Another week of contrasts, this time during an incredibly beautiful Indian summer week in Yerevan. I just finished reading Garin Hovannisian's Family of Shadows, as well as his op-ed pieces in the NYTimes and Christian Science Monitor. Yesterday, I participated in a truly unique event (for Yerevan) called TEDx Yerevan (www.tedxyerevan.com). Garin's take, overall, is that of hope vanquished and resignation, and TEDx was just the opposite. In fact, toward the end of the day yesterday, when Alexis Ohanian (a speaker from the official TED series whose participation enabled the creation of TEDx Yerevan) and I were asked to write one word on a piece of paper they asked us to hold for our "official" conference photos, we each independently wrote "Hope".
Why? I have often been accused of being an optimist, of looking for the positive in the most negative situations. More directly, my friends both in Armenia and back in the States accuse me of ignoring all that is really wrong with this country, of somehow being oblivious to the poverty, corruption, geopolitical challenges and general lack of a national purpose and strategy.
The truth is that I am fully aware of the challenges of this country. My response: "so what?" The alternative, to give up and declare the victory of the post-soviet elites, to accept as granted a vassal state with no national purpose is, in my simple view, not an option.
Yes, eastern Armenia is not western Armenia, and yes, our tiny republic is ranked in the lower half or quartile in most national rankings of benchmarks that matter. Yes, more than 2/3 or even 3/4 of our people don't live in this country, and according to one of yesterday's presentations, 48% of those that are still here would leave if they could. Not much to be optimistic about, right?
Again, I say, "so what?" What is the alternative? A slow spiral into oblivion, with the Diaspora and Armenia embraced in an arm's length dance to see who can stay up longer while each is dragging the other down?
Not on my watch, and I would bet, not on the watch of hundreds of thousands of Armenians, both here and around the world, who are too proud of the path that has brought us to where we are today, of the sacrifices, great and small, that make up our collective history.
That pride was abundantly evident in the conference hall yesterday, as each speaker bared a bit of her or himself, each weaving in their unique Armenian motif, creating "ideas worth spreading". And spread they did, through Facebook, Twitter and hallway conversations.
So here's to those who think and act, that speak and blog and post and react. Here's to those eight proud and incredibly talented young boys from Charentsavan, whose drums did more to bring alive the legacy of where we come from, and hope for where we're going, than any fancy (or in my case, not so fancy) powerpoint presentation. And here's to Kristine Sargsyan, the young woman from Yerevan, who believed that we Armenians also have ideas worth spreading, and that the place to start spreading from is Yerevan.
I vote for hope.