Several years ago, a delegation from the Palestinian National Authority had come to Armenia as part of a diplomatic campaign called Palestine 194. The campaign was to gain membership in the UN for Palestine. The delegation was led by a senior member of Fatah, Nabil Shaath, who is currently the advisor on Foreign Affairs and International Relations to Mahmoud Abbas. One evening I was with them and we went to sit at a cafe near the Opera House. As we were walking, one of the members of the delegation, a woman whose name I can no longer recall stopped and looked around. All the tables were full of people and the sounds of laughter were being carried through the warm evening air. She turned to me and said, “I dream of the day that Palestine can be like this.”
Being a journalist sometimes, or maybe almost always, means you become cynical because you read too much, see too much and can never look away because looking away from things that are too painful to bear means you’re not doing your job. There have been many times I didn’t want to know what was going on around me - the injustice, the poverty, the lack of accountability, the indifference, the violence.
And so, when my resolve was shaken or when I was unsure of the future I would often recall the words of that Palestinian woman who dreamed that one day her tortured nation would resemble my tortured nation’s country. Her sentiment had startled me and I had kept it locked inside my consciousness, sort of like a talisman, so that whenever some event had dragged me down, I could pull it up and remember that not everything is as bad as I thought it was.
I hadn’t thought of the Palestinian woman’s words for a long time until I heard a similar sentiment, this time from a woman from Afghanistan named Jamila Afghani.
Afghani was one of the finalists of the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity. During the awards ceremony that took place in Yerevan on May 28, Afghani was honored for the work she carries out in her country advocating for women and children. During her address, she said, "I am carrying in my heart, the hope that one day Afghanistan will be like Armenia." And I was startled again.
“To be like Armenia” is not something we are accustomed to hearing. For what does it mean to be like us?
To be like us means having few choices and limited opportunities. To be like us means being subjected to genocide a century ago and today being subjected to the interests and whims of global powers. It means living in a blockade, surrounded by unfriendly neighbors whose guns are pointed in your direction. It means corruption and intolerance inside your own country. Doesn’t it?
Who are we to dream big? Haven’t we squandered so much of our human and material capital? Haven’t we lost our way?
I want to believe that the Armenia that hosted the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity on May 28, a day of great importance for the Armenian nation, is one that actually espouses the values of human rights and humanism. I want to believe that we can lead a global humanitarian movement. I want to believe that small nations can do big things and dream beyond their borders. I want to believe that this nation I identify with, for whom I crossed oceans and in the process, ripped my children away from everything and everyone that was dear to them meant something.
While there may be many opinions about what the added value of the Aurora Prize can be for the Armenian people and how it can or cannot bring about change in our country, it is defining a different narrative. After all, positioning the Armenian nation globally and fixing the problems inside the homeland do not have to be mutually exclusive. Who said we couldn’t do both?
For millions of people in the developing world, “to be like Armenia” is indeed a dream. And while it is a dream that we have not fully achieved, one that still needs incredible work, for two women, one from Palestine and the other from Afghanistan, it is a dream I hope they achieve and surpass.