Unbearable Bear Hug

Editorial, 1 November 2013

The ink on President Serge Sarkissian’s signature to join Russia-led Customs Union (CU), had hardly dried before President Vladimir Putin’s political-cultural apostles came galloping from the Russian steppes to Armenia. Hardly a month had passed since Armenia’s inevitable acceptance of Putin’s “invitation” to join the CU that Armenia suddenly seemed top-of-mind among Russian cultural apparatchiks. In quick succession, there were the following developments in Russian/Armenian cultural relations.

It was announced that the National Philharmonic of Russia would give two concerts (Yerevan and Gyumri) on Nov. 10 on the occasion of composer Aram Khachaturian’s 110th birthday. Earlier (Oct. 10) on “prominent members of Armenian music” came together at the State Kremlin Palace to participate in a “great concert” dedicated to the 300th anniversary of “outstanding Armenian bard and poet” Sayat Nova.

Tourism industry executives from Russia and Armenia held a roundtable to boost tourism in St. Petersburg and Yerevan.

It was announced that a Russian lyceum—a branch of Moscow State University—would open in Yerevan, in line with Putin’s campaign to launch Russian cultural initiatives in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Victor Krivopuskov, head of the Russian Federal Agency, Rossotrudnichestvo, stated that Russia would take steps to strengthen the Russian language in Armenia.

Any number of Russian and Customs Union operatives stated that since Russian is the lingua franca of the Customs Union, the population of member states should be fluent in Russian.

The CIS intensified the opening of “cultural centers” in Armenia where Russian is taught free of charge. There are now about 100 such centers. A few weeks ago they boasted that they had sold 100,000 Russian books in the past two years.

Andranik Nikogosyan of the Youth Union of the CIS opined that the Russian language is integral part of Armenian culture. He added: “We have a common history, a common past, and I’m sure we have a great future.” Common history? Perhaps Nikogosyan was referring to the fact that during the Second World War, of all the Soviet republics Armenia had the highest per capita combat casualties. Perhaps Nikogosyan was referring to Russian Foreign Minister Lebanon-Rostovsky who, in 1895, said Russia wanted Armenia without Armenians. Perhaps the jumped-up politico is referring to Generalissimo Alexandre Suvorov, the greatest “Russian” military leader, whose Armenian descent is covered up by the Russians.

Poet Mariné Petrossian and Armen Hovhanissian, members of a civil group opposing the use of foreign language as a threat to Armenia’s identity, say the popularization of Russian would be at the expense of not only Armenian, but also English, French, and Persian. Last year their group campaigned against the opening of foreign language schools.

Hovhanissian said that the Russian cultural invasion means that to be successful an Armenian citizen will have to be educated in Russian. “The most dangerous thing that can happen is the formation of an elite that will not speak [good] Armenian and will not think in categories favoring Armenia’s statehood,” he said.

President Putin has said that Eurasian integration is a chance for the post-Soviet space to become an independent center of global development. He also said that the CU is “aimed at keeping the identity of peoples populating the historical Eurasian space in the new century and the new world.” Does by “peoples” Putin mean solely Russian?

Should and can Armenia resist the Russian bear hug?

It should because if it doesn’t the fears of Petrossian and Hovhanissian could be realised. More and more Armenians will begin to communicate in Russian, read Russian books, sing Russian songs, and watch Russian TV. Parents will believe their children should attend Russian schools so as to have a bright future. Armenians would become strangers in their country. There will be an “Armenian Diaspora” in Armenia.

Already Russian is becoming the preferred language of Armenia’s elite. During conferences at Yerevan’s Marriott Hotel the language most heard is Russian. And when attendees continue their talk in the corridors, outside the conference rooms, again Russian dominates.

How to halt the Russian invasion? The government should set laws to defend our “Mayr Lezoo” against the Russian onslaught. Parents should instill among their children a sense of linguistic pride. As the civil groups, who fought the establishment of foreign schools, shouted in their posters: “Keep your gene; keep your language” and “No to colonization”. Western Armenian is already endangered, according to the United Nations. If the Russians are not pushed back, Eastern Armenian could also get on the UN list.

In the bad old days of Soviet rule, Russians preached internationalism but practiced Russo-centrism.

Being an ally shouldn’t mean that independent Armenia must become a Russian satellite. Somebody should tell Moscow that the Beatles are long gone; nobody wants to sing “Back in the USSR…”

  1. Picking Up Where You Left Off

    Picking  up where you left off in the above editorial, which I approve, one would imagine Russification had somehow stopped in the RoA after the Soviet Union plunged into the abyss. But no, it looks like there is tremendous effort (as described above) to place it back on the ¨to do list¨of President Putin. One thing that has been disturbing my mind is the recent paying back of a loan  to ex-Soviet Russia of some 500-million Euros, and that with 700-million Euros borrowed from the EU.

    The fact is, as you have well defined, The ASSR (Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic), the smallest in USSR, had nearly 250,000 soldiers and officers fighting in the ¨Hairenagan Baderazm¨ of World War II. Only 50,000 of whom survived.

    And some people, like me, dare to insist on the following: the Soviets left factories that now stand idle in the RoA. They (the Russians) should have restarted these as compensation for the blood shed by us, Armenians, for the said Fatherland War. Then again–you have omitted–Armenia after the war, owed some $120- million to Mother Russia (ex-Soviet), instead of having it written off as a very small token of appreciation to the Armenians who VOLUNTARILY gave their lives (200,000). Actually, it is All's Quiet on the Western Front: the factory loan of the said factory (I believe it's the Nairit) could have issued shares to the few veterans living or to the heirs of those martyred.

    I wonder, why these important matters are not seriously considered by the authorities in the RoA. Is it  because of fear that the demagogue Aliyev threatens war? The Western oil companies, pumping the precious stuff out via Turkey (paying $1.6 billion transit duty), would never wish war. Secondly, if war did break out, can the RoA rely on the premise that Russia (which in the Karapagh War helped the Omon Azeri forces, against our freedom fighters) would this time side with us? The threats by Aliyev should not be taken seriously. Armenia now has smaller but stout and sincere allies and neighbors: the Kurds (most of them), the Greeks and Iran plus Georgia.

    Our tiny republic (s) ought to rely on their own devices and their, so far, not organized Diaspora(s). It's time to organize the latter.


  2. Suffocating Editorial

    There is a lot of doom and gloom and the lack of healthy dose of realism in this editorial. It presents a misguided view of a relationship between two states as if it was a love affair between two friends. Let us be reminded of Hawaii and more recently of Tibet to portray what a powerful partner can do with impunity to a country.

    Thanks to our resilience, our culture thrived even at the height of communist reign. There is no reason why it should not continue provided Armenians, as citizens of the country, chose to do so in spite of or maybe because of all the cultural, touristic, educational ties with Russia. After all, the average Russian is not interested in hearing and attending a Russian cultural event rendered by a non-Russian! As far as knowing Russian is concerned, of course it will give an Armenian an economic competitive advantage, as it always has and will always do.

    The Russian lyceums in Armenia are no reason for Armenians there not uphold their centuries-old rich cultural heritage and enrich it further and cleanse the Armenian language of foreign words that have rendered sentences incomprehensible at times for many of us who still can read with our God-sent alphabet.

  3. Divide the loaf 50/50

    Under the Soviet system, Armenians had a nice anecdote: A Russian and an Armenian are marooned on a desolate island. They find a single loaf of bread. The Russian says to his  Armenian friend, 'let's divide it as brothers'. No says the Armenian, 'we will divide 50/50!"
    This anecdote says a lot of what happened to Armenia under the Soviet System, and could happen again if the RoA is not careful! 

    1-However, Russia is a huge, rich country and many Armenians go to Russia in search of work; Armenia needs Russia's favor.

    2-In addition, Russia is fearful of Turkey's not- so- subtle effort of creating a new Pan Turkic Empire with the Turkic countries of the former USSR.

    3-The USA has a solid presence in Armenia but as an ally of Turkey, will not move a finger to help us when the chips are down and we are attacked by enemies (e.g.Azerbaijan). One positive side, the US is afraid of Iran. With Armenia in good terms with Iran, we can be politically useful to the US!

    The RoA must be astute and infinitely wise to play on this 'delicate thin wire' of accommodation, between these two countries, to gain the best for itself.

    Good luck RoA!

  4. For Seventy- five Years

    For seventy five years Armenians in the West, seeing a regime not to their liking, day in day out, relentlessly criticized the situation in which Soviet Armenia found itself. And despite its centuries of suffering and non-existence as a sovereign state, Armenians failed to learn that the Soviet regime was an intensive course in governance for Armenia.

    Having a wider and more mature vision of the future, based on Armenian historical records should be encouraged. Following the short period of independence, after the collapse of the Soviet regime, Serge Sarkissian's diplomatic genius should be considered high on the agenda.

    Anybody who speaks one negative word about our present republic should not dare talk about preserving our Armenian heritage, simply because it is destructive. Constructive attitude and means to improve the situation, plus a positive way of expressing their vision should be the motto of all Armenians in the world who are truly concerned with our culture. Deserters are those who emigrate for good, renounce their Armenian citizenship and are dependent on others for their comfort. They do not represent the true spirit of the Armenians. To build a  strong political framework requires, vision, perseverance, sacrifice and suffering over time. It cannot be created within one generation and with negative criticism or through bloodshed.

    After decades of a tough journey, Yerevan is now the third Caucasus Silicon Valley in the world with over thousand young Armenians preparing the grounds for many generations to come. It has taken vision and sacrifice to reach this level of respect.

  5. The “eternal return”

    The "eternal return", as said Nietzsche. Nothing new under the sun.  


  6. Language Matters

    I agree with your analysis but I fear for the elitism of the Armenians in Armenia. Let us remind ourselves that Armenians in the Middle East know three languages and use them effectively. We speak Armenian. We speak Arabic in public (equate that to Russian, if you want), plus English or French as taught in school.

    So the education ministry in RoA has to find the balance and the diplomacy to make sure that Russian or any other language do NOT breach our language. If executed skillfully, there is no fear for our language. But as said, if the Armenians of Armenia feel that Russian is the posh/elite language then our language will be in jeopardy. Controversially, we should fund free Armenian courses to foreigners.

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