BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
Beware citizens of Armenia (and to an extent the Diaspora) you are to blame for Armenia’s woes—poverty, lack of social justice and rule of law, emigration, economic monopolies, usurpation of power, the rape of the environment, election fraud… At least that’s what President Serzh Sarkisian, who according to his official results, won the election on February 19, believes and said during a rare press conference on March 18 with select representatives of the broadcast media.
“The biggest problem of our country is not corrupt officials. The biggest problem of our country is not criminals. The biggest problem of country is a cynical atmosphere. That cynical atmosphere must be eliminated,” said Sarkisian, who also laid the blame on this so-called atmosphere on certain media outlets. “At least two TV stations and dozens of print and online media outlets have been talking only about bad phenomena and only tarnishing everything.”
What Sarkisian is saying is that if the people didn’t believe what they read or saw on television, they would not be so “cynical.” Essentially, he is insulting the intelligence of his own citizens whose daily struggle for survival resonated when they cast their ballots overwhelmingly for change.
Even if the “official” elections results were not disputed, by sarcastically brushing aside the ills that have plagued Armenia for the past 22 years, Sarkisian is ignoring the will of some 40 percent of the country’s population by claiming that there is a rosier picture than meets the eye.
Another reality being ignored by Sarkisian is that according to official results 40 percent of Armenia’s voters elected a Diaspora Armenian as their leader, thus significantly bridging a massive gap left open by 70 years of Soviet rule and not closed by the efforts of Sarkisian’s own Diaspora Minister or Ministry.
Most striking was his effort to belittle the popular movement that sprung up as a result of flagrant fraud during the elections. The movement, led by opposition candidate Raffi Hovannisian, has been continuing for more than a month. Sarkisian’s attempt to downplay the post-election situation in Armenia is, at best, childish.
“When they say that the people are out in the streets it sounds very strange to me. On average, only 3,000 people participate in these rallies taking place in Liberty Square … Even if the opinion of every person matters to us, 3,000 people account for only 0.1 percent of our citizens,” said Sarkisian.
I will not go into the he said-he said about his February 21 meeting with Hovannisian, because his condescending attitude toward the people’s legitimate expression of mistrust and dissatisfaction far outweighs the palace intrigue he seeks to paint.
On emigration, Sarkisian said during the press conference, that those leaving for Russia—in droves—have the same opportunity in Armenia to establish a viable life for themselves, but leave due to the “cynical” atmosphere created in Armenia. During one of his campaign stops, Sarkisian talked about emigration saying that neither he, nor his government, can hold anyone “prisoner” in Armenia.
He also said there are no oligarchs in parliament, but rather successful businesspeople who through the toil of their sweat have achieved success.
At the more than two-hour long press conference, Sarkisian went on to outline some slight gains in Armenia’s economy, as well as the fact that presidential election campaign was not marred by mudslinging as signs of an improving country. He even went as far as to tell Yerkir Media’s Gegham Manoukian that ten years ago he would not be standing at the presidential palace asking questions of the president, because his television station is often critical of the government. So, the people—and the press—must finally rejoice that the freedoms ingrained in Armenia’s Constitution are being taken into consideration—however haphazardly and selectively—20 years later.
This “Rome wasn’t built in one day” analogy, which was also echoed by Prime Minster Tigran Sargsyan when he met with community leaders in Los Angeles, is tired and, more importantly dishonest. The people of Armenia are also tired of the dishonesty of the government and they see through the corruption that has become institutionalized in Armenia.
By usurping Armenia’s national wealth and distributing it among four or five people, causing a mass exodus of Armenia’s citizens to the four corners of world, the country’s president cannot turn around and blame his own people for the resulting chaos and misery. It is criminal.
Sarkisian’s reckless disregard for and dismissal of the people’s will is a harbinger of things to come. In the coming five years and at every turn, the public will have to bear the responsibility for the government’s misdeeds and impunity. By going on record, Sarkisian effectively has absolved himself of any responsibility toward his citizens.
The thousands that have—and will—gather at Liberty Square to express their discontent deserve better than to be spat upon by the person who claims is their leader.