Armenia’s Independence Day is September 21st. This year, 20 years were celebrated. A nation that is recognized as being the first Christian nation in 301 AD celebrated 20 years of Independence this year. This concept makes me think about a few observations I made…
One of the most recognized symbols of Dilijan is large concrete monument which from above looks like a star. It marks the 50th anniversary of Soviet Armenia. Follow the river and you will soon come to another impressive soviet monument—large being an inept descriptor of the structure. It was here that official pictures were taken of local school officials recognizing the holiday. If there had been any sun, they would have been taken under the shadow of the Soviet Union—the very entity that Armenia gained its independence from.
On the 20th of September, I received a few emails from various Peace Corps staff members who work and live in Yerevan that ended with “Happy Independence Day” wishes and hopes that we would enjoy celebrating the day. In Yerevan, a large military parade and political speeches were made, celebrations were had. On the 21st in Dilijan, we did not have school but other than a few kids walking around nobody seemed to be stirring from their houses, much less celebrating anything. There were certainly no greetings of “Happy Independence Day” exchanged. My sitemates and I were all surprised to see NO activity whatsoever. The 22nd brought a little more encouragement, the students at my school put on a performance after school for the teachers.
Finally, I had a discussion with a traveler who was spending some time in Armenia. We were discussing the current education system and its many faults. We were both shocked at the sheer number of inefficiencies and negative practices found in schools. As we sat there discussing this and possible and even fewer, probable changes, the large star monument caught my eye. With this I realized that we were criticizing a government institution—the Ministry of Education, that was only 20 years old. 20 years old. Made me think of my little sister Karen—who granted is pretty darn awesome but let’s face it, makes you realize that with only 20 years of life, there is still such a long way to go. (No offence meant to either party in that comparison.) 20 years, that isn’t really even enough time to have a large change in personal or for many progressive ideas to take hold so our criticisms, while valid need to be made with the recognition of the relative youth of the institution.
Simply said, Armenia is a complex country. It is an ancient place filled with an ancient culture and a rich history. It was part of the Soviet Union whose effects are still seen everywhere. There seems to be a national mentality that dwells on the past—both the good and the bad. Yet there are so many young people now who never knew the Soviet Union and who read about the Armenian genocide in their history books. In some ways it is an ancient country in others a brand new country, younger than me. Armenia is a country that is beginning anew with much experience and knowledge of other circumstances. They have advanced in the past twenty years and continue to do so; making mistakes, struggling, and slowly moving forward just as any other young nation has done. It is exciting to be here towards the beginning and it will be a privilege in the years to come to watch Armenia’s progress with some first-hand understanding.