Tigran Khzmalyan 
Co-Chairman, European Party of Armenia 

An Armenian Trap 
(Several observations about the discussion paper “At the Crossroads”)
The subject under study, as well as the format of the discussion led to several conclusions that I would like to share with the authors and readers. 

I’ll start with the latter. One of the most ancient problems of literature, whether religious, historical, scientific, or entertaining, is the selection of the reader: a follower, researcher, or a client. The peculiarity of the text being commented on is that it, in the person of its authors (and due to the openness of the format, it includes both readers and commentators), is at the same time the material, the potential creator of the discourse, the client, and the sought-for performer of the task. Meantime, it is necessary to demonstrate intellectual courage to overcome false political correctness and directly name the target audience of this text – it is the Armenian national elite: something that exists only by Kantian definition as a “thing in itself”, which is intended, necessary and is still to become “a thing for Others ", that is, to fulfill its mission and become itself.  

I will repeat the observation made when discussing the text on July 6, 2019 in the Matenadaran. It seems completely natural that both the founders of this project, Ruben Vardanyan and Noubar Afeyan, are prominent representatives of foreign elites (and precisely from two superpowers, Russia and the United States) who made an existential decision to transform into carriers and generators of new and genuine Armenian elite. In this context, it is needless to remind that the political, economic, military, and intellectual leaders who were governing Armenia in the last quarter of a century (as well as in the three quarters before that) were not at all a national elite. Moreover, they made considerable efforts to deform and eliminate positive mechanisms of the public selection of a genuine national elite. (I will allow myself to put my own non-academic definition of the described social institution in parentheses as a group of people whose personal interests and ambitions coincide with the state ones, and do not replace them, as it happened in Armenia.) 

The reason for this deplorable phenomenon is also not a state secret – it is that the power stratum was, and to a large extent still remains, the product and carrier of the ideology of the colonial dependence of Armenia on Russia in its tsarist, Soviet or present incarnation. Accordingly, the hostility and intolerance of this old “colonial elite” to the manifestations and needs of a genuinely national ideology (political, military, economic, linguistic) and its natural carrier – Armenian statehood – was, and remains, the inevitable consequence of its passive conformism, active collaborationism, and the instinct of self-defense and the mechanism of self-preservation accompanying them due to the destruction and/or repression of the true national elite. It is clear that the emergence of the latter is most conducive to the military-political crises of the metropolis. Thus, it is no coincidence that both attempts to restore Armenian independent statehood in 1917 and 1991 were the result of the collapse, first, of the Russian Empire, then the USSR. There is no reason to doubt that the third attempt to recreate sovereign Armenia will be associated with the current weakening and international isolation of Putin’s Russia. Therefore, the efforts of individual members of the national elite are especially important and valuable (especially since they emphasize their status not ABB, Armenian by birth, but ABC, Armenian by choice) to develop a national rescue program, to find ways of developing and preserving the statehood of the country in advance, before the onset of a critical situation of decay, as it happened in the previous cases. 

And here, after the forced digressions, let’s turn to the thesis of the “Armenian trap”, of which I would like to warn the respected colleagues and like-minded people. In this context, we call with such an incongruous term the mutual alienation of the nation from its elite periodically repeated in our history and the difficulty of their consolidation, which is not, of course, exclusively an Armenian phenomenon, but in our case it has an extremely dramatic character with tragic consequences. I’ll try to explain my vision of the causes of this phenomenon. As it often happens, the disadvantages are a continuation of the virtues brought to the extreme. The recognized characteristics of the Armenian ethnos from ancient times were its high adaptability to the surrounding socio-political environment and a tendency toward modernization – cultural and economic innovation reforms. 
In their extreme manifestations, these features, as we know, turned into mass assimilation in a foreign environment and a high degree of internal stratification of the Armenian society according to property, confessional, party and other differences. In principle, this is by no means an “exclusively Armenian” either, but if we compare our case with historically and geographically close and familiar examples: Jews and Georgians, it is the crisis of the national elite that can explain the phenomenon that we conditionally called “An Armenian Trap”. Like the Jews and unlike the Georgians, Armenians relatively early renounced feudalism and, by advancing urbanization of a significant part of the ethnos, moved to the bourgeois stage of national existence in the face of the loss of their own statehood. At the same time, the Armenians achieved outstanding success in the adaptive development of national diasporas and the rooting of trade and craft communities and industrial and financial capital in Constantinople and Moscow, Tbilisi and Baku, Kolkata and Julfa, Tabriz and Isfahan. The “trap” was set up in the Middle Ages and slammed shut in the early twentieth century, in a period of global crisis and the collapse of empires, world wars and genocide. Why, then, did not the adaptive merits and major economic successes of the Armenian communities and individuals been protected and accompanied by political and social mechanisms of the nation’s self-preservation in an environment that suddenly became hostile? The answer is harsh and simple: the reason is the weakness or lack of the only effective tool for self-defense – the Armenian national elite, which either switched to the side of the metropolis and the conquerors, or did not find the strength in itself to organize resistance. In both cases, we are dealing with the tragic discrepancy of the political, economic, military, religious, intellectual elite to its social purpose and spiritual mission – to be a leader, guideline, criterion and advocate for the nation in conditions of crises and disasters. 

Let us again turn to the comparison with the Georgian and Jewish experience, for by their examples one can trace the formation of two successful models for the creation and functioning of national elites. Our neighbors from the north used the unexpected advantage of having the remaining provincial quasi-aristocracy – seemingly an anachronistic relic of feudalism, an institution of property of small landowners – the independent princes and rural landowners. In the emerging vacuum of the collapse of the Russian empire, it was this stratum of educated aristocrats with a pronounced estate psychology and a sense of hereditary continuity that became the basis for the re-establishment of Georgian statehood. In a less operetta form, the same mechanism of responsibility of the elite for the fate of the country turned on in the late twentieth century, with the collapse of the USSR. The rootedness of the Georgian elite in their own land, often backed by and recognized by property rights continues to be an important anti-crisis potential at the present stage of Georgia’s development. 

Quite different are the mechanisms of the existence of the Jewish elite up until the creation of the state of Israel and even presently. Probably, the social institution of the rabbinate should be recognized as the main driving force of this process. The flexible network structure of the spiritual authorities of the nation, united by a strong tradition of confessional isolation, a sense of chosenness and a messianic orientation, created a completely unique structure of the national elite, permeating absolutely all strata of Jewish society: financial and industrial, scientific and literary, craft and agricultural communities. The rabbis had access and influence practically on all the classes of Jewry, and thanks to this intra-ethnic solidarity, and also because of the disastrous experience of the Holocaust, which cut off all other possibilities of survival, after World War II it was the national elite mobilized by religious rabbi teachers that became the strongest party and guarantor of the existence of the state of Israel. 

So, in the case of Georgia, we see an example of the re-establishment of statehood by the efforts and authority of the elite, formalized in part as an anachronistic feudal class – a remarkable experience, familiar to the world from the example of post-war Japan. 

In the case of Israel, we find another example of the creation of a state according to the project of the national elite, that was actualized by the spiritual authority of the rabbis and the national enthusiasm. 
In all the above examples, the elite began with the fundamental rejection of the advantages and benefits of comfortable conformism of the former metropolises for the sake of the political independence of the national state. It was the personal example and public service of the leaders that made the elite a moral authority and model for the nation. However, in all cases, the elites were created by the transition of spiritual, military, intellectual or economic leaders of society to the field of political resistance towards the colonial metropolis. It is this necessary and inevitable choice that the Armenian elite must make now, obliged to get out of the usual matrix of old imperial temptations and privileges and pass through the desert of anxieties and threats to the promised land of national independence. This path was shown by the authors of the book and the project, the outstanding representatives of the Russian and American business elites Nune Alekyan, Ruben Vardanyan and Noubar Afeyan. It remains that they themselves and their supporters in the business, political, and intellectual elites choose this path. There is no other way, all the rest is slyness, lies or illusions, which we have called the “Armenian trap”. 

In the case of Armenia, a way out is a breakup with imperial Russia, a way out of the Eurasian military-economic chains and entry into the European security system and the economic integration – into the EU and NATO. The European Party of Armenia is our political proposal for the national elite, choosing the path to the family of civilized countries, i.e. the ways of Armenia to Europe. The choice of Armenia, which is now at the crossroads or in dilemma – this is precisely how the name of this paper can be translated in a double-natured way.


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