State messages which actively circulate in Armenia and which try to act as formulas of identity, almost alway use the word “nation” as something universal (that is to say, applicable to everyone without hesitation). We are all from the same nation, therefore we are equal…
This suspicious formula (nationality is never a synonym of equality, the same way that having a different nationality doesn’t rule out equality, conditioned by social, age, gender, physical or professional abilities) is mainly used as a justification which is intended to play a protective role in dangerous situations.
For example, a war.
In recent years, a state ideology is being built on on the basis and justification of ongoing and permanent threats, convincing Armenian citizens, that we are one nation, because the threat belongs to all of us.
The threat is the context which allows us to say with a clear conscious, nation-army, nation-fist, nation-aspiration and understand war between the lines. It doesn’t make a difference if war has been declared or not, if it was in the past or is in the present, if there was a victory or defeat.
The important thing is that war, that is to say disaster, is something that unites us. If that danger exists, then you are a nation.
Speculation of and attempts to continuously, appropriately or inappropriately, attach the word “national” to different spheres (cinema, school, kitchen, behavior, fashion etc.) is already occurring in an widespread and unconscious manner.
When we constantly see the word “nation” (or more commonly used phrases bearing similar meanings like “Armenian-like,” “the Armenian way,” “the Armenian genome,” “suitable for Armenians” etc) surface in almost all speeches, discussions, and even daily conversations on social media, it is used in the context of a battle, fight, contradiction, counterattack, whatever the case, it is in the context of opposition.
Since it is accepted in silent agreement that Armenians do not oppose Armenians, (“you’re Armenian, I’m Armenian, oh let me take your pain away”), a very serious and meaningful shift took place when people’s search for identity moved from the inner world to the external one, on the other side of our nation’s borders no less. A place where there is danger. More precisely, it was suggested that we accept that there is no danger inside, the danger is only outside.
National identity became the only irrevocable argument for resisting that danger.
This was greatly contributed by a state concept which goes by the name of “nation-army.”
Uniting for the sake of fighting is more of a precondition to the formulation and support of the state, because the word “army” hints towards the fact that there is a battlefront, weapons and an enemy. For everyone.
That is to say, the state of emergency, the disaster (and a war is always a disaster) is already an everyday thing.
According to “nation-army” logic, the nation is not battling against the concept of war, rather it’s not afraid of war and is prepared to fight, because it finds its identity in the idea of being ready for war.
Neither the authorities, nor the society see the contradiction of accepting war as a normal, everyday state of being. In any case, neither side remembers that war is horrifying, filled with death and destruction and that avoiding war is a natural instinct of man.
Of course, the instinct to avoid war is not lost, it is simply put to sleep. For the sake of identity.
But there are many who feel that nationality, for the sake of war, has become gauze, a cover which hides on one hand emptiness (the impossibility for seeking peace), and on the other hand the lack of long-term prospects (no one says what will happen after uniting for the sake of war, when the state of broken harmony is restored).
The concept of life is limited to the present moment, which is alarming, filled with threats and requires sacrifices.
We can assume that the concept of life is created in three spheres: school, cinema, and media can play a serious role if they manage to find models which help to get out of this militarized discourse. For example, create a peaceful and harmonious national aspiration. In order to make it clear, at least on the surface, that there are prospects. That there is a road, not just a bus stop.
British politician and sociologist Benedict Anderson describes the nation as “an imaginary union.” It is a community which shares the same memories. National history, what happened in the past, characters of good and evil all help to find signs of national belonging. The key word here is “imaginary,” because memories are not accurate knowledge.
The model of identity which is offered by the modern Armenian school, proves Anderson’s outline. Starting from the first grade, the lines between fiction, abstraction and reality are blurred.
The nation is explained using the model of a family. They say, children, you have a father and a mother, our nation also has a father and he is Hayk Nahapet.
Schools create an impression whereby there is no difference between reality and mythology, if both real people (for example Vardan Mamikonyan) and made up characters (Hayk Nahapet) have fought for the sake of Armenians.
The first signs of nationalism that school gives are contradictory and narrow the outlook.
“I am Armenian, my father is Armenian, my grandfather is Armenian, the name of our country is Armenia, it is named after Hayk Nahapet (Hayastan). Armenians have lived for centuries and will continue to live forever. I am proud of being Armenian,” something along these lines are found in the first grade’s language textbook.
The next text: “Armenia is my home. This is Hayk, he loves Armenia, the Armenian language and Mount Masis.” Like a prescription, this is our mandatory starting point. The child is not allowed to assume, that they could remain Armenian while not loving Mount Masis. And what if their grandfather wasn’t Armenian…?
In the future, they pass the subject of “Homeland Studies,” according to which, saying “homeland” means envisioning a mythical Armenia before their eyes, something which is not real, because it doesn’t exist on a map. It is only in the mind and within the lines of nostalgia.
Often in schools, hence the subject of war is presented in an abstract way, when, for example, almost nothing is mentioned about the enemy (or only negative things), and instead, the side which is comprised of ethnic Armenians is glorified.
Such extreme and simplistic nationalization would have been effective if we lived in small circles, cut off from the world, without the right of mobility and under the conditions of the Iron Curtain, or if we lived in a planet inhabited only by Armenians.
Schools of course have many issues, but the most important issue is that schools don’t prepare children to live in a large and colorful world, where there are other people, nationalities, achievements, platforms for self-expression and marks of identity.
If from childhood we teach them to find their identities mainly in wartime situations, we isolate them.
Consequently, they are also unprepared for threats which are overcome by non-combative actions.
In recent years, the majority of films produced in Armenia refer to war as a source of inspiration and purification. Of course, we are not paying attention to different mediocre comedies and low-quality films of the “funny” genre.
Most more or less successful films are about war, which can be partially or completely filled with military actions, deaths, murders or take the form of something historical.
But it is apparent, that when writers are trying to create a positive hero, then they almost always make him someone who has experienced war. The war forges the hero and makes him reconsider his views, become self-reliant and significant, because everyday life doesn’t give him that opportunity.
Cinema does not leave room for inspiration in times of harmony and peace. It is complicated, and thanks to that complexity, it is valuable.
In order to simulate a peaceful life situation, one must abandon the simplest militaristic ethics of them-us, allies-enemies, black-white, and enter a field where the connections between the public, family and world works differently. Something more delicate, subtle and philosophical, without weapons and borders.
Life is not a war, and often, without wanting to and being forced to, it is necessary to come to an agreement, communicate, discuss and listen. While the reality of war, as seen on the big screen, can move and shock its audience, it can never create the image of a happy person. Or even at least a person searching for happiness.
After all, if the hero connects his happiness with memories of war, or with hopes of returning to the front lines, then there really must be something broken in society.
In reality, outlining a happy life is an important ethical requirement of a film, in which the man is directly visualized. The individual, not the army.
Perhaps that is also the reason, that in Armenian cinema there are no films about the future (for example a science fiction or a fantasy, with different Armenian dwarves and dragons), that is to say, there haven’t been any attempts to create a parallel reality, and the past has been considered as raw material of battles against different enemies.
We do not have successful historical films which are peaceful, because we do not know what that is like. What we do have are successful historical films about war.
These are attempts to find support within the subconscious. Life doesn’t have support (the pillar is created and transformed every second) yet in extraordinary states of war we are presented with a clear pillar, to be forced to fight, because there is a war, and you know who your enemy is.
There are no enemies in times of peace, there are neighbors, family members, different nationalities, genders and ages, different states of health, social ties, expressions of violence to overcome.
You are forced to find yourself in that life. No one can make decisions for you, let alone order you to stay in that place and be ready to sacrifice yourself (as is the case at the battlefront).
The same can be noticed in the field of journalism, where tying any issue with the themes of defending the homeland and wartime situations is considered a required skill.
In media, there is a wider perception of war. For example, battles are being replaced with sports, culture, the sphere of higher technologies, and in general, everywhere.
If we read about a sportsman or artist who received a prize in a newsletter, they are represented as a “national hero,” who has brought recognition to the Armenian type, the Armenian nation, and Armenian traditions. If, conversely, they lose, then it is either ignored in the newsletter or it is explained with an enemy conspiracy.
Watch a report about how animation is developing in Armenia, and you will be convinced that reporters link animation with a “military patriotic upbringing.” If the report is about any school, then you will see students saying how they are dreaming of becoming soldiers.
If an announcement is made about the birth of a male, then it is absolutely mentioned that a soldier was born.
When there is a need to explain any kind of failure, the emphasis is not on the failure itself, but the comparison with enemy states.
For example, they would say that there is a fault in any area, but they point out that neighbors are worse off. If freedom of speech in Armenia is diminishing, then it’s being diminished even more in neighboring countries. So that, at least in comparison, we turn out to be winners.
In Armenia, after being freed from hypocritical Soviet behavior (when you say one thing but you’re thinking something else) an attempt was made to rely on archaic models. The archaic word “nation” was more favorable than “citizen,” and “country is preferred over “the republic.”
The media, especially television, loves the abstract words “nation” and “country,” which are easier to connect to military topics. If you say “enemies of the republic,” it would mean that the republic discussed, digested and formulated who the enemy is. But by saying ‘the country has enemies,” you muddle both who you are and who the enemy is.
This helps to register people who have even the mildest contradictions towards “nation-army” (even pacifists) within the ranks of enemies. Because it turns out, that if you are against militarization, then you are against the nation. Moreover, you are not part of the nation.
The journalistic field overcomes complicated situations, in which speaking about war you must also speak about sacrifice, with widespread heroism.
The word “hero” is constantly circulated in journalistic materials and social media posts, and has entered our everyday vocabulary, as an attempt to explain war, disaster and eventually death.
The dead are perceived not as victims, instead as heroes, otherwise their death could not be justified.
When the differences between victims and heroes are purposefully erased, it no longer allows for freedom from the burden of propaganda. We cannot use the word “victim” to describe Armenians, “victims” are always foreigners (this concept is etched into our brains from school). An Armenian is a hero, even in cases where they are killed.
We are forced to come across this simple concept every day. That is what main media platforms, who have a large audience and strong support, are attempting to convey.
Even when it comes to real issues within the Armed Forces of Armenia, which cannot be explained by enemies, rather are a result of internal permissiveness or lack of knowledge, we scarcely even hear about it.
The simple and valuable human desire to live, and the notion of peace are never heard of. It seems that everyone understands that it would be a sign of defeat, so they continue to speak more intensively and explicitly on behalf of the nation and the break the sad news about great dangers. It’s easier that way.
The views expressed in the column are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Media.am.