I Am An Accomplice

Patrick Azadian
Patrick Azadian

Patrick Azadian

BY PATRICK AZADIAN

Every nation suffers from certain illnesses and insecurities. The Armenian people are no different. While we are not a homogenous bunch by any means, the absence of genuine self-criticism and loyalty to absolutism in our society are plagues that have sapped our potential as a nation and have bred victimhood and helplessness at every juncture of our recent history. They also hinder our progress as a people on our ancestral lands.

The recent events in Armenia, the taking of hostages in the Erebuni district of Yerevan by a group of war veterans and the killing of an Armenian citizen, has brought to fore some of the worst features in our people. While some politicians and self-proclaimed leaders are busy labeling the armed takeover of the police station in a negative light, others are outspoken in blindly throwing their support behind the armed activists, justifying the act based on the fact that some government officials have done worse things to our people. And they have. But once again, we have forgotten our collective responsibility of how we have arrived at this unpleasant crossroad. Many of us are satisfying our desire (not a hunger, because if we all had an insatiable hunger, we wouldn’t be where we are today) for positive change by proclaiming symbolic statements in support of the armed group and looking for saviors. Others are using the opportunity to strike a more ‘moderate’ note by claiming that acts of violence are not a solution to the ills of our society and implying that we are slowly and diligently making progress.

Today, more than ever, it is popular to sound and act militant and pinpoint the responsibility of all evil on a corrupt leadership that has lead our motherland to this dark day. They have. They have had the power, maybe not the competence or the vision, to lead us to greener pastures (as if we are a herd of sheep to be led to the promise land). We are blind to the reality that, as a society, we can only think in absolutes. Two viewpoints are emerging and being cemented in stone and ripping our society apart. One dogmatic view claims that if you are against this act of desperation, you are a reactionary who supports the government, and therefore a ‘traitor.’ The other, no less cynical, claims that if you are in support of this symbolic and violent act of protest, you support chaos and ‘terrorism.’ Both arguments may have some merit, yet, in the big picture they are irrelevant. They highlight the distinct roots of an ongoing problem, two of the illnesses that plague our society – absolutism and an unwillingness to take responsibility.

History will be the judge of what unfolds in the coming years because of this bold act, but regardless of what happens, our shortcomings as a society will not be erased by this bolt of lightning. I suspect we will not be wiser, more free or better because of it. The militants have taken action the only the way they know how, by being militant. How about the rest of us? With all due respect to a small and silent minority of do-gooders, besides fault-finding and whining, that’s the expertise of the rest of us, and have we channeled that expertise into building a better society?

Let’s me focus on responsibility for a brief moment. We inherited an independent republic and won a battle for self-determination but we have failed to make the best of our opportunities. One thing most of us can agree on is that our current political leadership is corrupt. Let’s take that as a given. We know how the leadership in power has contributed to our ills. But does the nation as a whole, the Diaspora included, have any responsibility in this current impasse?

We complain about undemocratic processes in Armenia, yet there is no pan-Armenian plan to nurture the democratic and civic society movements that do exist within Armenia. Moreover, vote rigging does not happen without the passive and active participation of our society and political organizations. What was the price of a vote in the last elections or the referendum? Undemocratic elections do not become status quo without our collective complicity, whether that’s through silence or other degenerate means. We call out economic hardships and lack of opportunity but have no strategy to organize labor and encourage investments and self-sufficiency within our society.  Gaudiness is the norm for many who have the means and the ability to do good, to enable a people who has suffered under foreign and domestic yoke in the last century. We decry possible land concessions in Karabakh but have failed to create a model state in the lands that we have acquired and inherited. Take a drive around Armenia and Karabakh and see the desolation and the abandoned villages and homes. With the population of Armenia dissipating, who will defend the borders in the coming years? We complain about human rights abuses but we are not vigilant in protecting the rights of workers, men, women and children. Are the civic society organizations in Armenia well supported by our prosperous diaspora? How is the women’s shelter doing in Yerevan? We are good in labeling voices of dissent and discontent as un-Armenian, unpatriotic and a danger to our national security. Aren’t poverty, domestic violence, environmental misuse and worker exploitation threats to our national security? And perhaps our biggest sin has been the lack of recognition of the humble servants and contributors to the Armenian society and our unwillingness to highlight their dedication to the wellbeing of our people.

Calling out deficiencies and not doing anything about them is being part of the problem. Yes, that’s a cliché but it’s also a malaise; if we don’t have a plan to improve things, let’s try not to moan. Moaning does not make us patriots, neither does calling our neighbor a traitor because she may have a unique perspective or labeling someone a thief just because he may be driving a nice car or living in a nice house.

Regardless of what happens in the vortex of our current crisis in the coming days, our societal ills will persist, our collective and grotesque passivity in the face of poverty, mass migration and economic decline will not change, unless we, as a people, are willing to take responsibility for our current state. Building a prosperous nation takes sacrifice; that’s paradigm shift that many of us are unwilling or unable to undergo. Desire for change has to become an imperative for all segments of our nation. Anything less is a hollow slogan and comfort food for our sorry souls. The lightning bolt will not strike from the sky and cleanse us from complicity. Perhaps we deserve better, and just maybe, we don’t.

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8 Comments

  1. Hrair said:

    Vayyyyy Patrick jan, yernek ko havesin…
    Dear brother you write well , in fact very well ,,,
    But , for dziran sake , you master the art of saying allot and nothing at the same time …
    Really , did you understand or arrived at any message , direction , solution ? So you do have your share of solidified ( pesamist ?) view of all things Armenian with great dose of self beating about all the Armenian classic stereotypic traits and virtues…
    Adsexum sirun … Let’s get read of seeing “Armenian mold ” in every corner and everything. Yes we are diverse and able to adapt and think outside of the “Armenian box”. This notion that we are this that and act and think certain Armenian way is no longer the case … Maybe it was up to 80s , world and Armenian reality both in Armenian and diaspora has changed and for better as far as that concern is in question .
    Let’s give ourselves the empowerment of positive free thinking and not reinforce the “popular ” outdated thinking …
    All things concerned , I appreciate and welcome your initiative to explore and to care …
    I think the old “we as a people ” don’t do this or that and should do this that moralizations are just that and do not result in any substantial results …
    Let’s talk and act more specifically and individually and stop blaming our collective supposed stereotypical qualities and ways .

  2. Maro matosian said:

    Very interesting article. Patrick, you raised valid points however, I just don’t feel that the entire responsibility should be placed on the shoulders of the people but rather on the leadership who crated the corrupt state, endangered our national security, etc , etc. When people are kept in poverty and even dependent on 5-10,000 bribe drams for voting, when every family is employed in a government type agency and is in fear of losing the job if protests, when passports are retained and checked how the person voted then in this atmosphere of cohesion, threats, intimidation, arbitrary detentions it is hard for people to stand up for their rights. We live in a police state with no independent court system……People are afraid of revolutions as not to destroy the country . Those in civil society came up with suggestion for change, we offered laws and mechanisms……there is no political will from the government to change. I think truly that Diaspora is strengthening this criminal government when it continues to support monetarily Armenia without asking for accountability, without demanding system change. thank you for raising important issues. people, we all are desperate and in a dead end situation,it seems, in Aarmenia. The giving up of Karabagh lands is another very dangerous situation that people are just in panic over that…..again. Because of failed foreign politics of our government.

  3. Raffi said:

    “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” JFK,. Corruption is a worldwide phenomenon and Armenia can’t be an exeption after 70+ years under Soviet rule.

  4. Robert Davidian said:

    Thought provoking article but I don’t think it goes far enough. There is nothing wrong with “moaning,” which this article does but also decries. There are steps to achieving change. The very first step is building awareness of all the corruption and injustice that are systemic in Armenia. Next is to stop the complicity which this publication and many other publications, organizations and political parties systemically engage in every time they call Serzh Sargsyan “President” as opposed to “De facto illegitimate President who never won an election,” which is what he is, and take a selfie with him. (He is also a mafia godfather commander in thief who’s only concern is to steal more money, elections and impunity! But i won’t get into that here.) people in Armenia want him in jail (or worse), but they can’t get there while the diaspora continues their sick addiction to enabling and legitimizing a rising dictator. Ever penny donated to the Armenia Fund (headed by Serzhik Sargsyan) will build a school or road that’s the responsibility of the government that “cant afford it” because Serzhik’s mafia has stolen it – so every November he begs the diaspora to replace the money he’s already stolen. Billion$ have been stolen via encouraged illegal oligarch tax evasion and procurement fraud and much more systemic government corruption encouraged by Serzhik. So of course the first natural reaction of good armenians is to moan, get angry and spread the word – and then propose possible solutions. All this is done at http://www.facebook.com/groups/StopCorruptionInArmenia Check it out. Thanks for listening.

  5. Gabe Korajian said:

    Thank you Mr. Azadian. I am very pleased to see you have covered very important points. Coming to few issues that deserves a stronger condemnation, I feel you have somewhat understated them. Yes, we are a people who do not like criticizing ourselves. Yes, we have to build a nation that has evolved from a Soviet Era Communist mentality. However, it is the level of corruption and greed that has caused the present distraction in Armenia. Our leaders have partnered with the oligarchs and have blindly robed the country. Yes, Mr. Azadian, they have sucked the blood of poor people and live lavishly, driving cars that are not even commonly seen in developing countries. Sir, they have the fanciest houses and have billions deposited in foreign banks while 35% of the people live in abject poverty. Mr. Azadian, someone with public office salary in a poor country like Armenia cannot have so much wealth unless the funds are stolen. This is grade two math. You can only spend what you have. If you spend more, the funds are either stolen or borrowed. Yes Sir, it is the borrowed money from donner countries and contribution from the kind hearted diasporas that have vanished. Yes Sir, this is unquestionably stolen money from the people. And if you think it would be wrong to call them THIEVES, you are not being fair with the poor people of Armenia. Please tell me Mr. Azadian, what are they? Are they people who come from generations of money as we see in wealthy countries. May be, and only may be, to be politically correct, we should call them Modern Armenia’s Capitalists. As for the silent majority who has not taken sides, I suggest they come out and condemn the violence of the police on peaceful citizens. If we could have done that from the start, Armenian would have been in a peaceful, democratic and prosperous country.

  6. Noric Dilanchian said:

    Azadian’s interestingly titled “I Am An Accomplice” article appears in an ARF publication after a working week of virtual silence by ARF organs in Armenia and outside. When there has been a break in silence it has not been supportive of the self-titled Daredevils of Sassoun.

    Now that an article appears in an ARF organ, unsurprisingly the article too is not supportive of that self-defined “movement”. Nothing wrong with that, but the silence before was ear shattering.

    The author writes: “Many of us are satisfying our desire… for positive change by proclaiming symbolic statements in support of the armed group and looking for saviors.” Yes, symbolism is apparent. Language laden with symbols is normal in political commentary.

    The author complains about what he terms as “absolutes”, ie being either for or against what he terms as the “government”. Yes, it is true, that’s what this week’s series of events in #Erebouni involved.

    Getting to the heart of his argument, the author is in search of what he terms “societal ills” and a lack of “plan”. Lots of cultures have dichotomies in their national debates today, it may have even been ever thus. But other than making the observation I don’t think the label “societal ill” is real, it certainly is not explained by reference to detailed material facts.

    As for plans, the material fact the article evades is why years of plans, when formulated, have been unpublicised, ignored or usurped. Joining the dots we do see evidence of private gain by a group said to number between 30 and 50.

    I look forward to the ARF commissioning writing on those numbers, rather than flying empty balloons about “social ills”.

    • Patrick Azadian said:

      Noric, thanks you for reading and commenting on the article.

      You start your commentary on my piece by highlighting the fact that it was published in an ARF organ. Either that’s an attempt to ‘discredit’ the opinion piece from the start because you know some people will jump on the bandwagon or an assumption that anything appearing in a party organ is the official voice of the party. I personally don’t know you, so I cannot make a judgment on your motives. I do see this type of faulty reasoning in our community frequently and it wouldn’t be my choice for an introduction to a critique. The article is an opinion piece and I am sure many people inside and outside the party may agree or disagree with it. And that’s fine with me and apparently, it was fine with the publication. But if we are going to start a healthy dialogue, I think it’s better to critique the content as opposed to dress the piece with perceived party colors to prove a point. As far as the ARF factor goes, I do appreciate that fact they published my commentary. I’ll go further and help you with your argument, I am an ARF member. As I said, I would appreciate it if you analyzed the piece based on substance as opposed to your position on the organization. And yes, that’s the ‘absolutism’ I am referring to: “If it’s in a party publication, it’s commissioned and therefore ‘biased.’ ” Let’s try to get away from this type of ‘cold war’ logic, can we?

      You try to prove your point further by stating that my piece is against the ‘movement.’ We can argue whether this is a ‘movement’ or ‘an act of protest hoping to spark a movement,’ but I don’t want to make this too long. If interested, please read again. But what exactly does supporting the act mean? Does it mean it’s good for the people and the country? Does it mean it should be done more often? Does it mean it’s justified because the government is corrupt? The answers to these questions all have different ramifications. I took a position against labeling people based on their position on the act; please don’t misrepresent what I stated. You also say that the ‘silence before was earth shattering.’ Is this a criticism of my article or the party? If it refers to the party, I don’t know why it’s a reply to my opinion piece (if you are really interested, check your facts on when ARF came out with their first statement). If it’s referring to my silence, the article was written on Thursday and published on Friday. It took me a while to collect my thoughts and decide whether I actually wanted to write about the event, my apologies for the delay.

      You state “that the author complains about what he terms as ‘absolutes,’ i.e. being either for or against what he terms as the ‘government.’” Here, you clearly misrepresent what I wrote. The absolutes I referred to were in reference to the positioning of people to the act and NOT in reference to supporting the government. Again, if someone doesn’t think the act was the best means of protest, this doesn’t mean they are a government lacky. Let’s not start a character assasination process with people who have a different opinion. At least in two instances, I have made my position clear on the complicity of our government in the situation the country is in and it’s far from being supportive. It’s possible to think the government is corrupt, respect the dedication of our war veterans, be against violent acts of protest, be dedicated to the well-being of your people, and work toward that on a daily basis without making a fuss (many people do this and they have my utmost respect). That’s not ‘treason.’ If interested, please read again.

      You state “As for plans, the material fact the article evades is why years of plans, when formulated, have been unpublicized, ignored or usurped. Joining the dots we do see evidence of private gain by a group said to number between 30 and 50.” I am not sure what you are implying by ‘evades’ but I highlighted the areas that I THINK are important to address and I believe as a nation we are complicit in our current situation by not doing enough (therefore my title ‘I Am An Accomplice’). Did you really expect me to cover all government shortcomings and blunders in this piece? Clearly, many people are making a difference in Armenia regardless of who’s in charge of the government. Waiting for the government to change to start doing something is a copout and a tired old tune. Again, my position on the government’s role is crystal clear (not that anyone will shiver in their shiny boots just because of my position). If interested, please read again.

      Lastly, you expect the article to site references from sociological studies to prove a point and be credible. I am not here to prove a point with this piece. It’s an opinion piece and such writings often serve to start a dialogue or present a different point of view. I am well aware of how sociological thesis need to be researched and written, this is not such a piece. This is not a social science study.

  7. Gary Schwartz said:

    I work with the next generation of Armenian citizens through the generosity of the visiting artist program of the Tumo Center for Creative Studies. Change is occurring. Though not as fast as perhaps it could.

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