Monday, February 12, 2007

Letter to fall/winter '06 volunteers

December 20, 2006

Dear Volunteers,

I recall a discussion some of us had over dinner in November. We talked about how the informal societal pressures on citizens here are so great; about how for some, interactions have been reduced nearly to those of basic survival (do whatever you must to get something, anything); about how people with any kind of power (monetary, resources, violence, contacts) hold that power over others to keep what they have –thus resulting in a society that is immobile; about how there is fear in people preventing them to stand up against what has become a nearly feudalistic hierarchy; about our friend Krikor’s opinion that the only way out of this denigrating stagnation is massive social action whereby thousands of people refuse to put up with the status quo any longer.

Armenian people are known for creating their own support systems- in the absence of a properly functioning government, healthcare system, etc. people support one another. The social and familial ties are deep and profound. However, in the same breath, today they are destroying each other. Why? Because of fear. At a round-table discussion on social change in Armenia, a local Armenian activist told me that in his opinion, Armenian citizens feel that they finally have SOMETHING, and they are scared to death of losing what little bit they have managed to hold on to. When days of having nothing (NOTHING) are still in recent memory (it was only 10 years ago that my taxi driver Sako remembers carrying his daughter on his shoulders up 11 flights of stairs in ’93. He remembers vividly burning book, furniture, whatever they had in the house because there was no heat or gas, and not a day when the snow did not fall between November and March), it is impossible for average people to risk whatever little achievements they have made by now.

And THIS is exactly the importance of your presence here.

That same young activist impressed upon me that the best thing the diaspora can do is set up businesses here, be here, and challenge those immoral systems that are pervading society here today. Perhaps, a diasporan businessperson can open up a legitimately run business in Armenia, with the knowledge that more than likely he will lose money on this endeavor, or in the best-case scenario, break even. But if he or she is in any position to make such an investment without risking his own self and family’s security, then Armenia beseeches him to try because there is scarcely an Armenian citizen today who can afford this kind of loss. Because by running a legitimate business, employing people, and teaching them skills, etiquette and professional culture that is not based on cronyism or personal connections, one can start a critical ripple that can slowly but inevitably expand towards more social change, security, and a normal way of life for Armenian citizens.

This echoes a theme we talked about in our training session in October. As a diasporan, what you uniquely have is power in the form of resources: of your citizenship, of your personal contacts, of your security. This is why efforts like those of JL’s at fighting the corrupt hospital administration where he is volunteering are so enormous: the work he is trying to achieve could not be done by anyone else. It could not have been initiated by any of the local employees of the hospital who are under the powerful grip and influence of the hospital’s administration. They have too much too risk. By being an Australian citizen, with home and family continents away, with money and resources that he can fall back on in case this whole plan falls apart, JL has less to lose.

By being a volunteer for 2 months, 4 months, a year, you won’t be able to change everything. But it should give you an introduction; an introduction of the reality here, and the possibilities here. So that you can disseminate this information, or marinate on it for the next few years and return, armed with your knowledge and new skills you will have by then acquired.

The social revolution in Armenia will be a slow one, a quiet one at first- but believe me- you are a part of it.

With great love and respect,

1 comment:

Anoush Rima said...

The views expressed above are my personal ones and do not reflect the views or mandate of the organization. -Anoush