By Hagop Balian-
(Original Text in Armenian)
We said …. CENTENNIAL! (The 100th Anniversary of the Genocide …) and we close a school, indeed a theatrical show of the preserving of ‘Armenianism.’
I become positively emotional, whenever I hear that assistance goes to the schools in Armenia from the Armenian Diaspora: an evidence of noble self-awareness. But I have always considered that kind of nobility short-sightedness, while we are confronted against the fact that in the same Diaspora, the Armenian Schools are being shut down!
The foundational structure of the survival of Diaspora’s Armenian identity is the Armenian School without which only a while we can live. Repeating slogans like: “We are Armenians by origin” will not do.
I never wanted to address this issue, because often I felt that I was becoming a pessimist and pessimism is a very destructive ailment for the society.
Constantinople Armenians kept their Armenian identity because it maintained a network of Armenian Schools, saved, rescued the Armenians from the provinces; a patriarch established a Seminary (Tubrevank) which later became a lyceum (Lissé). But here an Armenian School closed its doors in the greatest “Armenian City” Los Angeles wherein we give millions to an Armenian Centre, just to see our name up above on the façade.
An Armenian school shuts down its doors; whose wealthy sponsor individuals and organizations should not have had the problem of financial management.
The school is closed, the building is sold. What would the proceeds be allocated to? The opening of any school is heralded, why wouldn’t be the closing be with fanfare? Announced by someone who has the urge to get up on the stage and deliver a speech.
During the last quarter of the last century in the Diaspora, schools were closed in droves! With historically rich legacy the school named Mukhitarist Samuel Moorad which forged generations, and in Cyprus the Melkonian Educational Institute which played such a providential role, indispensable for the Middle Eastern Armenians.
Now that Cyprus is part of the European Union, it could play the same critical role for the European Armenians for whom there is not abundance of schools. Schools are closing at a time when Diaspora was never counted such an increase in Armenian population. Logically, we should be concluding that we should have had the need for more schools. The phenomenon (the closings) never attracted attention; no one was called for the responsibility. And, life goes on with its little and big ambitious individuals with fireworks, comings and goings to Armenia, being part of conferences and with medals granted on all occasions.
It is unfortunate that Diaspora does not have a leadership structure with all-national jurisdiction to examine the essential questions and call for responsibility, address the public opinion and render a verdict.
It should not be considered mean-spirited when we say that because of our isolated state, we are forced to deal with our national and fundamental issues with a parochial approach thinking that the world does not collapse if an Armenian School shuts down its doors.
The closing of a school is hurtful affair to the nation and one never knows why there is no scrutiny and those who are in responsible positions are not subjected to criticism publicly.
Closing of a school is tantamount to losing a war, while through interminable rhetoric it is repeated that the Armenian Diaspora is waging war against assimilation and extinction.
Fortunately, there are those that dare to open new schools believing in the indispensable role of the school. Under the prevailing conditions of the Diaspora the priority is and the fundamental challenge should be the opening of the schools and community’s, political parties, and wealthy benefactors’ prime concern.
It is an educational-pedagogical enterprise before anything else. And that same plan gives meaning to the school and inspires confidence among the parents and those who want to take the initiative. In another word, the initiatives of the schools and their “owners” may demand such plan, but they cannot be the originators and implementers at the same time. That plan is cultivated and put to practice by personnel who are qualified; an educational establishment that does not possess such an educational-pedagogical plan is condemned to get bogged-down in a swamp.
A seminary has its own educational-pedagogical plan and aims to satisfy the public’s spiritual-intellectual needs. In the past, and in some measure at the present, the seminaries produced teachers and writers for the people, in the absence of other secular institutions.
The secular society has its own needs. To satisfy those needs, governments have their schools. It is said frequently that in civilized countries the large percentage of governmental funds are allocated to the schools and the educational endeavors. The Armenian Diaspora is not a government to have such funds. More people who live on their native soil have the problem of living and keeping their identity and identity is nurtured through the schools and not by slogans, neither by loudspeakers, and the noise at the banquets.
Once in a while we should have the courage to tear down the masks which are sometimes worn as halos, and say: ‘Why a school does close its doors?’ There are those who hang around the schools who seek recognition, satisfaction for their egos who all the while have not set foot in that same school. Why do they come anyway? Is the school they worry about or their own ego?
Building a school is equal to a nation building; and that does not mean just stones and mortars, but its content, live souls that need, demand teaching, educating. Sometimes I think that on the occasion of opening special ceremonies are organized just for the people to go up on the stage pushing each other away, just so they may appear in the historic photo and feel immortalized. Why don’t they stage a similar ceremony at the closing of the school…? So that people may have a chance to throw at them rotten eggs and spoiled tomatoes, on those responsible “administrators” instead of listening to meaningless eulogies??
How about those who are bereft and barefooted of any knowledge of the ones who will today and will tomorrow close the schools? They are the ones who are interested in and intoxicated by the appearances, marbles and celebrations.
Some years ago a school was closed because of economic circumstances. Because of the finances quality of teachers was compromised and the nature of qualified teachers went down, students’ numbers also dwindled and went down consequently. On the contrary, if the quality had improved so would have the numbers and the school would have lasted. When the school is closed people do not deliver obituaries, they don’t celebrate with wine and cheese! The school shuts down in the dark of the night.
The amazing thing is that the Armenian crowd in Armenia as well as in Diaspora, specially, those who attend and deliver speeches on grand openings and always present for wine and cheese celebrations, remain paralyzed in a stupor, they are silent, they give in, instead of defending the rights of the nation’s survival, i.e. Keep the doors of the school open!
The Armenian school belongs ultimately to the nation, not to an organization, not even to the trustees. These are supposed to be accountable to the public, to the nation who put their trust and confidence upon them.
How do we explain the passivity of the rank and file members of the community, of the nation? What do we do with those who are called upon to lead the public institutions on whom the public has placed their trust and confidence?
By criticizing this apparent passivity, we should bring to judgement those who through loudspeakers and under spotlights are occupied with peddling of deceit and falsehood.
What is, we ask, more devastating for the Diaspora than the closing of a school, shutting down its doors forever! or some exhibition halls to display the priceless heritage of ours, or once a year go on to the streets for protest and for the defense of our cause (i.e. “We Remember and We demand!”)
These cannot take place of the Armenian schools. With entire self-awareness, we need to mobilize and strengthen the will and the resolve of the crowds, here and there, everywhere against those who are the decision makers and struggle to enable the schools to endure and persevere with their objectives to remain faithful and true to the pedagogical educational mission,
We should know that where and why investments are made, always bearing in mind the survival and the living of the national identity, to persevere and endure with a philosophical platform which is immediate and long-term.
Rendered into English by Rev. Fr. Vertanes Kalayjian, Archpriest,
Pastor Emeritus – Washington, D.C.