Friday, September 25, 2015

Your Neutrality is Killing Us

Photo: Suren Manvelyan
Every morning as I make my way to work, sitting in traffic, I wonder if I'll read the news of yet another death...

"Today, a soldier was killed on the frontline."

I know the script by heart. I don't think about how I'm going to phrase the news item anymore. I can do it in my sleep. It's always the same. A soldier is killed by an Azerbaijani sniper. Two soldiers are killed along the southern portion of the Line of Contact. As border villages along the Armenia-Azerbaijan state border come under attack, one soldier is killed and another wounded. Armenia's Defense Ministry has launched an investigation into the Azerbaijani military raid that took the lives of four officers. The Nagorno Karabakh Defense Army extends its condolences to the families of the deceased soldiers. Armenia's armed forces retaliate, successfully quell the aggressor's gunfire.

And so it goes. We've become desensitized to the news from the front lines. They've become a normal part of our day. 

But I lie. They haven't. They never will, because once you see the birthdate next to the name of the dead soldier - 1995, 1996, 1997 - something inside you snaps. It doesn't break you, not yet. You can still hang on a little more because you are made of the strong earth from which you sprang. You can hang on because you are as rugged as the mountains that stretch across the landscape of your conscience.


In less than 48 hours, three peaceful civilians, all women, are killed by Azerbaijani gunfire and four young soldiers die on the Line of Contact. If this isn't a declaration of war, what is?

Sometimes the news of tensions and fighting on the border makes international headlines and we're buoyed by the fact that the world hasn't forgotten this isolated corner of humanity. 

Often, those charged with negotiating for a peaceful settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict issue a statement. They call on both sides to refrain from actions that will escalate the situation further. Their carefully crafted statements ooze of neutrality. They blame both sides, call for a de-escalation of aggression. By not calling out the aggressor they render their words useless and become impotent to ensure the de-escalation they seem to want so desperately.

The 18 year-old boys standing on the frontiers pay the price.

Your neutrality, gentlemen, is killing us.

Monday, September 21, 2015

My Independence

Photo credit: Suren Manvelyan

July, 2001

It is a brilliantly sunny day. There are several cars making their way to the airport. My family is divided up among those cars. When we arrive at the terminal, we unload the suitcases, make our way to the check-in counter and thus begin a journey that has been traumatic yet exceptional, uncertain, but life-changing.

At the airport, about 40 members of our immediate and extended family and friends have formed a semicircle. We each take our turn saying our goodbyes. The hardest moment is having to leave my parents behind. My mother seems to be crumbling beneath the pain of knowing that she will be separated from her daughter, her grandchildren...her eyes full of tears she hangs on to me like she never wants to let me go.

And then it's my father's turn. A few weeks earlier, I had asked my mom why dad was so distraught….was this not his dream for me? Was he not happy that I was fulfilling my dream? She says, ‘You are the low-lying branch in a raging river that he has needed for so long…’

Afterward, the four of us walk toward the boarding area. We take one last look at our lives and make our way toward the boarding area.

We didn’t come to Armenia to change anything. We didn’t come to save anyone. We didn’t come with a noble mission. And we certainly didn’t come to prove anything to anyone nor do we think we are ‘better’ Armenians than anyone else.

We came because we could. That has been the gift of independence. 

My independence...