Sona Haroutyunian
Professor, Ca’Foscari University of Venice, Italy

Ruben Vardanyan’s and Nune Alekian’s paper “At the Crossroads” aims at promoting a discussion and opening a thought-provoking debate among Armenians and non-Armenians, for the future of Armenia.

Being neither a political nor an international studies scholar, when I looked through the reviews of the specialists of the mentioned fields, I was surprised to read that some of them were criticizing the authors for the lack of the final answer. To my understanding, that is the real value of the paper. The authors are rather seeking than imposing a solution.

From my perspective, there can’t be THE vision towards Armenia’s Future or THE solution of its problems. There can be parallel or layered visions and, consequently, parallel or layered solutions. First of all, we need to take a metaphorical distance from our deeply-rooted stereotypes and issues to widen our vision and to re-approach them by passing this introspective view through the lens of the global positive practices, that of the countries where we reside, and to come to some commonly acceptable visions and solutions and to be able to think about long-lasting outcomes. Within this process of problem solving we have to understand what is our destination, as Mr. Vardanyan and Ms Alekian rightly notice by quoting Carrol and Seneca in the epigraph of the final chapter.

I’d like to briefly analyze the authors’ following sentence: “At present, we see ourselves not so much as descendants of the ancient people that contributed to world civilization but as a victim nation, capable only of sharing its pain with others and unable to devise a meaningful development agenda.” It comprises (at least) four ideas in it: a. We don’t see ourselves as an ancient civilization; b. We see ourselves as victims; c. We are capable only of sharing our pain with others; d. We are unable to devise a meaningful development agenda.

The point (a) is controversial: that’s partially true in an Armenian environment, while it is not true when the Armenians are within non-Armenians. In the latter case, we tend to emphasize (each of us with respect to their level of knowledge) that we are an ancient culture, that Yerevan is older that Rome, that we are the first Christian Nation, etc. The points (b)-(c) are strictly connected to the traumatic events at the beginning and at the end of the 20th century. I am referring to the Armenian Genocide, which is an open wound being not unanimously recognized, and to Sumgait. Hence, by sharing the trauma, psychologically we aim to increase the army of our sympathizers, to have them ‘by our side’ and not ‘to the other (Turkish/Azeri) side’. Finally, I have to agree with the point (d), which is sad.

One of the priorities of our national agenda is of course proper education. However, education alone within the “4 walls of the room” is not sufficient any more. It must be accompanied by the mobility of the younger generation. This is a real problem. Those of us who are in the academic system worldwide can bring a double contribution to Armenia: to share the knowledge through visiting professorships in Armenia and to contribute to students’ mobility through signing exchange programs between Armenian and their foreign institutions. One of the best examples of collaboration within recent years is the Erasmus+ International Credit Mobility. It is true, the coordinators have to go through a time-consuming paperwork which usually takes at least a year of preparation. But programs of this kind allow the Armenian students’ mobility with scholarships in the European Universities. Since 2015, Venice Ca’Foscari University has had a very successful exchange program with Yerevan State University. In Venice, we have already hosted 22 students for a semester and 4 professors from Armenia.

On the path of seeking a solution, the authors are individuating two parties: Armenia and the Diaspora. To my mind, without going through the definition of the diaspora – much has been written about it – we have to distinguish within the Diaspora at least two macro groups: post-Genocide diaspora and post-Soviet diaspora. In establishing a national agenda, a crucial role of moderator can be held by the post-Soviet Armenian diaspora as it has an in-between position between the Republic of Armenia and the post-Genocide diaspora. It derives from the first and is still firmly linked to it with the umbilical cord. On the other hand, it is transplanted and re-located within the second and tries to find its place within it. The newly formed Armenian diaspora consists of first- or second-generation emigrants and is in a position which can be compared to what the Indian American philosopher Homi Bhabha defines as Third Space, a place located somewhere between home and host countries, a space where you begin to be in contact with the new culture and to understand it but where your cultural diversity is not suppressed yet by the local culture and traditions.

From a linguistic point of view the book is written in a clear way. If the authors’ intention was to be understood also by the general public, they have succeeded in their task. If published, the Armenian text needs some stylistic revisions and there are some inconsistencies between Armenian and English texts.

In order to finish with an optimistic tone, I’d like to remind us about the Fori Imperiali of Rome, where one can see the maps of the Empire (II cen.) under Emperor Trajan. In contrast to its neighbors present on the map (such as Assyria, Cappadocia, etc.), the only country which both exists in the world with the same denomination and as an independent country, is Armenia. This is obliging but also encouraging to go ahead.


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