“[Nationalism] is an important manifestation for the improvement of the nation,” says Nerses, a teacher from Tavush region, who believes Armenians have been nationalists since ancient times. His point of view perhaps proposes that nationalism is an integral part of the Armenian identity. However, the concept of nationalism as it is understood today couldn’t have existed “in ancient times.”
Without proposing a unified definition of nationalism, most teachers in the dialogue either have positive perceptions of it or believe it could be used for our good despite its potential dangers. One teacher, for example, proposes that “each nation should have its nationalism to create universal values.” However, she later explains that what she means by ‘nationalism’ is more about national self-awareness. The assumed link between nationalism and progress is shared by another teacher as well.
Based on the participants’ ideas and experiences, there seem to be highly differing ideas and an overall difference between what they believe to be nationalism and academic perspectives. According to one of the teachers, nationalism has different purposes depending on geo-political factors. For example, according to him, the primary manifestation of Armenian nationalism is the issue of maintaining statehood and national values. On the other hand, “In European countries, nationalist ideas are associated with human rights and the right to vote, while in Eastern cultures it is imperialist; they try to expand the territory and bring the enemies to their knees.” Needless to say, this generalization could be refuted with theory and practice: nationalisms are much more similar across nations than people tend to believe. However, regardless of accuracy, views expressed in the dialogue provide a lens through which participants’ perceptions of this complex ideology about the Armenian context can be explored. It’s also important to note that participants draw differences between ‘nationalism’ (azgainakanutyun in Armenian) and what they call azgainamolutyun [ազգայնամոլություն], which again translates to ‘nationalism,’ but is considered an extreme version of it. According to one participant, for example, extreme nationalism is more typical to empires and has led to the extermination of other nations.
Contrary to teachers who speak of nationalism mostly with approval, Minas, a student, approaches it with criticism. Expressing his hate for nationalism, he holds a view that it is “an artificially-created phenomenon which can have negative consequences for small nations.” Interestingly, Minas further juxtaposes nationalism with realism. “The authorities of 1918-1920 are proof of this when an extremely nationalist government took over. If power were in the hands of a more realistic government, we wouldn’t have a significant part of the problems Armenia faces today,” he explains. During the dialogue, this point sparked a lot of debate, and many of the teachers felt the need to correct him or ask him provocative questions so that he would rethink his stance. This might reflect the dynamic observed in classrooms when teachers deal with such topics or students who have differing opinions from their own.
Intergenerational Dialogues. We and Nationalism. part 2
This article is based on dialogue between history teachers and students within the scope of the “Intergenerational Dialogue” project led by Paradigma Educational Foundation in partnership with the Friedrich Naumann Foundation. The real names of dialogue participants have been changed to protect their privacy.