26 July 2006

868) Armenian Mentality, Values, Traditions, Desires, National Identity

Interview with Hranush Khachatryan, anthropologist and head of the Armenian Governmental Department of Minorities and Religious Issues

What do we understand when we talk about an "Armenian mentality"?
That's a hard question to answer. When you say "Armenian", you probably mean Armenians in Armenia. But the Armenian mentality is created by the entire Armenian nation. Unfortunately, we have almost always, or always, to a certain extent, lived on three different planes. We were often divided between two countries, we always had a Diaspora and besides that, much of our intelligentsia was educated in Europe--France, Germany, and Russia. So, it seems that these little islands of Armenian thinking, spread throughout the world, are the foundation of the mentality of the Armenian nation. But if we look at the reality in Armenia we will again see different layers and opinions. It is unfortunate, but there are two groups in Armenia today. One is the social, political and economic elite, the people who are rich to a greater of lesser degree, and the second is the poor. These groups hate each other and oppose each other's outlook and standards of behavior. This being the case, it is hard to talk about a collective mentality. It might be said, somewhat conditionally, that national issues serve as a basis for a mentality, are the foundation of a way of thinking, but these two groups view these issues very differently. . . .

For instance, there might be a group of people today that because of their economic interests think that the Karabakh problem should be solved as fast as possible without any conditions (as long as the roads are opened and their financial are interests met, while the other segment of society still wants other serious conditions met. And if we assume that this problem is one of the most important national issues, then even here we have different opinions.

Today, one sensitive issue that is being discussed in the media is that our number one goal should be educating Armenians according to Armenian values. At the same time, our political course is heading straight towards European values. In this sense, our mentality is divided. The majority of society is fighting for the preservation of ethnic cultural values or passively supports preserving these values. Others, on the contrary, are trying to get rid of this "protective" culture.

To what degree are liberal values acceptable for Armenians?
Historically, liberal values have always been acceptable for Armenians. I believe that if a nation is not clearly inclined towards despotism, then liberal values are not foreign to it and they result in socio-cultural, if not economic, progress. What liberalism is today, and how it is understood is another question. I believe that we still have a problem here. Liberalism today is understood as a means of economic liberalization. I'm not against that, and I don't think most of our people are, either. What's important is how it takes place. We give economic opportunities to one group, and so we don't have a free market economy but rather a governed process of allocation of resources. Probably for this reason alone, liberalism is foreign and unacceptable to a majority of our nation. It is unfortunate that real liberalism, with its principles, is pushed aside, and is even met with hostility.

Is there a desire today to ensure peaceful coexistence of old traditions and the new reality?
I don't think that there is political awareness of that issue, but I think that there is a spontaneous, self managed process today that is trying to achieve it. Now, you might say that an equilibrium exists in politics. Specifically, the nationalistic Republican Party and the Dashnaktsutyun party (which always stresses its devotion to national liberation) have a significant presence in the parliament and in government. Nevertheless, among the political elite one group dominates, which has adopted new standards of political behavior, because even the political forces that represent nationalistic, militaristic principles are more inclined to take steps in line with the standards of political conduct that are dictated by the current political necessity.

We have a monopolistic philosophy in our society. It is my understanding that our nation also tends to move along a path that it has created itself. To that extent, the path that we are following resonates with our national attributes. But recently, that path has taught us new, different values and there is a conflict between our new view on culture and lifestyle and the old, traditional outlook. I think that in reality we are followers of pragmatic (western) values but recently we have persuaded ourselves that we prefer more spiritual (eastern) values. I think this ambiguity is one of the reasons for our problems.

Where are we going and what is the government doing in these tough times to find the right direction?
I don't see a program able to shape the country's future. I think that economic reforms in our country are insufficient and are done very roughly. Some day, at the cost of a great deal of spiritual and physical suffering, we will achieve some level of material prosperity. So the problem that stands before our country today will be solved. But, I believe we could have taken a different road with fewer losses and more significant achievements.

And the government is doing things which are profitable for government members or circles, while improving to some extent our internal and external relations. But overall, it's only serving itself. This is the global view. And what is society doing? Has society made any political or cultural demands? We have huge number of non-governmental organizations, whose work is mainly done on the order of various international organizations. I am not saying that's bad. But those international organizations are achieving their goals, and we should achieve ours too. For instance, the path that we must take. Should we improve our country ourselves, or should we adjust our relations with our neighbors according to the rules of these international organizations? They are not bad, these rules. What I am saying is how we can do so that we have our own interests, human values, understanding and a plan for future. We must think about how to go on living in this region.

Is it possible to not lose our national identity and simultaneously be integrated into the worldwide globalization process?
Yes, it is possible. I don't see anything bad in the globalization process. Throughout history there have been similar processes and they have always served specific needs, including human values. In essence, globalization has several positive effects. For instance, the more people in the world that share common cultural standards, the fewer conflicts there will be. But globalization is also a political process. And today's globalization does not serve its goals. The big, developed countries are only following their economic interests; they're gathering rare resources, and enforcing law and order only to safeguard themselves from future threats. And even if we used all our mental capabilities to avoid this political process, we wouldn't be able to avoid it. In this case, I think, our task is to understand our place in the process. There are a-thousand-and-one options. Since the process is a threat for those who are like us, then it is possible that we will become aware of the need to unite. But unfortunately, that is nearly impossible in our region. At least in the nearest future. It is more realistic to focus on our self-preservation mechanisms. Here we can define how we can go about and, for instance, not create conflicts with other countries but simultaneously solve our problems. Among these is also the preservation of our ethnicity. We must find a way to connect to the globalizing culture. As was done when we accepted Christianity. We preserved our world outlook, cultural values, but also became a part of the Christian world. Similarly, we found a place in Indo-European culture. And in the same way we have similarities with the culture of the Caucasus. And to the outside world today we represent one unit, Caucasians, despite our diversity and differences. In reality, these are achievements for us. If we understand these phenomena, then we will become a conscious part of this globalizing world, while also being part of the Caucasian, Christian and Indo-European cultural heritage. In that case, maybe we will also find our place in global economic relations, as well as in science and other areas.

Anahit Khechoyan
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