Who Will Be Our Mandela?

By: | Posted on: 12.02.2014

By Dr. Nadia Injeyan-Tatikian

In 1918, a fledgling Armenia was drawing its first breath, rising like a phoenix from the ashes of Genocide. Its protracted and painful birth was celebrated by an incredulous population who battled tenaciously to ensure the newborn nation’s survival.

Almost 8000km away, another baby was also drawing his first breath. In a tiny village named Mvezo, along the Mbashe River of South Africa, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was born. Although he was distantly related to his tribe’s royal family, one of thirteen children, his birth seemed inconsequential. Who could have known that God had sent South Africa a beacon, a son who would rise against the regime’s tyranny and oppression; who would endure 27 years in jail for refusing to compromise his beliefs and vision; who would emerge at age 71 to reign over his people and deliver them from the clutches of apartheid; who would become an international icon, symbolizing Man’s struggle against inequality.

I reflect upon his death, sitting at my kitchen table, staring out the window. It is a sunny day, and the sun will probably shine tomorrow as well. Such is the cruel irony of life. Someone monumental has died; someone who lived by uncompromising standards of integrity and humanity; someone who fought to establish the principles of social justice, liberty and democracy in his beloved South Africa; someone who had garnered so much love and respect, that the sheer volume of mourners, dignitaries and heads of state arriving to pay their respects may well eclipse the funeral of Pope John-Paul II. This rarest of leaders has died, yet there is not a wisp of cloud in the sky to match our collective melancholy. Perhaps though, the blue skies are fitting, a celebration of the legacy he left.

My thoughts turn to my beloved Armenia as they often do lately. Twenty two years ago when Armenia seceded from the Soviet Union declaring independence, our people were exhilarated, filled with dreams and expectations. Today those dreams are increasingly tempered by disillusion. It is not our hostile neighbors, nor even the conflicting world interests holding Armenia hostage, that bother me. Although worrisome, these problems are surmountable. What weighs most heavily upon my shoulders is the uninspiring, ineffective and visionless politicians; the severe internal corruption; the persistent migration of disenchanted citizens abandoning Armenia for anywhere else.

I see a subtle falter in the step of Armenia’s Diasporans; a weariness in their unwavering support. We carry a torch, aflame with national responsibility and idealism. I have coached my children, since infancy, on the importance of this torch, readying them to take it from my hands when I can no longer lift it high. This torch feels heavy lately. I too am faltering and worried. I wonder what Armenia will look like when I am gone. Will it be the vibrant nation we collectively strove to establish? Or…weakened by an alarming and accelerating hemorrhage of citizens, impoverished and raped by its oligarchs and politicians, and abandoned by a disheartened diaspora unable to effect political change, will it become a footnote in history?

Since our independence twenty-two years ago, Armenia’s population dropped from 3,700,000 to under 3,000,000. When one factors in the natural growth rates and repatriation rates, the picture looks even bleaker. In 2013 alone, over 100,000 people emigrated. The United Nations Population Fund predicts that if current trends continue, the population will shrink to 2.3 million by 2050. If this rate is sustained, we will not remain viable as a nation. The next twenty years will be decisive.

Oh Nelson, I call out silently, if only you had been born 8000km northeast of Mvezo. Armenia needed a leader like you; it still does. A leader whose vision inspires and unites, whose guiding hand leads with fortitude and integrity. With such politicians at our helm there is nothing we could not achieve. History demonstrates the greatest periods of prosperity and progress for nations are linked to inspirational leaders. Great Armenian visionaries, writers and leaders are found interspersed everywhere in our history pages even in the darkest chapters. I have to believe, in this crucial point of our history, they will rise again. Who will be our Mandela?

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

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