BY MARIA TITIZIAN
This is how the story (joke) goes…
A young man decides to enlist in his country’s armed forces. The commanding officer, wanting to see how prepared the young conscript is for battle asks him a rhetorical question, “You’re on the battlefield and you see two enemy soldiers approaching. What would you do?” The young man says, “I would pull out my gun and shoot them.” The CO then asks, “You’re on the battlefield and you see 10 enemy soldiers advancing in front of you plus an approaching tank, what would you do?” The young man responds, “I would throw a hand grenade toward the tank, and shoot the soldiers with my automatic machine gun.” Unfazed, the CO carries on, “You’re on the battlefield, and there’s a battalion of enemy soldiers advancing from the left, two tanks in front of you and a war jet zooming just over head, what would you do?” The young man perseveres, “I would use an RPG against the tanks, shoot the plane down using an anti-aircraft gun, take my automatic machine gun and shoot the members of the enemy battalion.” The CO doesn’t back down and says, “OK, you’re on the battlefield, there are two enemy battalions advancing in your direction, three tanks are approaching from behind your position and there’s two jets flying over from different directions, what would you do?” The flustered young man throws his hands up in the air and says, “I don’t get it, am I the only soldier in this army??”
I first heard this joke years ago before moving to Armenia. I thought it was funny then, it still is I suppose but when I heard it retold by an acquaintance recently, it didn’t make me smile, it made me begin to understand how alone one could be in the world in the absence of community or solidarity.
Injustice has been and continues to be a common theme in human history. As Armenians we have not been immune to it. We have felt the monumental blow of injustice against us as a people and it continues still. Only today, we are committing a significant amount of that injustice against each other. We channel much of our energy to ensure the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide by demanding justice, recognition, and reparations, as we should. However, we speak little about the ongoing assimilation of our people in the world, what we Armenians consider the White Genocide (djermak chart), the continuing depopulation of our lands, not only because of economic hardship and lack of opportunities or hope toward the future but because of the prevailing injustice in our society.
Many stories and narratives coming out of Armenia speak to the injustice that continues to be exacted almost on a daily basis.
We have bishops who drive around Yerevan in Bentleys, we have a prime minister who allegedly has offshore accounts, we have ministers who abuse their positions and steal from the public purse without a shred of conscience, members of parliament who know nothing nor care much for the legislative process, civil servants who have yet to understand that it is their duty to serve the public and not their interests. I can go on because the list is long and multifarious. Presumably this state of affairs is not dissimilar from most other countries, the only difference is that in more established, democratic nations those who hold the levers of power are simply more suave and sophisticated in the way they do these things. There will always be those who consider themselves above the law because of their wealth, position and power in almost every country on the planet. Whether or not they are able to remain above the law is the core of the matter. And then there are people whose rights are abused, whose innocence are put into question and are wrongly accused.
The problem with Armenia is that when someone is threatened, maliciously maligned or charged with a crime they have not committed, they are left alone to fend for themselves or they are asked to prove their innocence; a fundamental precept of law has turned on its head. The presumption of guilt as opposed to the presumption of innocence seems to be an accepted norm. And there are those who walk away from committing crimes because of their power and connections or because of society’s unwillingness to mobilize their support and raise a public outcry and sometimes because of perceptions.
Two recent cases in the United States underscored the threads of injustice that exist everywhere. The first was the acquittal of George Zimmerman of all charges in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012. The unarmed African-American teenager, who was 17 at the time, was shot by Zimmerman who claimed that it was in self-defense – there were no witnesses to the crime. Today thousands of ordinary Americans in different cities across the U.S., along with civil rights activists are protesting the verdict. The Justice Department has said it will restart its investigation to consider possible separate hate crime charges against Zimmerman. There is no doubt that a fierce debate on racial profiling will continue to shape opinions and outcomes in that country.
The second case is Marissa Alexander who fired a warning shot to defend herself against her abusive, estranged husband and was sentenced to 20 years in prison for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. In her case, no one was shot or injured, she had a restraining order against her abuser, had a legally registered gun and permit and no history of criminal behavior. While Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges, Alexander who is African-American will serve 20 years. Once again, civil rights and women’s groups and individuals are protesting the verdict.
While it appears that courts and juries deliver verdicts based not always on evidence but on perceptions and perspectives, the public will often through its civic actions, force a reopening of a case or at least spur a national discourse on the matter. Both the Zimmerman and Alexander cases will continue to be discussed and examined across all sectors of American society. I don’t know what the outcomes will be but at the very least those in the United States who are expressing their outrage will be heard.
In Armenia, the justice system is not just nor is it independent. Most judges serve their masters because if they don’t they will lose their position, salary and prestige so they do as they are often told. Civil society lets out a whimper and then quickly loses interest or moves on to the next scandal and because so few are ready to put themselves on the line to ensure justice is served many cases and individuals are left on their own. People in general are too busy trying to make ends meet to join in the fight, not surprising considering almost half the population continues to live in poverty. So when someone is left to fend for themselves against a state apparatus which is carefully designed to ensure their downfall or demise, they cannot depend on a polity that will come to their defense or aid.
That is the difference between Armenia (and countries like Armenia) and those societies where similar conditions and problems exist.
If the notion of solidarity was ingrained in us, then perhaps these kinds of injustices could be addressed, if not in the courtrooms of the country then most definitely on the streets. We’re adept at fighting against a common foreign enemy but when the enemy lives and exists among us we forget how to fight. And yes, we have been trying but it hasn’t been good enough, not yet at least.
The saying, “I might not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it” must become part of our collective conscience. I don’t always agree with the tactics of certain activists and organizations when they are fighting against corruption or an injustice, but I applaud them for doing it and I certainly support their right to do so and when and if I can, I join them. When an individual or organization is persecuted by authorities without legal grounds, when a murderer walks away free, when the rights of an individual are maligned, we must all join forces, regardless of our personal feelings and fight the good fight because without solidarity, we will never foster and create the kind of society needed to sustain this good land of ours. None of us should feel that we are a solitary soldier…