The digitization of our historical heritage has been recently discussed on one of TV channels. I took part in that program and the host asked me, as a person representing the IT, what ideas I have related to this sphere. The idea has been maturing in my mind for a long time, and I voiced it: we have to unite the efforts of Armenians worldwide around the project for the digitization of our literature and its translation into various languages. It must be a project according to Web 2.0 ideology, i.e. the work is devided between people, evryone is doing something, and we finally get considerable results at the expense of the number of people involved.
Just imagine that we could have made our classical literature available for all Armenians, for those who might be interested in it, for those who don’t speak their native language. We can’t say that nothing at all has been done in this direction: there are several digital libraries featuring some pieces of literature, although fragmentary. But we have nothing even slightly resembling the “Gutenberg Project” for instance: (http://www.gutenberg.org/).
I’d be ready to launch such a project or participate in it. But one idea or rather one observation won’t give me a moment’s peace. After taking a walk through the center of today’s Yerevan any foreigner would think that our capital doesn’t differ from a typical European city. Numerous shops and stores, cafes, bars and restaurants. But the attentive tourist will certainly notice one serious shortcoming: there are practically no bookstores in Yerevan. For comparison, let’s take Vilnius, where I often travel. It’s also a capital of a former USSR republic (with nearly 3 million of population). But if you walk through the center of the city, you will see a great number of bookstores with all the newest international bestsellers in Lithuanian language, in brilliant modern edition. In Armenia, nothing is practically translated and nothing is practically published, because nobody practically buys books. All we are ready to do is buy school books for our children, like Geppetto bought an ABC book for Pinocchio. We are proud of the fact that our ancestors, staking their lives, saved the books. And we ourselves don’t value books at all.
During the years when we were deprived of electricity we have lost not only our forests. We have also lost the habit and the culture of reading. Many books were burned then, warming us in cold houses. Today, instead of reading books we watch the endless soap operas. So, what is the sense of creating electronic libraries of Armenian books in the internet? Who is going to read them?
The question is much deeper than it seems from the first glance. In Soviet times, the process of translation of the most important modern literature into Armenian was well developed. Many translations were of perfect quality. It gave us the chance to look at the world through the eyes of different people with different ways of thinking. It enriched our language, because we had to learn to express in Armenian the thoughts and the feelings of the Spanish, the French, the Japanese and Americans. Today, we are far from this. As a consoling prize, the Russian culture is still available for us mainly through second-rate Russian television. This breakthrough already becomes dangerous for us, as we go into our shells, and limit ourselves by our own vision of the world. It makes us vulnerable, and it becomes easy to manipulate us, and our language is gradually lacking expressive means. This is why it’s vital for us not only to publish the books of our classical and modern authors, but it’s also very important to translate books from other languages.
You would like to ask: what is the way out from this situation? If people don’t read books, we can’t make them do it, but we can little by little persuade them. It’s a nationwide problem and the state must solve it. Constant state propaganda aimed at the stimulation of interest for reading as an important part of personality development- this is the way out. The state should subsidize the translation and publication of modern classical literature in Armenian language, make the price of books reasonable even with small number of printed copies. We must become a nation again, a nation for whom the book means something!
Aram Pakhchanyan is the Co-Founder of the Educational “Ayb” Foundation and Vice-President of ABBYY Software. These views are his own.