BY GARO B. GHAZARIAN
Forty-one (41) years ago, while still a teenager, I left my birthplace of Beirut, Lebanon for the “promised land.” Alone I went, in search of my place on earth, for a better future for my family and me. No, I didn’t go North by North-East. My destination was not what was then Soviet Republic of Armenia. Back then, the tricolor flag I revered did not fly high in Yerevan like it had and still did—earlier this month—when I visited what was once my home in Bourj-Hamoud, just north of the Beirut River bridge, a few kilometers north from Republic Square in Beirut, and a few kilometers south of the Holy See—Կաթողիկոսութիւն Հայոց Մեծի Տանն Կիլիկիոյ—The Armenian Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia.
When I went West, leaving that Armenian enclave in Lebanon for the greener pastures of the promised land—the United States of America, I scoured the vast land from sea to shining sea. I lived in and compared the Armenian communities of America, from Philadelphia to Chicago, to Los Angeles, and finally, I settled in sunny Southern California. It was the closest thing to home which up to then was the beloved epicenter of all things Armenian to me. It was a stone throw away from the warm waters of the Mediterranean Sea. It was all its hot and muggy streets. My home was among the warm and brave-hearted Armenians of Bourj-Hamoud.
So why then today, 41 years after I have stopped living there, and after spending many a decade since then feeling a sense of a not belonging to anywhere more than Bourj-Hamoud, where by all accounts, I had plucked myself away from, leaving behind family, comrades, classmates and childhood friends, that it is now Yerevan, and no longer Beirut, it is now Artsakh more than Ainjar, that are on my mind. Why is it that today, Armenia, the free and independent Republic of Armenia, quite a bit east of Glendale, California, is where so many who hail from different diasporan communities and their children, like my children, look to, as our “promised land”?
The answer lies in the images seen by the world over 16 months ago: Armenia as the “Ambassador of creativity, of strength, of courage, and of determination.”
That is what Armenia became on April 23, 2018. After years of protests and civil discontent, after rigged parliamentary elections and a stolen presidential election as recently as in 2013, followed by a double-downing with constitutional changes to perpetuate an authoritarian rule, the people of Armenia and Armenians in the diaspora rejected what was seemingly an endless state of disenfranchisement of the people. Armenia became the “promised land” for the many, the faint at heart as well as those who never stopped believing in the power of its people to bring about and affect change for the better. It became the “promised land” because of the positive strength of its people, due to their positive engagement, and thanks to the encouragement of its people, both in the homeland and in the diaspora.
In the spirit of the ideas of the Velvet Revolution, people saw the positive in each other’s step, rallied as one, propelling and spreading the spirit of a movement aptly referred to as “My Step,” marched for days on end, gathered over and over again, and chanted “We are the ‘owner’ of our country!” — «Մենք ենք տէրը մեր երկրի»:— “Menk enk ‘dereh’ mer Yergri.”
What then changed since April 23, 2019 on the eve of the 103rd commemoration of the Armenian Genocide and a month shy of the 100th anniversary of Armenia’s 1st republic in the modern era, the resilience of its people of May 28, 1918 and the triumph over the tragic calamity of our genocide? Why are Armenians today treated to and preached by some about “cause for pause,” and reasons to be disenchanted, disappointed, and sad? Why do those who speak and write about all which they are pained by, seem to hold onto the notion that today, 16 months after April 23, 2018, the glass is empty, not half empty, but completely empty?
The answer to those and many other questions depends on how one looks at Armenia today, beyond the euphoria and past the adrenaline rush produced by the “fiercely rising Armenians” in April of 2018.
Looking at the New Armenia of today, it is not all that difficult to see “a half a glass of water.” It is neither a completely empty glass, nor is it an entirely full glass of water. And though it is only half full, it is—at the same time—not half empty. It’s all about the size of the glass we are putting the water in. Armenia is still the same “promised land” the world witnessed in the spring of 2018. It is that and more, but only if we want to be.
You see, it’s all about where each of us are coming from. At the core of the common expression in the proverbial phrase—“is the glass half empty or half full?”— is not a question, but rather, it is an invitation for each of us to rhetorically take out our measuring sticks. How each of us interprets how full is a glass of water, is an indication that a particular situation is a cause for optimism or pessimism for us. It is a simple exercise, a general litmus test, to reveal our individual views on all things in life.
Studies have shown that 50% of optimism is due to genetics, 10% is due to circumstances of one’s life, and 40% is derived from our mindset which, is in our grasp. While genetics is beyond our control, our circumstances and our mindset are entirely in our purview to change, if only our predisposition to pessimism is evicted from our birds-eye view of Armenia.
But shedding of pessimism and the rust in a human’s soul requires engagement. Engagement is the single most empowering energy and positive step we can take towards making a contribution to—and changing of—the status quo for our homeland, for our diaspora, and for our people.
Engagement is beyond merely visiting Armenia each summer, and it is much more than singing songs of worthy praise for our revolutionary heroes of the past. It is being one with Armenia and its people. It is living the words of the songs we sing with optimism. It is optimism which drove our heroes about whom we sing and hold in high regard. And we do it decades after they’ve long been gone. Why are they still remembered today? Because at some point in their lives, they took the kind of action which could only have been undertaken while infused with optimism and hope for a better tomorrow. They are hailed to this day as heroes because of the tangible results they produced with nothing more than a healthy dose of optimism, of belief, and of behavior mirroring such belief. So why not truly remember our heroes and pay homage to their sacrifices? I’m speaking of those who are praised by us in our homes and at our community events, those who our children sing about in summer camps and in youth group sessions the world over. If we, like our heroes once did, start believing in the possibility for a better today than yesterday, and hope for a brighter tomorrow than yesteryears, we will all fare better. A commensurate constructive behavior follow suit, and we will instinctively resist all talk of “us and them,” and all chatter about “black and white.”
Time to put aside all such thoughts and nonsensical talk of “black and white.” Time to focus on what our tricolor “Red, Blue, and Orange” means, and oh yes, it’s also time to see “green.” A green light, to talk about and to engage in solutions. Time to talk about “we, us, the future, and solutions.” Let us stop whining about “the past, problems, failures and doomsday.” Don’t we know that it is really not about the past? It is about the future. Is it about failures, or is it about successes? Don’t we know that success begets success and sorrow begets sorrow?
Yes, yes, I hear the voices of the cynics now, dismissing these thoughts as naive. Yet, it must be said: it is all about trust in our institutions and nothing other than trust, whether it be government, or be it opposition to government. I’m referring to “true trust,” not the kind which is borne out of a “blind loyalty,” and the type that is devoid of healthy—and transparent—debate of ideas.
For some time now we are being fed with fear. “Beware of Nikol,” “beware of Soros,” “beware of Kocharyan,” “beware of the old regime mounting a comeback,” “beware of Russia,” “beware of the US and the Western influence,” “beware of the Istanbul Convention,” and “beware, beware, and while you’re at it, beware a little bit more.” At this rate, we will soon be asked to heed a call of “beware of our own shadows!” And while reality remains the reality, we the people are fed a steady diet of fear. Fear of the unknown and fear of that which we are told is the reality, regardless of whether it does or does not bare any resemblance to reality. All we are fed these days is a steady message of fear and distrust. These messages have intended and unintended consequences of killing that which is the opposite of fear and distrust: Hope!
It is up to each of us, individually and collectively to make a choice: are we living in times of crisis or in times of opportunity for us Armenians?
It’s no secret that pessimists make more noise, preach about cause for concern and the urgency of being displeased. But more than being pleased with a decision or, a choice made or rejected in our homeland today, our overall sense of being “pleased” with or “displeased” about anything “Armenia-centric,” is but a sliver in the formula for our success as a nation. The overwhelming force and the number one priority for our people, for our nation’s success and growth is “freedom.” Freedom to make choices, to have a “say so” and a role in the path being carved for us.
Let’s not complain about people—leaders in government or opposition—for who they are or are not, or for how we see and perceive them to be. Let’s change ourselves. If disengaged, become engaged. If engaged, make sure we are informed, sufficiently informed, in the matters with which we are engaged. Disinformation in an era of “fake news” is infectious. These days, a headline seldom is representative of the article it precedes. The substance in everything, much like an article, is in the body of work, it’s in the article and not in the headline itself. The sound-bite pounded over and over again into our ears until we are rendered deaf to all rhyme or reason, may or may not be the truth. When our perceptions are fed with infuriating information that we have no independent knowledge of, it’s easy to transform that perception into our reality, regardless of it being true or false. Engage and remain engaged. It is the antidote to disinformation and the key to knowledge of all things relevant to us as a nation.
So, are the glasses half-empty or half-full on the Armenian breakfast tables this morning? Well, here’s an idea: do not look. In fact, we should all stop staring at the proverbial glass of water and instead focus on our own efforts or the lack thereof thus far. It is our efforts which have produced the contents of our glasses. If we want progress, and if meaningful change is what we’re after, then let’s go about and double our efforts. We will surely produce twice the gains made thus far, and we shall reap the benefits of twice the substance in our respective glasses.
What are we afraid of? An overflowing glass and some slippage of water on the breakfast table? We should be so lucky. And what do you know? We actually are. We are as lucky and as blessed as we choose to be. A life of choices, evaluated and made, produces a life of consequences. It quenches our collective thirst for progress, and it produces a “glass” which is eternally full.
Here’s to focusing on what we can become, not what we were—or what we are yet not—as a nation. Let us fill our glasses to the brim, and bring to life, the words of the song ringing in my ear: “Letsnenk ungerner pajagnereh li. — «Լցնենք ընկերներ բաժակները լի…»: “Friends, let’s fill our glasses to the brim.”
Yes, let’s do all of that. But, before we raise our glasses in a salute, let us each do a little more of the heavy lifting for our communities, for our people, and for our nation. There’ll be plenty of time later for singing, and for toasting. More work begets a ripening of a toast. And when that toast ripens, we’ll all raise our glasses, not the ones that are half-empty or half-full. Because then, and only then, most assuredly, we shall raise our glasses—our full and overflowing glasses, and in unison we will utter the words, loud and proud:
“Getseh Hayasdaneh”—«Կ‘եցցէ Հայաստանը»: Long Live Armenia!