. Political elites think in terms of weeks, months; the prospect of a few years is already not frequent. Whereas our intellectuals tend to speak emotionally, their reasonings about the fate of the country are more often attitudes, not rationalities. Even short-term decisions fail without prospects, I constantly get convinced of this. Thus, texts of this kind, in my opinion, are necessary and useful – thanks to both of the authors for it. 

Surely, I will not refer to the specific sections of the text, that is the editor’s business. But I will express my views on the text as a whole, and, for God’s sake, do not judge me, I will be honest – I think that is why I was asked to read the paper. In any case, I see no point in writing a panegyric. 

What I write will mainly concern the style and structure, not the meaning. I agree with some of the conclusions of the authors (perhaps with the majority), but not with others, yet, it does not matter. Controversy, in my opinion, is the merit of such texts, and not a weakness. 

Now let’s turn to my claims, for which I hope I was asked to speak out. 

In my opinion, the style of the discussion paper is too didactic. The authors set forth their vision, but it seems to me that it would be a better read if the text were an invitation to talk. The paper directly states this for several times: anthropocentricity is declared as a merit of both the text and, more broadly, of the modern society, but the views of the authors are set forth rather as some kind of ready-made scheme offered to the reader. I personally believe that it would be beneficiary for the text to be debatable. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to turn to the reader more often – both directly and implicitly, in approximately the way it is done in the afterword. It seems to me that it’s right for the paper to be a question, not an answer, an invitation to discussion and not a pointing finger. This does not mean at all that the authors should not verbalize what they have obviously hard-won, but the form should be more “interactive”. 

I liked the historical inserts (highlighted in the text), but it seems to me that the reasoning about the history outside the inserts could be reduced. The history still plays a supporting role in the paper and, perhaps, somewhat overloads it. Among other things, the history, and historiosophy in particular, cannot be isolated. I think it is not necessary to describe separately some plots of the Armenian history. The Armenian history is not a completely separate and all the more unique phenomenon. Many plots have analogs, thus talking about them without a comparative aspect is methodologically incorrect, and this is the specialists’ business, and, in my opinion, this kind of a paper doesn’t really need it. It seems to me that the authors’ view of some problems in the history of Armenia and Armenians needs to be express, for it is interesting and important; but nothing more, since the evidence base in such a book is simply impossible and unnecessary; it is a task of historical work. 

I would remove all the references to Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, the “2020” program, or “Wings of Tatev” from the paper. It looks like an advertisement – in my opinion, completely unnecessary. There are few people among Armenians who do not know about Ruben Vardanyan and his activities, and the information on specific projects does not add anything significant to reflections of such a serious scale, and also makes the book heavier. It seems to me that it would be for the paper’s benefit to be more compact. 

Meanwhile, I would strengthen the personal element which occurs only once in the insert “My Three Lives” on page 146 of the paper. Several such inserts, not just describing the personal experience of the authors, but inscribing this experience into attempts to explain the reality and the stage of development of society where we are now – illustrations, if you like – would make this discussion paper livelier and closer to the reader, and also more similar to a personal conversation. For instance, the insert “My Three Lives” contains not just a personal story, but also an extremely valuable understanding of the interestingness, uniqueness and significance of the time in which we live. Most often, in social discourses, modernity is perceived exclusively alarmingly, even catastrophically, and the fact that we live in an axial time for the fate of our nation is not fully realized. Ruben reminds of this not even through his biography, but through the perception of this biography in the context of the history. 

The central part of the paper for me was the discussion of network forms of development, the institutional form of decision-making and planning. I would definitely strengthen these segments. The point is not only and not so much in the volume, but it would be of benefit to more clearly and not for once present the authors’ theses. This is practically the main thesis offered to the reader for reflection. 

I am aware that my wishes are probably difficult to fulfill, even if one considers them constructive. I hope that they will not be perceived as fault-finding. My comments are rather structural, but I personally believe that this is what is important for the book to be read and make people contemplate. 

Do not judge me for being too critical. I repeat, I liked this paper; my criticality is just the result of this. The conversation you begin and do not end, I hope, with this book, seems to me acutely necessary. 


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