BY MARIA TITIZIAN
“Produce great men, the rest follows.” Walt Whitman
Armenia’s demographic landscape is changing; modern-day warriors are emerging. These warriors are not engaged in battle or warfare but exemplify a different kind of courage and daring, one that demands unfaltering commitment and love to our collective concept of homeland.
When the impossible dream of independence unfolded before us we were forced to reinvent ourselves as a people and as a nation. Never before in our recent history had we been handed an opportunity so full of hope yet rife with so many pitfalls. The road that has led us to where we find ourselves today as a nation has been daunting – we have stumbled and erred.
When the gunfire subsided in Karabakh, we were left with a fragile peace. When the cold and dark years subsided we were left with its bitter aftertaste. When Armenians began leaving the country in unprecedented numbers, we were left with a crippled population. And when the ambitious call of Tebi Yergir didn’t materialize, we were left with a divide we didn’t know how to bridge.
We were and continue to be a nation divided by geography, culture, and even language.
Today, however, these new warriors are writing the new and living story of what it means to be an Armenian in an independent country. They are ordinary men and women doing extraordinary things, making small changes, which cumulatively can have a lasting and meaningful effect. They are the warriors who took up the call to arms and took that giant leap of faith; they are the modern-day repatriates.
For the past two decades Armenians from different continents, from diverse social and economic backgrounds have been making the final leg of their life’s journey to Armenia.
Their stories cannot be found in books or chronicles, there is very little written about their daily struggles, the challenges they must overcome and their personal and communal victories.
Whether they are helping to improve the lives of children or the disabled, or contributing to the empowerment of their country by elevating, with their education and knowledge, democratic governance, or unveiling cultural stigmas and corruption or whether they are simply working to get by, their very existence on the ground has a meaning, which we have yet to qualify and appreciate.
Some have come to reconnect with their lost heritage, some to volunteer for a few months, others have come for an adventure or perhaps to escape and start with a clean slate, but most have come with the promise, however idealistic that may be, to help create a new Armenia.
They are helping to bridge the existing disconnect between the Diaspora and the Homeland. They are the conduits of change and hope. They are in the unique position to simultaneously understand the dilemmas and challenges of what it means to be in a permanent state of displacement on the one hand and endlessly struggling to tear off decades of Soviet rule and influence, on the other.
It is true that these modern repatriates can often be found commiserating about the current state of affairs of the country. It is also true that they argue with customs officials, shudder at the thought of going to the passport office (OVIR), bristle with agitation at the lack of service in some business establishments, wonder why some people just can’t understand that laws are meant to be applied equally to everyone regardless of rank and stature, are embarrassed by some strange local customs and can even be found scratching their heads in frustration at the blatant absurdity floating all around them. But their complaints come with a sense of ownership and responsibility and entitlement.
They are not martyrs or heroes, either. They are not carving out the land with their bare hands to make it fertile. They are not building state institutions from the ground up. They are not living without the basic amenities. Their children are not suffering from poverty or hunger. While they struggle daily with issues related to health and education and endless traffic infractions, most are also living a privileged life. No one said you had to be a martyr or a hero to serve your country.
All that is required is the courage to love it enough.
Many of my repatriate friends are working on groundbreaking programs and initiatives. While they may sometimes be vocal, they are not concerned with self-promotion. Many have been working quietly, under the radar, for months and years on projects they believe in. Each has his or her own unique talent and ability and they are maximizing their potential to unbelievable new heights.
It is an honor and a privilege to know them. They are the pioneers of the movement to repatriate; they are the visionaries who are helping to enact policies that will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of their compatriots; they are builders, engineers, lawyers, environmental activists, businesspeople, political activists, farmers, advocates for women’s rights, for the disabled, for the poor. They instill hope and promise and they deliver.
There are the two Laras – fearless women who moved to Armenia with their husbands, had babies in Armenian hospitals, who send their children to Armenian schools and live and work with passion, compassion and bravado. They are Diasporan women serving as examples to other women in the homeland who have lost their voice.
There are the Raffis – the husbands of the Laras who are spearheading new programs, developing ideas and helping to create an environment where families can live and work and feel privileged.
There is Nigol and Zabelle and Silva and Kevork who have moved to the homeland, set up businesses and provided employment for people so that they may lead an honorable life by providing for their families.
There is Ivan and Shari, who are new to this roster of repatriates but are already working in different sectors of Armenian society, enacting fundamental change and sparking a new kind of hope.
There is Giro and Salpi and Alex who are not only brilliant but are helping to change the political and social landscape of this country, each in his or her own unique way.
There is Der Ktrij and Yerestgin Paula who help administer our spirits and rekindle our souls.
There is Shakeh who is so brave that her very presence can move you to tears.
And then there are our children, who on a daily basis bear witness to the empowerment of the Motherland.
There are more of us. But there are even more of you. What are you waiting for?
Maria Titizian is a writer and editor, and a repatriate from Canada, who holds the seat of Vice President of Socialist International.