30 Years of Anoroshutyun

By Mania Israyelyan

It was 1988. One December morning, when I was a 6-year-old girl, I was up to my daily duty of helping my mum. As I bent down to reach the bottom of the closet, I felt I was swaying back and forth. Not realizing what was going on but still instinctively feeling something was wrong I sought a place to hide under the nearby table…

I just drew the brightest (or rather the darkest) memory from my childhood. And that’s it, the beginning of the era of uncertainty. No one knew how long it was going to last. Definitely no one would expect 30 years.

I didn’t know how long it would take to restore life to its normal course after such a devastating disaster. If we would ever have a chance to do so. The number of casualties were immense. Bereaved and homeless families, who were going to bear the imprint of the earthquake for the rest of their life, not only psychologically, but socially, economically, physically.

In the early 1990s, a lasting conflict between two neighboring countries turned into a large-scale war. Destruction, death, darkness reigned in the country. Uncertainty became our companion.

But wait, everything was not that bad. There was a ray of hope for an hour or so every day. In the dark and cold years (as we refer to them), when electricity was being sold to neighboring countries, we would spend days without power. On those evenings by the kerosene torch, time after time, I would stop reading and gaze at the clock and the light bulb. I was counting the minutes and seconds for the cherished one hour of electricity. Nothing on earth would bring such joy as the bulb all of a sudden vaguely lighting up.  

In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, increasing the chaotic mess and leaving the generation-to-come in ultimate uncertainty. In the following years, the gap between the soviet and new generation grew. The former one longing for those years and the new one striving for the new world and embracing it.   

To make matters even worse, corrupt government officials embezzled enormous quantities of state assets. Monopolies literally ruined small and medium-sized businesses. The unemployment rate hit unprecedented levels. People now faced a bigger dilemma – to stay or to leave. Hundreds of thousands chose to break the chains of uncertainty by – as we say in Armenian – trying their luck in other countries. Did they succeed? Difficult to say. Whatever their situation through the years they did not overcome the uncertainty as to where they belong. Why? No matter how eager they are to assimilate in the foreign environment, nations like ours have that unique and – most of the time – exaggerated habit of preserving their national identity.

To illustrate this, a story came to mind that one of my acquaintances told me a few years ago. As immigrants they were living in a block of flats in a European city. Their kids dropped their toys on the floor when they were playing. In traditional Armenian culture, moderate noise (sometimes not only moderate) is okay. You can’t just go to your neighbor with kids and ask them to stop playing. Moreover, calling the police for such a “tiny” matter is something for a horror movie. 

Why on earth don’t we let go of the stereotype that the police are there only for grave crimes. Family violence or bugging neighbors are to be accepted. What if those so-called “minor” issues end up in a tragedy? And how many of them could have been prevented? Your national identity will be distorted and you will be labelled a “gorts tvox” (a kind of undercover agent). These are the underlying factors that hold us back from being part of a new environment. It is almost like trying to dance at two weddings at the same time. We don’t know whether we are at the desired wedding or at the factual one.   

Or why do we take pride in our historical tragedies? This question had bugged me for a long time before I got the answer. And I got the answer when I was musing on a headline for this article. 30 years of uncertainty. All of a sudden it sounded to me like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude. And voila! The bulb suddenly lit up. The past is binding! The past is certain, that is indisputable. When the present is uncertain and the future unknown, you have to have something to cling to.   

Why are we always driven by the fear of losing rather than the desire to explore and achieve. Why is the world a place to fight against rather than a place to embrace? The list of whys is unending. The answer is obvious. 30 years in the unknown, loss, fear.     

Let me draw a picture of the present. Imagine a village with a school, which, on the first day of the academic year, welcomes its one and only first-grader. The little girl, slightly scared, with uncertain and questioning eyes, is trying to understand why the regional governor is paying a special visit to her and sitting beside her at the old desk.

Let’s travel to another one, with dozens of empty houses in each block, or another one scarcely populated with only pensioners. My native town is one of those with my parents being among the fewest families in the whole block.

My generation did not have a happy start to life. The adolescent years were like expecting the light at the end of the tunnel. We jokingly said that it could be the lights of an upcoming train. The train did not arrive. Now as adults, instead, we try to find the exit to the tunnel we were forced into. The 3-decade veil of uncertainty was too heavy to tear apart. At breakthrough moments in our history, we always showed either unbelievable will power or an unbelievable instinct of self-destruction. We toppled the mafia, took down the government. Now we are standing at the gate. It is like entering the promised land. Moses and his people wandered for 40 years in the desert. We did 30 in uncertainty. We are almost there. Will we take the step? Will we be able to enter the gate? Or will we reawaken the self-destructive instinct? It is still uncertain…