Many of my conversations with Armenians cover the same topics: what I’m doing here, if I have a mother and father, if America is good or here (literal translation), etc. Things that are generally not interesting, so I’ve never bothered to really blog about them. But I’ve finally had a conversation I think is worth mentioning because 1. it covers an interesting topic and 2. some ridiculous things were said.
I was on the way to my village from Sisian. We had just dropped off another volunteer, Tylor, whose village is on the same road as mine and is about halfway between Lor and Sisian. The driver, who we’ve taken before, started on the same line of questioning that I usually get. Are you married? No. Why not? I’m very young. Eventually, this somehow led to the topic of sex. He told me that when he gets married he will have his wife and also some other woman with whom he will have sex. I must have said something like “interesting…” because we then got into a discussion about whether this was allowed or not. I told him that I didn’t think it was allowed and that I also don’t believe in sex before marriage. He asked why, and I said because I am a Christian. He said that Armenians are Christians, Russians are Christians (he lived there for a year), and they all do it like this. I explained that that might be the case, but that Jesus said it was not allowed. Then he dropped a bomb, something I never thought I would hear from a man who called himself a Christian – “Christos skhal er asum” or “Christ was wrong.”
That was surprising to hear. Of course everyone has different definitions of what it means to be a Christian, but it seems like believing that Jesus spoke the truth should be on everyone’s list, whether you are a Christian or not. So I reaffirmed that I believed having sex with more than one person and sex before marriage was not acceptable among Christians and we eventually got off the subject.
The next topic began when he made the claim that the Armenian people are the smartest nationality in the world. Statements such as these are pretty common here. I usually don’t argue or bring up the numerous reasons why this type of claim makes absolutely no sense (e.g. the difficulty in even defining a nationality, defining intelligence, actually performing any type of test among every “nationality” on Earth and having it be somewhat objective, etc.). This time I decided to push back a little bit. I told him that that kind of thing is actually really hard to know, and asked him how he knew. “Hastatvel e.” It has been confirmed. I didn’t tell him “No, it actually hasn’t been confirmed” or ask “How has it been confirmed?” because he clearly couldn’t give any other reason for why he believed this statement. I repeated that it would be difficult to know a fact like that and left it at that.
It is very common in nationalistic societies for absurd statements like these to be considered true by much of the population. Indoctrination becomes pervasive in history books and through the government and educational institutions. But it’s not hard to find statement’s like this in my own country, the United States. How many times have I heard that America is the best, freest nation in the world? Too many. And the people who say this probably know very little about the actual facts related to freedom and …goodness… in America. For example, some people like to think that America is so great because anyone who works hard will be successful. Simply not true. An OECD study found that the US ranks “well below Denmark, Australia, Norway, Finland, Canada, Sweden, Germany and Spain in terms of how freely citizens move up or down the social ladder. Only in Italy and Great Britain is the intensity of the relationship between individual and parental earnings even greater.” How about freedom of the press, one every American would surely defend? It turns out the US ranks around 20th in a few different rankings, one of which is from the French-based Reporters Without Borders. It’s also ranked low among developed countries when it comes to foreign aid (as a percentage of GNP).
There are some statistics that place the US near the top. One of them is murder with firearms where the US statistics are off the charts compared to other developed countries. Another is well known: the amount of money we spend on our military, almost as much as the rest of the world combined.
So absurd statements can certainly be heard from some Armenians, but (somewhat) educated Americans can be just as guilty of spouting nonsense.