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Intergenerational Dialogues. We and Nationalism. part 3

Teachers and students seem to have preconceptions about what constitutes the Armenian identity, and many perceive nationalism as a shield to avoid influences they find contradictory or dangerous to that identity. An illustration of this is the case of one teacher who puts more emphasis on nationalism in his teaching out of fear that national identity is under threat today. “For example, when the United States sends volunteers to propagate their culture, they destroy our national identity by doing so,” he says. Moreover, in his view, students enrolling in the American University of Armenia (AUA) or the Armenian-French university instead of state universities reflect a similar problem because it’s assumed they’ll eventually leave the country. However, there’s no evidence to support this assumption. His notion excludes the possibility that perhaps those universities attract students due to their quality of education rather than students’ lack of interest in preserving their Armenian identity.

Another perceived threat to the Armenian identity and statehood is the various religious sects, “which turn people into members and their children do not serve in the army.” In Armenian society, serving in the army and fighting on the battlefield is the ultimate manifestation of patriotism. Nevertheless, there are shifting perceptions, and some teachers confront the hackneyed narrative that one should die for his nation to prove his patriotism. “I think that serving the motherland is not only through weapons; it is also by living for the motherland,” says Nelli. Tatev, another teacher, shares this view, adding that “if we all strive for excellence in our professions serve the state, there will never be a time when we need to die.” Although these teachers approach serving the state differently, they still attach an individual’s identity to the state.

One recurring pattern throughout the dialogue is that peace and nationalism are mutually exclusive. “If someone says they support peace, they are not considered nationalist [enough],” Nelli has observed, adding that “Armenian nationalism is aimed against Turkey; a nationalist is someone who hates Turkey.” She disagrees with this logic and finds that peace can coexist with nationalism. Furthermore, in her view, when a country is in a peaceful, stable condition, there is no need to promote nationalism. Minas (student), on the other hand, believes that although nationalism isn’t always the main reason behind wars, “We can’t have a peaceful world if we don't eliminate nationalism.” Throughout the dialogues in this series, participants often voice views that contradict themselves. This dialogue wasn’t an exception. Minas, for example, who was most critical of nationalism, holding a strong belief that “nationalism is nonsense,” later called for practices like flag worship. “I would love to see the RA flag hanging everywhere because it is one of the most important symbols of the state,” he said, bringing Turkey as an example. “Their flags, the large-scale pictures of important figures —  they are everywhere, and that should be brought in.” Needless to say, calling for practices widely used in Turkey, a state whose very foundation is based on nationalist ideology and settler-colonialism, which persistently either exterminated, assimilated, or denied the very existence of minority groups — including Armenians — is quite controversial. 

In this exploration of nationalism within the Armenian context, it becomes evident that defining nationalism is a complex task influenced by cultural, historical, and personal nuances. Participants in the dialogue offer diverse and even contradictory viewpoints on nationalism's role in Armenian education.

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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.

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