Notes From Hairenik
November 22, 2004
I want to stress the difficulties I have had of late with overcoming a profound sense of complacency amongst the youth here, particularly the male youth. There is a strong tendency for young men to adopt a policy of indifference regarding circumstances circulating in their own environment—whether political, social or cultural—and even regarding their own lives. But this complacent mentality is also predominant amongst parents, many of whom are unable abandon what life was like in their Soviet past and look forward to achieve what is possible comparable to their resources. I have labeled this mentality, which is paralyzing the socio-political movement of Armenia, the "vochinch" mentality.

"Vochinch" can be translated from the Armenian in several ways, depending on the occasion it is used. The direct English translation is "nothing," yet infrequently is it used in this context in conversation. More commonly, "vochinch" is used to express unconcern, as are the terms "whatever", "it doesn't matter", or even "don't worry about it" in English lexicon. "Vochinch" is also used to describe something as being "okay" or "so-so" in response to an inquiry regarding the quality of a good or service, and can also vary in degrees of acceptance based on the mood of the respondent.

This term is thrown around numerous times each day by a good number of Armenian citizens, and depending on the person the context in which it is used varies. I myself have also conceded to using the term in the "okay" and "don't worry about it" contexts, but do not consider myself as being complacent, at least regarding Armenia's society and development potential. However, the sense of indifference that is generally attached to the usage of this term is unmistakable, and it has long been a complaint of mine.

I have taken surveys amongst various youth during the last three years or so and an overwhelming majority feels that there is little to no way to change the system in which they live, and no job opportunities exist for them. Yet some of them make no strides in finding ways in which to overturn their misfortune or seek opportunities that are not obvious to them. I have even spoken to young men and women living and working in the US who have no intention of returning to Armenia as they insist there is nothing to return to, and that there is nothing they can to do live normally, without fear of corruption interfering in some capacity. But when I dig deeper, I cannot find any concrete reasons for their stances.

The main indicator of this “vochinch” phenomenon amongst the youth is the fact that there are virtually no youth actively involved in politics in Armenia. Parliament members are typically over 40 and have no appeal to younger generations. Rather than mobilizing, the youth remain silent regarding all politics, as they believe that the system cannot change, and that it is futile to even try. Or, they are simply uninterested.

I do not blame the youth for being frustrated with their government and the weak presence of law and order. But fear and indifference is not making their lives easier. They fear being oppressed, either by physical force or socioeconomics, thus they do not attempt to make changes from within. Those that have an inkling to get out of the country and the option to leave do. And I do not see any movements amongst the youth to activate and set into motion the change they expect to be realized.

Yet I have meet several people, and I have had the good fortune of developing friendships with some, that are willing to continue their lives in Armenia, with no intention of leaving or giving in to indifference. They obtain the training and education necessary in order to land the job opportunities that are available. They stay close to their families, and ensure that their homes are secure. And they do believe that things will change in their society and government, albeit slowly and by the hands of a few.

By far, young journalists are the greatest opponents of the “vochinch” mentality, but this same spirit can also be found in people working in civil society-building organizations working throughout the country, and even in the youth working in the services industry. So as much as “vochinch” seems to be spreading, there is a counterweight that is becoming heavier by the day with each fresh news report about governmental corruption and suppression of free speech through harassment.

The “vochinch” mentality and its scope will further be explored in future log entries.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm kind of interested. Doesn't the vochinch mentality also exist in the Diaspora but in the form whereby let's make believe that everythign is progressing smoothly in Armenia and not do anything to address the issues that will affect the viability of the country in the future in much the same way that you say that many youth do here?

Maybe the vochinch mentality is an Armenian thing -- wherever Armenians are found.

However, I would like to say a few things and we've had this discussion before. Firstly, there is an official policy to prevent the emergence of political youth movements in Armenia. The formation of student bodies -- as we saw recently with the spat between ARF and Republican youth -- is controlled by the government because put quite simply, no republic in the CIS really wants an active and political youth movement. It's dangerous.

Secondly, unlike Serbia, Georgia and now Ukraine, there is no funding for promoting the development of a progressive student youth movement and incidentally, the formation of such movements generally have revolutionary purposes anyway and as the Diaspora doesn't want that and any external foreign powers don't have real interest in Armenia...

Another issue is the way in which this system works. The term "vochinch" was explained to me as being something specific to the Soviet era. It can mean, things are alright but not good and not bad in the context of an oppressive system that does not tolerate dissent (although also with regards to this expression in the Communist era an announcement of having more than you should).

And I think this is also another reason. We can criticize the vochinch mentality but we are not citizens. We also don't have to cope with the trampling of or rights on an almost daily basis. We don't have to risk the Ministry of National Security visiting our Professors when we participate in a protest or be damned if we don't have a system of contacts to land us a decent paying job.

I'm sorry Garo, but here I disagree with you totally. Unless you have connections you can not get anywhere on your own merits. The only way to break this system is to work outside Armenia and re-establish yourself back in Armenia and hope that you will be accomodated into an existing network.

And as for journalists, one young newspaper editor just printed an article and there was what looked like an attempted assassination attempt on his life only yesterday. In other areas of the media, photographers including myself have been attacked for doing our jobs and others have been beaten. Can you understand now why this vochinch mentality exists?

Yes, people should stand up and fight for their rights but in the context of Armenia what you are calling for is a mass campaign of civil disobedience and possibly revolution. Anything else on an individual basis is western naievity. More than anything, people need coordination and leaders of which there are none. They also need ideas and something to believe in and all that is gone also.

It will change, of course, but the time is not yet right. There are also moves to change this situation but again, there are other pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that still have yet to fit into place.

But basically, when people do stand up for their rights here and demand change, the Diaspora condemns them and the police arrest them. As we saw in Georgia, Serbia and Ukraine, people demanding change is not simply an internal matter. There also needs to be esternal support.

I suppose the Diaspora could offer that support but so far, all indications are that the Diaspora might yet be one reason why this vochinch mentality still exists.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
BTW: Re. the vochinch mentality among Armenian journalists, the bigger problem is actually ownership and sponsorpship of the media in Armenia which censors journalists and / or demands self-censorhip to fit in with a pro-presidential agenda.

In this case, therefore, we can include Gerard Cafesjian as the main money behind Channel Armenia in this. As I said, there is a system in place in Armenia and if you buck that system or demand change you will get nowhere.

This is why, until we have charismatic and genuine leaders in Armenia and also, a Diaspora that doesn't think only about its financial interests in the Republic, nothing will change and probably, the only future for the majority of Armenians lies outside.

Most educated Armenians here understand that. Those that stay either don't have the opportunity to get out, have the necessary contacts in place to survive (family networks, relatives abroad or are part of the corrupt system) or are simply too poor to think of anything other than survival.

Of course, there is a minority that don't think of a better life abroad and another small group that is trying to affect change -- but for the majority, they'll only be ostracised by the state, arrested, intimidated or worse.

And when people do stand up and demand change what does the Diaspora do? It condemns them and sides with whoever is President at the time. They did that with LTP and they're doing that now with Kocharian. Probably, they'll do that with the next President whoever that may be.

That is the Armenian Reality.


Anonymous Anonymous said...
Dear Garo,

My husband Murad and I have always looked forward to reading your pieces in The Armenian Weekly.  We feel the same about your new on-line journal.  Your work is very interesting and thought-provoking. 

Keep the "notes" coming!
Knarik O.  Meneshian

Anonymous Anonymous said...
"Vochinch" is a widespread, reflex-action habit/response. In Latin America, whatever the circumstances, they say "No probleme". In North America there are variations... "No sweat" is one. "Nichevo" is the Russian version. Arabs say "Maalesh".
However, "vochinch" is a disastrous attitude in a country facing so many challenges.