BY HEGHINAR MELKOM MELKOMIAN
The recent events around the hike in public transportation fees have created chaos in my head, opened my eyes to certain issues and changed some of my points of view. Trying to take it all in, trying to understand, to support and to analyze. Trying, trying and failing. That moment when you have tons to say, but words fail you.
The government decided to raise the prices of all public transportation by 50 AMD. A group of activists, many of whom are behind every single civic initiative taking place in the country, once again united to protest this decision. Parallel to encouraging people to boycott the hike in prices by not paying the extra 50 drams and the drivers to do so by not charging it, records and documents were opened and a lot of dirty laundry was revealed to the public.
This specific movement helped us learn a lot of things. The public officially found out that all public transportation routes belong to individuals close to the ruling regime, including the Mayor of Yerevan himself. A scandal-worthy revelation was also made – the Yerevan municipality’s decision to raise the prices was illegal. And let’s not forget the shocking lesson we learnt – we can actually join forces and when we do so, we can bring change. Perhaps in regards to the latter this movement can be labeled as one of the most energetic, educational and inspiring civic movements of the past decade or so.
Things started with disseminating flyers reading “pay 100 drams” around the city, especially at bus stops and then ordinary citizens and popular personalities joined in by offering free car rides to public transportation users. The movement snowballed and grew and grew and just as it was almost getting out of hand for the authorities, Taron Margaryan “appeared” and suspended the decision for three months. The movement was over, everybody celebrated the victory, many were amazed by the power of unity, many regained their lost faith in getting their voices heard and people went on with their daily lives.
While one component of the struggle has been resolved at least temporarily, a much greater and deeper issue remains unsolved: the authorities’ repeated actions of ignoring public opinion, making unlawful decisions and basically feeding on the public’s ignorance of their constitutional, democratic and human rights as citizens of the Republic of Armenia.
Today a group of activists are continuing the protest by holding a sit-in in front of Yerevan City Hall, demanding the resignation of Henrik Navasardyan, the head of the Transport Department, for corruption and ethical breaches and of Misak Hambardzumyan, director of “Yerevantrans” CJSC, for cursing at, and threatening citizens during the protests.
Throughout this entire movement I have felt pride. All this inspired me and reconfirmed my belief that everything is not lost and that we are changing. However, while going through some articles regarding the movement and reading the comments below, I felt a severe slap across my face. Those same people who had “fought” against the hike in prices a couple of days ago were today making fun of the activists and their efforts by calling them clowns, claiming that the show was over and that all they wanted was attention, that they had nothing better to do but to protest and show off and that this was just a PR stunt for which they were getting paid and that they have sponsors and political backing.
These were not random comments made by one or two individuals. People seriously believed that the fight was over. Most of them did not even know or care that they had started paying 50% more based on an ILLEGAL decision. Had the issue not been raised, the majority would have paid the 150 drams and complained about the government and the country in the privacy of their homes. Someone needs to explain to me how people can turn such a movement struggling for legality and accountability by the authorities, into a purely materialistic one?
There are many aspects of this situation that can be considered and discussed, yet one thing is firm and indisputable – these people, these activists, these citizens (and not only) did what many of us fail and failed to do. They stood up, fought for our rights and on a small scale tried to put an end to the corruption, oligarchic monopolies and illegal decisions, instill civic activism and remind people that they are the owners of the country and that they should be the rulers; remind them that the people have power and that the authorities should fear the power of the people and not the other way round.
And how do we thank or show our respect for those who fought tooth and nail to defend so many historical-cultural monuments; those who are trying to stop Teghut forest from turning into one huge open-caste mine, spewing toxins into adjacent rivulets irrigating the farm lands where our food is grown and threatening our health and that of future generations ; those who are raising awareness about and trying to get the parliament to adopt laws punishing domestic violence; those who returned many “privatized” public spaces to the people? Is it through mocking and degrading? Is this how we encourage and support them?
The activists may have made some “mistakes” during the movements over recent years and we may not have agreed with many of their actions or decisions, but to mock and discredit them is in my opinion unacceptable. It is through them that many believe that change will come and continue to stay in the country. It is because of them that the government is feeling pressured and is starting to think twice prior to making yet another illegal decision.
The definition of civic activism is “Individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern.” We need to remind ourselves that these civic activists give up their time and sometimes even endanger themselves in order to address and resolve issues regarding us all. We all have a snapping point when we throw in the towel but I hope that this attitude shown by a small portion of the public and the indifference of the rest won’t break the activists’ spirits.
Now is the time for society to wake up; we need to stand up for our rights or we will be left to deal, and live, with the situation we have now but with less people by our side.