Kristi Rendahl

I’ve noticed a disconcerting trend recently. People across the Armenian World have been saying, “If Armenia is going to survive, then…” The sentence is generally concluded with a shake of the head and instruction to no one in particular that something needs to be done. In conversations from Salt Lake City to New York City, people are wondering aloud what it will take for the Republic of Armenia to survive.
After 20 years of long-awaited independence, is it possible that people are using if-then statements about Armenia’s prospects for survival? (I ask this with a most incredulous tone in my mind’s voice.)
Yes, I understand the threats the nation faces. At the center of a geopolitical nightmare, the 12 million stateless people in the world understand better than I ever could. A steady out-flow of educated professionals and would-be entrepreneurs threatens the intellectual capital of the country. The business climate suffers due to internal corruption as much as a lack of access to markets. Times are tough and things aren’t getting easier.
But I won’t accept a viewpoint that sounds dangerously close to resignation. The notion that Armenia may not survive is patently unacceptable!
The term itself makes me uncomfortable. In its most basic usage, it means to keep from dying. I carry a winter survival kit in my car each year, filled with high-protein snacks and a warm blanket to prevent my body from becoming a frozen rigid corpse if I’m stranded in a ditch. It will not help me live and thrive—it will merely prevent (or prolong) death.
When I think of survival, I think of the very bottom level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I think of Somalis fleeing drought and violence to live in over-crowded refugee camps that lack sufficient food and water. I think of Sara Anjargolian’s book How We Live: Life on the Margins in Armenia.
No, survival shouldn’t be a word that comes up often.
Defeat isn’t always fast and furious. It can be slow and silent, a result of the little decisions we make each day. I believe that the words we use matter. Setting the bar at survival is like placing the limbo pole at eye level. It creates a sad story of low expectations and apathy. Even mediocrity would be better.
There are those in Armenia and across the Armenian World who have demonstrated excellence. You probably think I mean the likes of Paruyr Sevak and Komitas and Parajanov, but excellence isn’t just a thing of the past.
The Armenian chess team took home the gold medal at the “Yinzhoo Cup” 2011 World Team Chess Championship in July, beating out populous powerhouses like Russia and China. Rug maker, hotelier, and restaurateur James Tufenkian has tapped into the skills of Armenian artisans, chefs, and architects to fashion top-quality carpets and a luxury boutique hotel chain. Made by several Armenians under the age of 25, “Neighbors,” a first-of-its-kind documentary film about two villages separated by the river that is the border between Armenia and Turkey, was premiered in Istanbul in April of this year. Repatriate Tom Samuelian produced an exquisite translation of Naregatsi’s prayers as well as scads of (free) linguistic and cultural resources at arak29.am.
If we are to put the if-then survival sentiment to bed, then we must have something better to replace it. Aristotle taught us that “Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
The people I describe above did not achieve excellence by limiting their views of the future through a lens of mere survival. That would be a rather shortsighted approach, and one that creates endless excuses for inaction. Instead, theirs is a viewpoint of possibility, of a thriving Armenia, of what once was and can be again.

"The Armenian Weekly," August 4, 2011

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