One Soldier’s Tragedy, an Entire Nation’s Shame

Protesters in Yerevan against Harutyunyan's mistreatment

BY HOURY MAYISSIAN
From The Armenian Weekly

“The citizens of the Republic of Armenia shall be under the protection of the
Republic of Armenia within the territory of the Republic of Armenia and beyond its borders.”
–Article 11.3, Constitution of the Republic of Armenia

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

A few weeks ago one picture sent shockwaves throughout Armenia and the diaspora. It was of a man dressed in a colorful robe and slippers, sitting behind bars in a Russian courtroom. His unshaven face, the lines on his forehead, his desperate gaze painting a haunting portrait.

The man was Hrachya Harutyunyan, a citizen of the Republic of Armenia and an Artsakh freedom fighter. Harutyunyan was working as a truck driver in Russia when his vehicle collided into a bus, causing the death of 18 people and injuring many others, including himself. He had traveled to Russia just a few months before the incident to earn enough money to afford a tombstone for his dead son, who had himself served in the army. The degrading treatment he received by Russian law enforcement officials led to widespread anger in Armenia and protests in front of Russian diplomatic representations in both Yerevan and Gyumri.

The initial outrage over Harutyunyan’s treatment was quickly overshadowed by the spontaneous citizen movement against the Yerevan public transport price hike. While media in Armenia are still reporting on the issue, the hype around it died as quickly as it reached its peak. Nevertheless, from the moment it was circulated, that infamous image continued to occupy my mind because Harutyunyan’s tragedy epitomizes so many of the issues facing Armenia today: poverty, emigration, neglected citizenry, even the consequences of an alliance where one party has disproportionate power over the other.

The numbers speak for themselves. According to 2011 World Bank estimates, 35 percent of Armenia’s population lived below the poverty line. That’s more than one in three people. The latest official figures on emigration reveal a new outward wave, with more than 200,000 people believed to have left Armenia in the last 5 years.

Hrachya Harutyunyan’s unfortunate fate is ultimately the consequence of the Armenian government’s failure to care for its citizens, not least its soldiers and war veterans, and to safeguard their right for a decent life upheld and protected by the rule of law.

It is true that since Harutyunyan’s court appearance, the government has tried to make representation to the Russian authorities on his behalf. However, Harutyunyan should never have been in Moscow in the first place. When we have a prime minister who owns offshore accounts and a Catholicos who owns bus routes, by no standard is it acceptable for a soldier—who has put his life on the line for his country—to resort to unfriendly foreign shores for the price of a tombstone for another, deceased soldier.

Yes, the government failed Hrachya Harutyunyan, just like it has failed the thousands who have left Armenia and those that are deciding to leave with every new dawn.

It also failed a freedom fighter just like it has failed many of his comrades in arms.

Since May, Artsakh war heroes have been staging frequent sit-ins in Yerevan, Gyumri, and most recently in Vartenis to protest their harsh socio-economic conditions and demand government support for basic living expenses.

It is both ironic and symbolic that Harutyunyan was subjected to such treatment in no other country than an ally that has so much economic, military and political interests in Armenia. It not only highlights the vulnerability of Russia’s Armenian community, but also serves as another powerful reminder of the dynamics underlying the partnership between the two countries.

While there is no question that Harutyunyan deserved more dignified treatment by Russian law enforcement officials, the bigger issue here remains the Armenian government’s treatment of its own citizens. It is ultimately the government that sets the standard and example for how its citizens are to be regarded. The Armenian government would do well to start living up to its constitutional responsibility of protecting its citizens and safeguarding their rights. Only then can we avoid new Hrachya Harutyunyans, Hrach Muradyans, Vahe Avetians, new non-combat deaths in the army and, yes, possibly even new emigrants.

As Harutyunyan undergoes trial in Moscow, his tragedy will remain a low point for our entire nation.

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4 Comments

  1. From Russia Without Love said:

    That dress should be saved at all costs for a select future Russian bastard to be forced to wear it and paraded on the streets of Yerevan, that is, if any Armenian official in Armenia has any self-respect at all left over after licking Russian boots day in and day out.

    The collapse of the Soviet Union rather than giving us a free Armenia turned the nation being run by a bunch of spineless slaves of Russian interests. Compare that to little Israel, who comes to the US and orders the president and the whole country around to do its bidding. All the while those pathetic charlatan Armenian government officials don’t even have the balls to demand free gas for its starving citizens from a so-called ally who has more gas than it knows what to do with.

  2. Parsik said:

    the last thing you could do to save yourself when confronting an angry standing bear with bear hands is to kick him hard in his underbelly, to remind him that he has weak spots also and Armenia is just located geopolitacally in exact spot to deliver that reminding kick to our overgrown and powerful ally that there is limits and red lines for every relationships in this world, and they better be rethinking again about consequances of their new imposing and downgrading policy toward their hisorical allies

  3. bigmoustache said:

    stop the migration, stop going to Russia. fight for your nation to create the jobs and the prosperity you seek elsewhere. my family came from Lebanon and I regret them doing that. I have felt this way for since I was young because the Armenian neighborhoods in Lebanon are like a little Armenia. they are patriotic and their Armenian identity is stronger than anywhere else in the world, including Armenia. if I was them I would have stayed there no matter how dangerous the war got. we need to save Armenia and our old presence in Lebanon, Syria and Jerusalem. after all, we once ruled over Syria and Lebanon. and Lebanon is our last presence on the Mediterranean. you could say our last piece of Cilicia.

  4. Avetis said:

    Freedom or no freedom fighter, if this character was found to have broken traffic laws he should be jailed for however many years Russian laws allows. Before you West-leaning nutjobs in the Diaspora complain about the women’s robe and slippers he wore, I suggest you first mourn the eighteen innocent lives he took, and imagine what your reactions would have been if an Iranian did the same in Armenia…

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