While the only nation mentioned on the ancient Babylonian map that exists in 2008 is Armenia, believe it or not, today is the Republic of Armenia’s 17th birthday. That is the anniversary of independence that today’s tiny Armenia won in 1991. Experienced in civilization yet still a teenager in modern statecraft, Armenia has a history that can be summarized as a struggle for survival.


With all its current problems – institutionalized corruption, nationwide poverty and ignored pollution – Armenia can state it has had worse experiences. With the 1915 genocide by the Ottoman Turks and Kurdish irregulars as the ceiling, Armenians have been also invaded by Assyrians, Persians, Arabs, Greeks, Mongols, Turks, again Persians, and others. And while the Armenia that exists today is only a small portion of the land that Armenians continuously knew as their homeland for at least 2,500 years until World War I, its experience of continuous struggle for survival is a unique history of heroism.


Ironically, today is also the birthday of one of the worst oppressors of world history. Ottoman Empire’s Sultan Abdul Hamid II would be 166-years-old in 2008. Besides the 1915 genocide, Abdul Hamid’s massacre of over 200,000 Armenians in the 1890s is a tragedy never forgotten.


But is Armenia’s heartbreaking past an excuse for the institutionalized injustice in the Republic of Armenia today? Why can’t judges be independent and uncorrupt? Why can’t the government care about the environment? Why can’t oligarchs stop privatizing Armenia’s virgin forests? Why can’t the society start tolerating and respecting each other? Why can’t dehumanization against Bosha (Gypsies) stop?


As much rhetoric these questions may sound, injustice in Armenia may be the primary reason for the alarming emigration. In an overpopulated world, just 3-million-strong Armenia is one of the few – if not the only – country that has a vanishing population. Yet economy may be the compelling reason for leaving Armenia. Turkey’s blockade of Armenia keeps the country from developing, but is there more that we, Armenians, can do before blaming the rest of the world?


Of course there are many things Armenians can do. But perhaps before changing the country individual Armenians should work on self-improvement. Change is often an offensive concept in Armenia – suggesting outside influence or treachery of traditionalism.


I know what change is. I have changed a lot since I was 16, and I know I will change even more before I am 26. But change doesn’t mean fundamental destruction of core values and ideas. Change is an ongoing self-improvement, and opening one’s eyes even wider. Armenians have one of the biggest and most beautiful eyes on earth – I am sure we can make our eyes even wider.


Perhaps 17 is the age when people are capable of real change and real improvement. That’s also an age of giving up childhood romanticism and entering the real world. Yet it is at this age when people entering the real world shouldn’t take the world at it is for granted. Perhaps the only lesson of the real world is that it’s not what it should and could be.


So on the 17th birthday of old but young Armenia, let’s improve our relationships with fellow Armenians, let’s respect each other, and let’s work for a better Armenia today. Because next year Armenia will already be an adult, and excuses of immaturity will be ineffective.


But this Sunday we can have fun. After all, it’s a celebration.


Happy birthday, Armenia! And many more…