Nation-Building is Not a Spectator Sport

Maria Titizian
A friend who recently returned from abroad conveyed that many Armenians in the Diaspora are frustrated and fed-up with the shenanigans of our government. They are tired of hearing about corruption, monopolies, poor governance, rigged elections and an overall lack of vision and policy.
National pride it seems is eroding, after all, no one wants to be associated with a country that is failing its people and its potential. That frame of mind, if it is true, is not only troubling, it is also counter-productive to the work at hand. Living and working thousands of miles away from Armenia probably makes it much easier to disengage from the processes necessary for nation-building but no one said it was going to be easy.
And meantime in Armenia, the Soviet experience still continues to exact its damage on the very concept of statehood. The independence generation is trying to break free from those chains by devising, imagining and writing a new narrative. They are doing so in a vacuum, without guidance and leadership, without a compass or a historical experience of statehood. They don’t have the luxury of a healthy political discourse from which to draw upon and form their own personal beliefs; there is a distorted value system that places money and power ahead of integrity and honor; there is intolerance and bigotry everywhere.
Even in this conglomeration of skewed perceptions and systems, there is so much passion and sense of ownership among the new generation of activists in our country. I have the privilege of knowing and working with many of them. I often watch them with awe and amazement. Sometimes they are right on the mark in terms of their demands and actions and sometimes they are led astray by a lack of understanding. I told one young activist that I would die for her passion, but that she had to be able to differentiate between her desire for the collapse of this regime and the very concept of statehood.
When we reject the national anthem because we associate it with those who hold the levers of power, when we refuse to take part in the celebration of the 2795th anniversary of Yerevan because it was spearheaded by Taron Margaryan, a mayor we presumably do not accept, it means that something is skewed in our thinking. Taron Margaryan is NOT Yerevan…Yerevan is our capital city, a place where for the past 3000 years we have existed. Yerevan and the very concept of Yerevan is much greater than a temporary politician or apparatchik who happens to be mayor. And the very symbols of statehood – the national anthem, the flag, the coat of arms and the constitution are supreme and indefensible. They do not belong nor are they the property of the ruling Republican Party, they belong to all Armenians, everywhere.
In democracies, the government is the servant of the state. Thereby, there is an inherent difference between the government or the regime and the state or statehood. Regimes do not possess sovereignty (the state is sovereign) nor do they hold original authority (authority lies in the constitution). Rather they have derivative powers delegated by the state via its constitution. Any power that a regime or a government possesses therefore is delegated and limited and more importantly, temporary.
What we are seeing more and more is the blurring of this very important distinction both in Armenia and the Diaspora. We are failing to see that Armenian statehood or the State of Armenia is an absolute value, far greater and of more value than the current ruling regime. Perhaps the day we stop calling the Armenian government a regime is the day we can say we are on the path to enlightenment.
The national symbols of statehood – the anthem, flag, coat of arms – are what bind us to our history and heritage. They represent us as a collectivity, an entity with shared values and common goals. They are icons of our existence and represent who we are as a nation. They can never be usurped by a group of individuals, or a political force or a specific interest group. They belong to each and every one of us. Protecting and cherishing those symbols therefore falls on all of our shoulders.
What I fear is that this new generation of activists, or perhaps the more appropriate term for them is citizens of the Republic of Armenia, are so disenchanted with the regime, are so angry with the state of their lives, are so frustrated at the slow pace of change, that their very mission might go astray.
It is the responsibility of all of us to make sure that they stay on message, that they differentiate who the so-called enemy is from the value of statehood. None of us living here in Armenia or in the Diaspora have the luxury of knowing how to govern ourselves within a sovereign state. We do not have the legacy, heritage and experience that would have given us the tools to ensure our survival and the very viability of our republic. It just means we have to work harder, be more patient, more adamant, more committed, less full of blame at each other and the region or the world. It means we have to roll up our sleeves, employ all of our energy and potential to make this experiment called Armenia work. After all, nation-building is not a spectator sport.

"Asbarez," October 28, 2013

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