Sunday, June 5, 2011

Expected Value

Last week, like every anxious parent that wants to see their child succeed, I scoured the internet for global and local results for the Kangaroo global math contest, which my 4th grade son participated in earlier this year. This is a multiple-choice math test that is given to several grade levels (1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 78-, 9-10) in over 40 countries on the same day. While I was quite proud of Haig’s performance (8th in Armenia in his grade level), I was even more pleased to find out about the top three performers in his level in Armenia. All three (scoring, respectively 92, 88 and 86 points out of a total of 96) were girls from outside of Yerevan – first place went to a fourth-grader from a small village on the other side of Lake Sevan, and 2nd and 3rd places to fourth graders from Martouni and Noyemberyan.

It is almost too easy to find fault in Armenia – just follow the daily stream of news or latest outrage posted on Facebook, or the latest [sad] statistics regarding accelerating emigration. What we often fail to see, however, are the islands of hope among this general despair, from the 4th grader from Garmirakyugh village who had the highest score in the country, to the new mayor using social media to engage our fellow Yerevantsis to become more actively involved in the well-being of the capital, to the soon-to-be-opened Tumo Center for Creative Technologies

Why is this important? Because the current Republic of Armenia offers the best chance to rebuild what the Turks attempted to destroy 100 years ago. We have a sovereign state with a respectable army and the security guarantee of one of the global superpowers. We are part of the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, NATO’s Partnership for Peace and countless other international bodies.

Does the current Republic span historical or even Wilsonian Armenia? No, of course not. Are there thousands of square kilometers once inhabited by our ancestors that no longer belong to us? Yes, absolutely – in fact, given that all four of my grandparents were born in Cilicia (Aintab, Adana, Marash, Kilis), I often dream about what it would be like to live where I come from. Does the current government espouse the ideals of all Armenians? No, but neither should we expect it to.

What if we look at the path forward in terms of expected value? On the one hand, we have the possible future return of our traditional lands, something prized and sought after by several generations of survivors of the Genocide. On the other hand, we have the potential strengthening and re-birth of the Republic, with advancements in economic and scientific development, repatriation and immigration (albeit all on a fraction of our historical land). The former is a high-value, low probability outcome, while the latter is a [lower] value, higher-expected outcome scenario. While the exact “calculation” of the relative EVs of these two scenarios is beyond the scope of this post, the fundamental question remains: which will yield the most beneficial result to Armenians?

I want to close this post where I started, with the children of Armenia. My son’s fourth grade class’s year-end musical was based on the works of Baruyr Sevag. This particular piece stayed with me – those of you that understand Armenian will pick on the key messages. What you see here are not starving children, neglected orphans, or spoiled offspring of oligarchs. These are regular 9- and 10-year olds still young enough to dream of a health and joyful future here in Armenia. What can we do to make this possible not only for them, but for the millions of Armenian children living outside of their traditional homeland? Future posts (to follow soon) will address this


  1. Well said Raffi. It is easier to find faults than try to improve on what one has. Nation building is not a spectator sport. We have assets as a nation that we have not even considered using but we will.
    Thanks- Vahe

  2. Thanks Vahe - I love the comment about nation building not being a spectator sport. I look forward to a few games on the same team!