Where’s the glue to repair our shattered mug?
Published: Saturday October 11, 2008 in Living in ArmeniaYerevan -
When you glue a broken mug together, can you use it again? Depends on how it was broken - into large shards or shattered into dozens of little pieces. And even if you can use it, is it ever the same?
After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, many new countries were created. Not that most of them hadn't existed for centuries, some even for millennia. But they were finally free and independent. Europe didn't know how to deal with these newly created states, nor did the rest of the world, nor did the countries themselves.
What had been stifled, broken and mangled had to be put back together again. Democracy, an economic system, free-market capitalism or social democracy, a legal system, a political system, and a value system. But a vacuum was created and each individual country had to reconfigure all the elements of what it meant to be a country once again in charge of its people and its future.
It has increasingly become apparent, at least in the case of Armenia, that most elements of running a country can be put back together again, even if they are nowhere near perfection. Many things still remain unresolved, like the Karabakh conflict, our relationship with our neighbors, the establishment of democratic ideals and principles, freedom of speech, a sound economic system that doesn't smack of neo-liberalism, the eradication of poverty, and the protection of civil liberties, to name a few.
Armenia has been slow, sometimes achingly slow, to find solutions to the very complex issues that continue to thwart its development. This past year has been especially difficult. Between the presidential elections, the riots, the war in Georgia, and the tentative steps being taken with Turkey, we have had our plate pretty full of internal and external challenges and threats. Many heated debates have taken place about all of these issues. The one thing we have failed to discuss has been the decimation of a value system, and the void it has left behind. I sometimes wonder where the morality of this country has gone. I also wonder how many generations need to come and go before we are able to formulate a new system of values that above all ensures social justice.
A seemingly lax moral code, and a perverse code of conduct dominates in Armenia. Being above the law by having a "roof," i.e. someone in a position of power who has your back, is not seen as being shady, unfair, or something to be ashamed of; it gives you special ranking not only among your circle of friends but in the greater community. Cheating on exams and getting away with it, cheating the water company, the gas company, the electric company, evading taxes, shortchanging the parking attendant, abusing employees by making them work 24-hour shifts, or denying them benefits, paying off teachers and civil servants. All in a day's work.
A code of conduct is created and defined by society, religion, philosophy, or individual conscience; I wonder how our communal value system rates. That is not to say that absolute morality exists anywhere else; perhaps it does, perhaps it doesn't. I am tired of searching for a humanity that I naively once thought existed.
How does Armenian society define appropriate activity today? How did Armenian society define appropriate activity during the Soviet era? Is what we're experiencing in Armenia today a result or remnants of the Soviet value system, or is it a sign of a cultural and moral decline after its collapse? While rebuilding the country, establishing a new moral code fell to the wayside as more important things were being decided. Now that there is relative normalcy in our daily existence, we are facing serious social dilemmas in Armenia.
Every personal experience in the diaspora is defined by the individual's narrative - where they grew up, where they were educated, their family life, etc. To say that any single one is the rule and not the exception would be untrue. However, if we generalize as much as we are allowed to, then my moral code was dictated by the fact that I was an Armenian. My parents and even my community never forgot to remind me that because I was Armenian, I had to be better, smarter, more proper, and there was an unwritten code of conduct that applied only to us. By differentiating us they were protecting us from the mainstream which they saw as a threat. In the process we developed a ghetto mentality. However, for my generation, in the particular Armenian community where I grew up, this is how we evolved.
To get most things accomplished in Armenia, you have to know someone in a position of power and influence, or at the very least someone who knows someone in a position of power and influence. When you become a member of the National Assembly in the country in order to protect or further your business interests, then something is seriously wrong in the country. When you can murder someone and get away with it because the prosecutor comes from the same village you do, and he will "protect" you, then something is seriously wrong in the country. When you are accused of attempted rape, and the lover of the victim in question decides vigilantism is the order of the day and sends his goons to kill you, you place your friends in harm's way, one of them is murdered, and then you are free to continue your daily activities, then something is wrong in this country.