YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Diaspora Minister Hranush Hakobian has come under fire from opposition figures and even some government loyalists after declaring that Armenian communities around the world have not done enough to ease socioeconomic hardship in Armenia.
Hakobian made the controversial statement on Monday in response to renewed criticism of the Armenian government voiced by Serj Tankian, the outspoken lead singer of the U.S.-Armenian rock band System Of A Down (SOAD).
Tankian addressed tens of thousands of Armenians on Thursday as the SOAD gave a first-ever concert in Yerevan dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey. The open-air show was broadcast live by Armenian television.
“We have come a long way in 20 years of Armenia’s independence but there is still a lot of work to do,” he told the ecstatic and mostly young crowd. “It is the responsibility of the government of the Republic of Armenia to bring in the principles of egalitarian civic society, get rid of the institutional injustice around and stop the depopulation that is occurring.”
“Criticizing is the easiest thing,” Hakobian told A1Plus.am, commenting on Tankian’s statement. “Why are our compatriots leaving the country? If they were paid well they wouldn’t leave. So please be so kind as to help develop the economy here and thereby keep people from emigrating.”
“Let all [Diaspora] gentlemen, one million people, open $1,000 bank accounts in Armenia, not give that money to us. The banks will get more money and become stronger,” said the minister charged with coordinating ties with the worldwide Armenian Diaspora.
Hakobian’s comments triggered a chorus of disapproval and ridicule on social media networks used by many in Armenia. Some opposition politicians added their voice to the criticism, saying that she failed to acknowledge the large scale of various charity projects implemented by Diaspora groups and individuals in the country since the early 1990s.
Zaruhi Postanjian, a parliament deputy from the opposition Zharangutyun party led by a U.S.-born politician, claimed that Hakobian’s remarks were indicative of the government’s attitude to the Diaspora. “From their perspective, the Diaspora must only provide aid and have no say in political decision-making,” she said.
However, a top representative of that government strongly defended Tankian. Eduard Sharmazanov, a deputy parliament speaker and the chief spokesman for President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), spoke of his admiration for the 47-year-old rock star.
“Let everyone, including myself, do a fraction of what Serj Tankian has done for our country,” he said. “Guys, Serj Tankian and the System of A Down have done a great job.”
Sharmazanov stressed that the SOAD vocalist therefore has a legitimate right to criticize the authorities in Yerevan in good faith. “By recognizing our mistakes, we will only get stronger,” he said.
Tankian similarly called for boosting the rule of law and combating corruption in Armenia during his previous trip to his ancestral homeland in 2011. He also deplored serious fraud that was reported during Armenia’s last presidential election held in 2013.