BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
Yesterday, I heard a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote that well describes where I and many others find myself regarding the last two weeks’ events in that proto-Armenian, Urartian, site, Yerepoonee (Yerebouni/Erebuni), and of all places, at a police facility:
“Cowardice asks the question, is it safe?
Expediency asks the question, is it politic?
Vanity asks the question, is it popular?
But, conscience asks the question, is it right?”
What to do, what to say? In Diaspora and in the homeland? I’m torn.
Does/should conscience dictate a condemnation of the action because of its fratricidal results?
Does/should conscience dictate full-throated, whole hearted support because the action represents a desperate act to draw attention to a corrupt system that is damaging Armenian statehood/state-building?
Does/should conscience dictate criticism because of the use of arms, something which many contend is never appropriate in modern, democratic societies?
Does/should conscience dictate energetic response to police misbehavior and mistreatment of peaceful protesters rallying to the location to assert their rights and use the opportunity to record their grim dissatisfaction with the oligarchs ruling the Republic of Armenia?
Does/should conscience dictate a dismissive approach?
Does/should conscience dictate learning from history? If so, which case(s)? Which governmental response to similar situations is best? U.S. examples include the 1985 bombing of MOVE headquarters in Philadelphia; the takeover of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge that ended earlier this year; Cliven Bundy’s illegal grazing of cattle and the standoff with the FBI it led to; the Waco, Texas siege of the Branch Davidians in 1993; or the Black Panther party’s armed, but totally peaceful, action at the California Capitol in 1967 that led to then governor Ronald Reagan signing a gun control law (see picture)?
There’s no question that the system in the RoA stinks to the high heavens of corruption. There’s no question that the armed takeover of the police building tugs at our Robin Hood heartstrings. There’s no question that Artsakh heroes being shot along with police being injured and killed is a VERY bad outcome. There’s no question that some activists’ hyperbolic language (describing videotaped police behavior that is actually reasonable as abusive) devalues the cause they seek to serve. There’s no question that police beating up or otherwise abusing demonstrators before, during, and/or after arrest/detention is unacceptable under any circumstance. There’s no question that the government’s ham-handed handling of the situation – the extended initial silence, shooting one of the gunmen when the latter was not acting in a hostile fashion, arresting the likes of Arsinee Khanjian, mistreating a blind detainee – undoubtedly has made it worse. There’s no question that expecting a president to resign over an action such as this is ludicrous, regardless of whether you find that president to be in office legitimately or illegitimately.
The government has sent out feelers that seem to suggest a willingness to avoid severe punishment; the two dozen people holed up in the building released their initial hostages, though authorities assert they have taken new ones, medical personnel, who had entered the building to provide treatment; supportive demonstrators have been peaceful; the government has not taken extreme measures.
But, the demonstrations have been surprisingly low in numbers; they have not even reached the levels of last year’s electric Yerevan protests. What does this mean? Do our compatriots living in the homeland, overall, not support the takeover and attendant demonstrations? If so, is that because they don’t agree with the calls for improved governance that are at the heart of this crisis, or because of the tactics used? Is apathy rampant? Have people fallen into hopelessness? Are they too distracted by the urgency of earning a living, at least those that still have jobs in the country’s messed-up economy? Has an environment of fear been created that’s analogous to the Soviet era? Are people afraid of losing what little they have?
In another vein, there is criticism of political parties and Diaspora organizations that purportedly enable the government’s misdeeds. At best, that assertion is a significant overstatement. Far more problematic is the unwillingness of activists to organize. There is an aversion among them to joining established groups AND to forming their own. Seemingly the only organization born in the current Armenian political setting, and relatively recently at that, is the “Founding Parliament” which is connected to the take-over group and has not demonstrated its efficacy yet.
Criticizing existing organizations, especially political ones, may be legitimate. But: when activists, people whose hearts and minds are in the right place and aligned with the ideology of a political group/party do not join and integrate their efforts with those of others; when they create, as a result of not joining/organizing, a false dichotomy of us-and-them, “people” vs. organizations; when the fear of being organized or being in an organization leads activists to perceive organized groups in the same way they perceive the government; then you have an impossible situation, an impasse, that will lead to the persistence of the status quo.
After all this, I’m still uncertain, I can only hope that wisdom and cool heads will prevail and some good will come of this crisis. I’m looking for other ideas and perspectives, since nothing I’ve read has been completely convincing. Please share your thoughts on this matter, extensively.