BY MARIA TITIZIAN
In the absence of faith and hope and belief living can often be dwindled away, becoming mundane, a chore, destroying the core of what we were meant to do or be to others as human beings.
These past few weeks we have been in a deep winter freeze in Yerevan. Temperatures have plummeted causing icy roads, freezing homes and treacherous sidewalks. Every morning as I walk down our street to get to work, I think my bones are going to crack from the cold. Even the trees seemed to have petrified and transformed into peculiar ice sculptures. Complaining about the weather a few days ago, an aquaintance reassured me it’s good for the farmers. A mild winter is never promising for the summer bounty, or so I was told. Who am I to argue?
So, with all things that cause discomfort, or cold bones, or falling on you knees on slippery tiles just before you go to cover the visit of Turkey’s Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmed Davutoglu, there’s always a silver lining. At least that is what we tell ourselves.
At an annual wrap-up-the-past-year dinner, the topics around the table varied from the weather to pension reforms to natural gas to the country’s precarious steps towards loss of sovereignty and national dignity. It was all matter-of-fact. We recalled that at last year’s dinner, emotions were on edge and we were deeply grateful that 2012 was over, because it hadn’t been a good year.
2013 comparatively was a worse year but for some reason we were uncharacteristically calm. There were no arms flailing or loss of decorum or any other sort of anarchy around the dinner table. Trying to fall asleep later that night I realized that faith and hope and belief, the core elements of our humanity, the attributes that had brought together our group of eternally optimistic friends had eroded sometime over the course of the past year. The problems we once thought unacceptable had become common place; the deceptions and missed opportunities were to be expected; we were no longer surprised at the disrespect and arrogance the ruling regime projected toward its own people. Taking things in stride, understanding and accepting your reality may sometimes be good for your health but rarely does it do any good for your soul.
From presidential to municipal elections, to deceptions and lies, to an elevated collective social consciousness, to secret deals, from progress to regression, from unreliability to treachery, our lives in 2013 were not only a mosaic of emotions but of chaos.
The images and impressions of the past year are more important than the specific details of events.
Here is what 2013 felt like…
It was a presidential election campaign that appeared uninspired and lackluster and then the results turned our lives upside down and we began to hope that something would change, that we could believe that democracy was working, finally. Hope turned to exhiliration, then deflation and then outright disappointment.
In the meantime we had a presidential candidate who staged a hunger strike instead of campaigning; we had another accused, charged and convicted of trying to assassinate another presidential candidate; we had an incumbent president seeking a second and thankfully final term who told people many interesting things including that he could secure any result that suited his fancy; and the rest, I don’t even remember.
Two simultaneous presidential inaugurations took place, an official one where Serzh Sarkisian promised to lead the country and one in the square that promised to uphold the constitution and then disintegrated into nothing.
There was the murder of a most beloved friend and mayor of Proshyan, Hrach Muradyan whose murderer is yet to be found.
The residents of Yerevan went to the polls to elect a new mayor and a new city council. Republican Taron Margaryan became mayor and got himself embroiled in a bus fare hike that saw thousands of protestors in the streets, forcing him to retract his decision, at least for the time being.
Suren Khachatryan, the infamous and controversial former governor of Syunik marz was once again in the headlines for a murder that took place outside his front door. His son and bodyguard were charged with the murder but later released. Khachatryan claims he was sleeping and didn’t hear anything at all. The chief military prosecutor at the time Gevorg Kostanyan said that the two men accused in the murder had acted in self-defense and effectively set them free. He was later appointed Armenia’s Prosecutor General.
We were promised by our president that we could expect 7 percent economic growth and an increase in wages that would surpass the rate of inflation and if these things were not realized by the government, they would be asked to resign.
We learned that the country’s prime minister held offshore accounts where funds from bank loans were funneled in collusion with a controversial archbishop.
After 3.5 years of intense negotiations with the European Union, Armenia was set to initial the Association Agreement but then on September 3, while on a visit to Russia, our country’s president “affirmed the Armenian people’s wish” and unexpectedly announced that we would instead join the Customs Union with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, three exemplary nations of democracy, human rights and social justice.
In December we learned that since April 2011, the price of natural gas imports from Russia had steadily increased. However, this was quietly subsidized and kept a secret from the Armenian people until the Republican Party ensured victories at the parliamentary, presidential and Yerevan municipality elections racking up a debt of $300 million in the meantime.
On December 2, Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a visit to our country and signed several bilateral agreements, which included selling off the remaining 20 percent of the Republic of Armenia’s shares in ArmRosGazprom to the Russian giant Gazprom to offset the $300 million debt. According to the deal, for the next thirty years, Armenia is not allowed to purchase natural gas from a third party, it cannot serve as a transit zone and it is obliged to ensure gas prices are set at a rate which will ensure that our new Russian gas partner recoups its investments in the system.
On December 23, the National Assembly of Armenia had to vote to ratify the natural gas deal between Armenia and Russia. Engaged citizens, opposition parties and activists from different spheres tried to mobilize against the vote, sometimes using unacceptable tactics, including boycotting and walking out of the National Assembly, to removing voting cards to obstruct the vote. But even those tactics were of no use as the ruling coalition went ahead and voted, although the manner in which they voted is now being brought into question. We will have to wait for the verdict of the Constitutional Court. No one in Armenia is holding their breath.
It is a theater of the absurd, it feels as though the clinically insane have taken over the asylum…
In the melee, passions ran amuck, lines were blurred, reporters became activists, activists became reporters, no one knows or understands their role anymore.
And then there are those young people out there in the subzero temperatures, braving the bitter dry cold and doggedly fighting a system that refuses to acknowledge them. I believe that many more will join them. I believe in their willpower and tenacity. They are often criticized by different people and different forces, myself included. But one thing is so painfully clear – if it wasn’t for them, many of us would continue to live like the trees that have transformed into peculiar ice statues, patiently waiting for a spring that will never come.
This is how our life was in 2013. I hope yours was less interesting.