BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
The Armenian nation has had its share of convulsions. It’s too easy to cite the establishment and Sovietization of the first Armenian republic, Genocide, arrival of Turks in the Armenian highlands, or conversion to Christianity. Another pair of shockers call for attention this week.
Thirty years ago, on December 7, 1988, the northern part of what was then Soviet Armenia was struck by a massive seism. This happened as people had been striking out for the liberation of Artsakh from Azeri-Turkish overlordship and abusive misrule. The effects of both ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
This pair of Armenian convulsions is still being felt today. I remember being at a rally for Garapagh (as we were referring to it then) held in the courtyard of the Diocesan complex in Manhattan when suddenly word of the earthquake started being whispered about and was finally announced from the podium (remember this is before ubiquitous cellphones and internet access). Everyone was stunned, thinking “as if the Sumgait massacres and expulsion of Armenians weren’t enough…” A massive relief effort followed while Moscow demonstrated its ineptness.
Tragically and farcically, there are still people living in what are effectively nothing more than over-sized tin cans. This is just unacceptable when the Republic of Armenia now has its fair share of billionaires, most of them having achieved that status through questionable means. All three previous administrations in Yerevan failed to address stricken people’s needs adequately. I’m not aware of the current administration doing any better, though it is still a bit early to conclude.
But the political front is not much better. The Ter Petrosian regime was akin to the tin-pot dictators of banana republics. Its two successors were more “polite” about their repression in that the media was largely unfettered. Their control was achieved through the immersing the masses in economic disenfranchisement leading to a huge exodus of latter day bantoukhds (people leaving home, “temporarily” to work and send money back).
I also remember Azeris celebrating Armenian misfortune. Perhaps as a response to this, a joke arose at some point that goes roughly like this: “A Turk prays to Allah/God asking that He level destroy Armenia. A short time later a massive earthquake strikes, destroying Erzeroom (Gareen), Van, Erzinjan (Yerzinga), Diyarbekir (Dikranagerd), Sivas (Sepasdia), Kayseri (Gesaria), Trabzon (Drabizon), etc. The whole of Turkey is shocked. The Turk once again prays to Allah/God asking for help to recover from the quake. The Turk also asks why He leveled the beloved Turkiye. Allah/God responds ‘I did what you asked and smote the cities of Armenia’.”
Continuing on the humorous note of the joke, and demonstrating that there’s always some levity to be found even in the darkest hour, I’ll relate a comical happening from that night when we learned of the earthquake. After the rally, I was giving Tatul-Sonentz Papazian and Antranig Kasbarian a ride to wherever they were going. New York being New York with all its pizza joints, we stopped at Coronet Pizza near the Columbia University campus to get some of their huge slices. You should’ve seen Tatul’s face! He couldn’t believe the size of the slice and said he couldn’t eat the whole thing. Of course I proceeded to “help” him solve that problem…
Today, we’re on the cusp of a new regime coming to power in the Republic of Armenia. It is possible that many positive changes may ensue. But that will only happen if all of us apply and maintain heavy pressure on the government in Yerevan to deliver on the responsibilities leaders have towards their followers/citizens. We must remain strongly engaged with developments I our homeland and advocate that those worst off, especially the ones still inadequately sheltered since the 1988 earthquake, receive the most attention – housing, reasonable tax and pension schemes, and a level playing economic playing field so a just and sustainable society can be built in the Armenian Highlands, lest far worse convulsions beset those lands.