A view from Armenia: Can changing views change history?

Journalist: Ella Kanegarian,

Illustrator: Marie Grigoryan, Catherine Lemeshynska


“They're genociding us again!” My morning started with this text, sent by a friend from the USA to our “emergency” group chat.

The unexpected burst of panic catapulted me out of bed as if my house was being bombed. But it was just my half asleep mind, trying to save me at 4 AM because that's obviously not how one should start the day.

As others from around the world joined the conversation to understand what was happening, my friend sent the picture that had triggered her fears. It was a collage of two photos juxtaposing the queue of Armenians from 1915 genocide and new modern-day photos of a queue of Armenian people leaving the Nagorno Karabakh (Armenian name:Artsakh) enclave.

It was just a photo of a queue. A line of people waiting for something. We can see them in supermarkets, banks, on Black Fridays and at the entrance of fancy clubs. But for an Armenian brain this image is anchored with disaster, exile and death. Starting at around the age of seven, we learn about the genocide and this tragic information along with the numbers 1915 becomes ingrained in our mind, body and soul. It doesn't matter how confident or self-aware you may become, any information related to the 1915 genocide increases the heart rate and puts your body into freeze mode, where everything you know bends under this generational trauma we speak about but never make steps to understand and heal.

Now there's a new queue in our modern history, one that tells of indigenous Armenians and the story of the democratic, unrecognized republic that came to an end, resulting in their mass exodus from Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh.  

On January 1, the leader of this self-declared republic Samvel Shahramanyan will sign an order dissolving all state institutions. It will mark the closure of a whole chapter for Armenians. It may also be a sign to open some new ones. But before we can do that, there's a lot to deal with, including taking care of the displaced people from Nagorno-Karabakh.

As of noon on October 1, the number of forcibly displaced people who'd arrived in Armenia reached 100,483.  Even speaking of them sometimes creates conflicts in conversation. Some call them refugees, others note that they aren't, because they are Armenians. I prefer to stick to the formal term offered by the UNHCR,"internally displaced person" (IDP). 

But whatever we call them, they are people who had lived under a blockade since December 12, 2022 and, after months of starvation–living with the hope their state might survive–lost their homes, their streets, their cities and, maybe, part of their identity. 

In moments like this, we are sensitive to all new information and anything can affect us, our moods, thoughts and emotions. A frequency illusion, known as the Baader–Meinhof effect, makes us notice some things while ignoring others. And if you are programmed to find a certain narrative, you`ll find it even in a  random song on Youtube and think the universe speaks to you even though you are alone in this dialogue. 

News blogs and sites mostly focus on evoking emotions, while the information they share is basically a repetition of the same dark narratives: “Genocided Again”, “Lost Lands” or a literal translation of the Kremlin`s favorite constructs “Betrayed Armenia”, “Humiliated Armenia”, “Defeated Armenia”.

This unconscious cognitive ability to filter information according to certain patterns goes wild after being exposed to several similar dark narratives, which tell us that we are about to vanish as a nation. Our brain easily believes it and surrenders to the command. You go numb, frozen into inaction out of the fear you are powerless to change anything.

News blogs and sites mostly focus on evoking emotions, while the information they share is basically a repetition of the same dark narratives: “Genocided Again”, “Lost Lands” or a literal translation of the Kremlin`s favorite constructs “Betrayed Armenia”, “Humiliated Armenia”, “Defeated Armenia”.  

Basically the Soviet Union was doing the same thing, although with the opposite intent. Newspapers were filled with horrible reports about noncommunist countries. All the positive stories were about USSR republics and communist countries. So you felt the Soviet Union was the right place to be.  Today, we`re depicting a reality where Armenia and being Armenian is a state of constant suffering, while other countries thrive. But if during the USSR our narratives were dictated by the Chief Commander, now, when we are independent, who is benefiting from letting us down? Or is it a pattern of thought we take on as a dogma and keep circulating even when we can do something else?

Several days ago I saw a social media clip titled “September in” that showed beautiful images of autumn in the USA , Europe, and sad, devastating images from Artsakh. 

The video seemed to be telling me “Everybody`s just fine, except you!” But is it really so? What about Ukraine, still being bombed by Russia. What about the situation in Iran, Yemen, Congo? What about Israel? 

We say we share these kinds of posts because “we want the world to know,” but the reality is that those images and words trigger and hurt only other Armenians, while your non-Armenian friends or followers just know what they choose to know and ignore what they don`t need  at that moment…just like you do, just like I do, when there is tragedy somewhere else. 

We as a society are now living in a reality where each of us is not just a human, but a platform. This means our roles in these hybrid informational wars are also important. If we claim that we evolved as individuals and are more self-aware than our ancestors, we have to prove it and learn to control our emotions, because in conflicts and wars of the 21st century our minds are the battlefields and our reactions are the tools. If we change the route of our reactions we may change the route of events around us, because those events count on our unfiltered anger, unguided hate and inability to think clearly. 

In Homo Deus: A History of Tomorrow, Israeli philosopher and author Yuval Noah Harari says that history isn’t a single narrative, but thousands of alternative narratives. Whenever we choose to tell one, we are also choosing to silence others. 

If we still want to see ourselves as secluded from the rest of the world, the chosen ones and victims, we have to bear our destiny alone, without guilting the world for not helping us.In that case we`ll repeat the history ourselves, creating generations that attract the same fate.

If we admit that our emotional reactions are part of the game, we`ll learn to control them, because no one wants to be in a game they aren`t going to win. 

Our actions keep the history repeated, history itself has no ability to do that.

While I was stuck with my own thoughts, trying to move to my usual routine, make an oriental coffee, which is never called “Turkish” in Armenia, another friend of mine, a life coach from Paris, took over the group chat and tried to stymie the tide of panic.

“In 1915 we were part of a multiethnic Ottoman empire! They systematically abused all of their ethnic and religious groups including Assyrians, Greeks, Jews, Kurds, Bulgarians, Christian Arabs, and Armenians! We all were not protected in that place and at that time, in the midst of WWI. Now you are in your own country with internationally recognized borders! If you`re attacked, it's called war, stop being a victim!!!”

Victim mentality is a learned behavior, so is being an oppressor. It circulates in our words, actions and thoughts. We took it from the social environment, we weren't born that way. We can change if we stop blaming one another for things happening to us, because we all take part in our collective destinies.

Unfortunately with Artsakh too, as a society we failed to protect them and lost this opportunity of taking care of those lands, our cultural sights and historical legacy, slowly being erased. Now we have only Armenia with it`s internationally recognized borders at our disposal and if we focus on loving these lands and not hating “the enemies,” we will protect these lands much more effectively and have a brighter future than we imagine now. We have so much to do and first of all take care of the physical and emotional recovery of the internally displaced people of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh.

It's hard to navigate in the flow of the media injecting so much hate towards the neighbors we see as enemies, though the reality is that none of those people are, but the dictatorship there is. It's not between two people, us and them, it's between two agendas, democracy and familial dictatorship, which takes away even the freedom of their people to feel differently, think and live differently.

It's not easy to see images from different parts of the world, women attacked, children abused, people dying on a daily basis and this being our regular life in this region, but when the world reshapes and power centers change, simple people suffer. 

Those who hate us suffer the same as we. Because dehumanizing the enemy eventually dehumanizes us, and it doesn't take much to become one of those people who mistreat children.

Knowing this all, seeing this all sure may make you angry, but being angry means no longer being numb. 

This feature story was prepared with support from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) South Caucasus Regional Office. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of FES․

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