Questions on the Raison d'Etre of an Armenian School Education

This letter to the editor appeared in the June 1999 issue of the now-defunct "AIM" magazine in response to an editorial, "Questions on the Raison d'Etre of an Armenian School Education." A whole decade went on, but some of the issues raised in the letter seem relevant to us and, we hope, will look relevant to the readers.

Lots and lots of proper questions were timely raised concerning the reasons for an Armenian school education today. The lack of a proper debate about this subject in the post-independence period is acutely felt. Everyone who attended an Armenian school in the Eastern or Western Diaspora before the 1988-1991 movement can testify that nothing is as it used to be.
Without trying to address all the questions raised in your editorial view, I want to refer to the "most fundamental question of all," because it contains some disturbing and equivocal thoughts, in my opinion.
You say: "Are Armenian schools necessary or even supportable given the existence of an independent Armenia?" The answer is of course YES, and this affirmative is conditioned by a lot of factors, from the most elemental one: Without Armenian schools, it seems like a dream to think of preserving the Diaspora as a living entity. And if the Diaspora is not preserved as a living entity, then thinking from an entirely utilitarian point of view, independent Armenia would lose its most immediate "market" in the near future.
You say: "If it was the Armenian language or culture we were preserving, Armenia does that much more effectively." But it was not just the Armenian language or culture we were preserving (and trying to develop, a word so frequently absent from any rational discourse about the Diaspora). It is a thinking system, an identity of its own, which Armenia does not (and cannot) preserve, let alone do it "much more effectively." We are preserving and trying to develop a Western Armenian heritage, turned into a Diasporan one--quite different in certain ways from the Eastern Armenian one. This is not to say we have a practice a dissociation between Armenia and the Diaspora just for the sake of it, but to take into account such realities when exploring ways to reconcile disparaging situations.
Bearing this in mind, "one extended summer vacation in Armenia" cannot "take care of that worry." Someone who speaks, reads and writes Armenian as a living language does not need to take such a vacation --if he can afford it-- to improve his knowledge of... Eastern Armenian. He just needs to develop the consciousness of being the carrier of a way of communication, of a living heritage. And that is impossible, in its ultimate way, out of an Armenian school, even for those who cannot attend it for whatever reason. "You have the duty to save the language and the culture of the Armenians. . . Words and languages correspond to different ways of feeling and of conceiving the world, and if you lose a language, you lose that way," Jorge Luis Borges once said. If we do not want to commit suicide, then let's think of the proper ways to find the proper answers to proper questions.
Vartan Matiossian

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