| We're nothing if
not ambitious here at ArmeniaNow so let me try to
go one better than Dickens and offer you a tale
of three cities. Adapted for the cinema.
Scene one: Armenia 2020. A place of the imagination,
constructed in 2003 by people who want to encourage
consideration of the future and what it will take
to make a better one.
A conference by this title in Yerevan draws together
Armenians (and non-Armenians, myself included)
from Armenia, Russia, Europe, and the United States
to discuss alternatives. One road leads to membership
of the European Union, another to junior partnership
with Russia, a third to Singapore-style self-reliance,
and a fourth downhill to a stagnated version of
The gathering considers each of the possibilities
without choosing between them. This is not a meeting
to decide Armenia's fate but to persuade others
to ponder it and to reach their own conclusions
about the best way forward. Perhaps one of the
four options, perhaps a fifth or a sixth, the
point is to initiate public dialogue about the
kind of Armenia people want to live in and bequeath
to their children.
Scene two: Armenia 2003. A bar in central Yerevan
the next evening. Waiters scuttle in and out of
a back room hidden from general view for private
dining. The owner paces the bar nervously, occasionally
scolding members of his staff into making a better
impression. Small knots of drivers and security
guards sit tight around tables near the entrance,
A deal is going down and the air is pregnant
with tense expectancy. Members of the President's
circle are among the diner-dealers in the out-of-sight
room so the stakes are high. This is how the future
gets carved up in Armenia now, anonymously, unaccountably,
in smoke-filled rooms by small cliques of men
exploiting their privileged access to power for
personal enrichment over the cognac.
A friend watching the proceedings begins to tell
me about the building he lives in with his wife
and young children. It has 36 homes on nine floors.
Among the families living there, he says, only
he and one other neighbor has a steady job. The
rest get by with temporary short-term work or
on money sent by relatives who have gone abroad.
"I love my country, really very much, and
I know that I can never leave here. But many of
the other people think only of leaving and I understand
them, they haven't any hope," he says.
Nodding in the direction of the secret deal-makers,
he continues: "We have a lot of problems
in this country, a lot, and many of them are caused
by the Government."
Bar talk comes cheap in any country, of course.
But its special character here is in the resigned
shrug that accompanies such remarks, the certain
knowledge that in the next morning's sober light
there is nothing he and his fellow citizens feel
able to do to change the way they live now in
Scene three: Prague, next morning. It is a short
flight from Yerevan to the capital of the Czech
Republic, a city so beautiful that it renders
the word meaningless. Prague prospers with an
easy confidence, displaying its charms proudly
to multitudes of foreign tourists. I am visiting
for the first time since 1989 and the transformation
in that time is astonishing.
Then, the city was grey and lifeless, its people
waiting sullenly for the exhausted Communist regime
to collapse a month later under the weight of
its own failings. Now, Prague waits hopefully
for its new future to begin next May as a member
of the European Union.
I take in the views with an inescapable sense
of time slipping. Fourteen years from now, with
2020 looming on the horizon, whose view of Armenia
will have prevailed? The thinkers or the drinkers?