BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
At a recent meeting where the structure of an (Armenian) organization was under discussion, what struck me as a strange comment was made. “Dictatorship (prnabedootiun) is not necessarily bad” contended one person.
The notion arose when discussing how the organization should be governed: an elected executive with a defined term in office or a self-perpetuating board. The comment was made in response to another assertion that a board structure would inevitably lead, at some point in the future, to “dictatorial” behavior. When that happens, rancor and clashes within the organization would ensue, since the board, by definition, would not be accountable the (dissatisfied) membership.
In light of what our compatriots in Armenia have undergone for the past, post-Soviet, quarter century, this perspective seems rife with irony.
I’ve heard similar comments before, but our recent two-week experience with needlessly roughed-up citizens of the Republic of Armenia has perhaps sensitized me more. Some will question democracy, especially the legitimacy of elections, anywhere. Others seem to like the idea of a “benevolent dictator” – perhaps imagining some kind of father-figure. Still others have referred to authoritarian governance as being “the Armenian way.” In all cases, it seems to me that guidance, inspiration, and/or leadership is really what people are seeking when making such remarks. But, they’re looking for those in the wrong place.
For starters, it is axiomatic that dictatorships, structurally, WILL end up being bad for the people they govern. This is simply a result of the fact that in the absence of checks and balances on the power of government, eventually, the wrong person/people will come to hold office and start persecuting the citizens, overtly or subtly. After all, not all humans are benevolent in their attitudes and behavior.
Democracy has its flaws, mostly in that it creates inefficiency due to mass participation when it’s time to make decisions or take action. While it is almost trite to quote Churchill here, his observation that “democracy is the worst form of government except for the alternatives” is very painfully true.
Democracy requires work, engagement, awareness, and most of all, time. It requires effort, and that may well be why so many people avoid it or find it objectionable. It’s easy to “trust” someone else to do the heavy-lifting of thinking, analyzing, planning, deciding, and ultimately, doing what’s best for society. It’s easy to be lulled into a false sense of comfort when good government is in place, even if it is dictatorial, and dictatorial is what democracies become if not watched with an engaged citizen’s eagle-eye. It’s easy to not vote, not care, and not participate, but the price for all that laziness is high.
I recommend reading Serouj Abrahamian’s “Regime Change from the Ground Up” that appeared in Asbarez. It is an exceptional piece about the grunt work and ground work necessary to empower citizens over dictators, people over oligarchs.
Get out there and work the hustings. Whether elections are in the Republic of Armenia (municipal – in a month, and parliamentary (under the new constitution) – next Spring) or Disapora (U.S. in November, French presidential in Spring 2017, Lebanon’s scheduled 2017 parliamentary, and a host of other often more local campaigns), jump in, mobilize yourself, your family, and your community. Dictatorships lead to misery and bloodshed. Do the hard work necessary to preempt such misfortune.
On an unrelated note, two upcoming presentations strike me as potentially very interesting. Chronologically, the first is a musical set in the Genocide era titled “I Am Alive” that will play twice at Glendale’s Alex Theatre on September 10 & 11. It is written by Denise Gentilini, a survivor’s granddaughter, and was first performed in Denver Colorado for the Genocide’s Centennial. The second is a film, “Killing Ed,” about the Gulen movement’s penetration into U.S. schools. If enough tickets are presold by September 13, it will be screened on September 20th in North Hollywood’s Regency Theatres.