Sunday, July 04, 2004

Our Independence Day

Yeah, I know it's been a week since I submitted a post, but I've kind of felt a dearth of inspiration, lately, and I have't wanted to get boring. I mean wordy. I mean... well, I'm sure there are lows that even I wouldn't want to sink to.

So anyway, yesterday was Independence Day, and coincidentally, today is Constitution Day in Armenia, so I get a 3-day weekend. I feel almost like a traitor in saying this, but I'd rather be working, today; there is so much to do, and I leave for Baku on Friday. I've travelled a lot with credit officers to various towns, lately, and have learned a little bit more about Armenians. I don't have any specific stories to tell, but I have been struck by how old this proud culture is. I think that in a lot of ways, their history and current political situation mirrors the Jewish nation. The Armenians are an ethnic group that can trace its history back literally thousands of years. They claim that they are direct descendents from Noah who supposedly landed his Ark on nearby Ararat after the great flood in the Bible. I smile to myself when people tell me that they are Noah's direct descendents, and feel tempted to ask them if perhaps I might have an ancestral connection to one of the monkeys that survived on his boat.

In all seriousness, though, there is a fair amount of historical evidence to suggest that Ararat is the actual place referred to in the Bible. The Armenians have a fairly tragic history, as they have been scattered and driven by various empires and conquerers for centuries. They suffered a horrifying period of genocide in the early 1900's at the hands of the Turks when millions of Armenians were killed. This explains the huge Armenian diaspora. Less than 50% of the world's population of Armenians actually lives in Armenia. It seems to me that this has something to do with their current border disbutes. Stalin infamously arbitrarily set most of the boundaries of the various republics within the Soviet Union, splitting most ethnic groups into various parts. When the Soviet Union fell, Armenians in western Azerbaijan began to lobby for reunification with Armenia. After a lot of ethnic conflict and bloody skirmishes that no one can quite agree about who started, the two little countries went to war. When the smoke cleared, Armenia was occupying the native Armenian regions, in addition to a good chunk of Azerbaijan proper.

I'm always curious as to what Armenians think about the occupation and current border disputes. It's interesting that most Armenians are as quick to defend the intentions and actions of their own country as Americans are about a current conflict in a country not so far away. The Azeris deserved it, they say. They are very close to the Turks, who have a history of hating Armenians. They have a greedy government that is willing to do anything. If Armenia didn't invade, they'd regret it in the future. And on and on.

It's hard for me to know who is right in situations like this, and I honestly don't know what to think. I talked to one Armenian credit officer who had the best response that I've yet heard to my questions about the conflict. He told me that although he hates to admit it, the Armenians are at fault. He said "sure, there was genocide, and nobody really wants to admit it. Sure, that particular region was historically Armenia. It has not been Armenia for over a generation, though, and it was the Armenians who decided that they couldn't get along in there, and decided to invade." He told me that he's just ashamed that his country are the occupiers of another sovereign country. I don't know how analagous this is to the US situation in Iraq, but I do know that there are always many reasons for conflicts, and we tend to over-simplify them in our own favor. I feel that it's worthwhile to think about such things on the national holiday representing my country's idealogical birth.

Anyway, I'll get off my soapbox, because I admit that I really don't know what I'm talking about. We've only received a handful of questionnaires back, and I'm beginning to get a little more worried. I have a total of about 90 completed questionnaires in hand, with three more working days to collect them. Some miracles will have to occur to hit our target of 350. The fault is mine, I think I kind of wimped out when the office staff suggested that we hand them out. I had doubts, but I gave in, anyway. I think that the way to salvage the situation will be to do a partial analysis of the data for the country report, and explain why the project was less than successful. The staff never felt any urgency to assist with the data collection, so I need to give them an idea of how this data will help FINCA. At the latest, I'll provide updates before I leave on Friday.

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