BY MARIA TITIZIAN
It’s time to take away the levers of their perceived power. It is time to eradicate the uneducated, morally bankrupt, economically powerful, groveling, sniveling mob of young men and boys and silly, vacuous girls who think they will determine the destiny of my country.
I’m done with being politically and socially correct. I’m done with the dim-witted and brainless little boys dressed in black who hang out on street corners with their thick necks and shaved and empty heads bullying and terrorizing everybody from residents to the police force. I’m done with thinking that democracy is a process which we must go through to get to where we want to end up because nobody knows the end game.
I’m done with your cheap fireworks and even cheaper dress code. I’m done with your chalaghaj and your khorovadz and your stomach-churning oghi. I’m done with your bravado and threatening words against those who you perceive to be weaker than you. I’m also done with those who have left and those who now, more than ever want to leave.
Yesterday I had to bear witness, yet again to a process that brought shame on me as a human being, as a mother and as an Armenian woman. I always keep naively hoping that with each election cycle we are moving closer to democracy and yet with each election we seem to be slipping further and further into the “mud.”
I was a proxy at two different electoral precincts, 4/28 and 4/30 both in the Arabkir district of Yerevan where I live for the Yerevan city elections. Before taking on that duty, I went to cast my vote. When I arrived at my polling station there was a long line-up of people waiting to vote. That might have been a normal occurrence however it was the group of young men hanging outside the building that annoyed me. I had woken up in a fighting mood anyway and seeing them standing there with their cigarettes dangling out of the corner of their mouths, their iPhones in hand, slumping over each other, acting like silly little brats and watching people as they entered and left certainly set the mood for the rest of my day.
At the first polling station (4/28) where I was a proxy there were long line-ups of voters pushing and shoving their way in. At times it was chaotic and for the three hours I was there until my next posting it was a constant flow of people being led by Republican party apparatchiks who were there acting as a commission member, proxy and observer not to mention the Republican thugs who were congregated outside in groups. The air inside was stifling as the number of voters kept swelling. I went outside to see what was going on and was confronted with an incredible amount of cars and vans. There were several police officers on hand purportedly to ensure that everything was going smoothly. I approached one of the police officers and asked him if there was another polling station in the vicinity because it didn’t make sense to have all this traffic for one station. As I was asking, another more senior police officer went on the defensive and demanded to know why I was even asking the question. I told him the number of vehicles didn’t make sense when the polling station was in the middle of a cluster of buildings where all voters needed to do was walk and he said, “Do you not think we are doing our job? We know what our job is.” I said you clearly know your job because you are not doing anything to prevent this circus from taking place and stormed back into the polling station.
Two specific incidents at 4/28 are worth mentioning. The first was a young man, not more than twenty, who tried to vote with a passport which stated he was born in 1959. One of the commission members was astute enough to notice and quickly called the rest of us over at which time the alleged 54 year old attempted to exit the polling station. His passport details were recorded and a complaint was filed.
Another incident was with another young man who apparently had three grandmothers (he kept escorting one elderly woman after another claiming they were his “dadiks.”) He too was escorted out of the station and another complaint against him was filed. These are only two cases of a continual attempt all day long at all polling stations to use any lever possible to swell Republican Party votes.
When I arrived at precinct 4/30 it was comparatively calm. However, ten minutes before the polls closed all mayhem broke loose as a group of about 25-30 men stormed the polling station and began to create a ruckus over an elderly woman who was demanding to be photographed and who was obviously sent in a few minutes earlier as a decoy so that they could stuff the ballot box. Some of us proxies and observers tried to protect the box while filming the idiocy unfolding before us. The chair of the commission lost all control of the situation until another man (with a very thick neck) stormed in demanding to know what was going on.
Who that man was remains a mystery. In the middle of the commotion was the Republican and Prosperous Armenia party proxies – it wasn’t clear to me whether they were further instigating the mob or trying to contain it. Once calm was restored and the doors locked with us inside, it took the chair and secretary of the commission a whole hour to go through the process of preparing everything for the ballot box to be opened. Once opened and the counting begun, several destroyed ballots were brought out which created yet another storm of controversy among the Republican Party proxy and the Prosperous Armenia observer to determine what constituted a destroyed ballot. A fist fight almost broke out with chairs being whipped across the room. And then calm was suddenly restored again.
At this point, my nerves and patience were very quickly disintegrating and I thought I was going to have a stroke. The RPA proxy had managed to be drinking throughout the day and approached me stinking of alcohol wanting to see the video footage I had taken of his dismal behavior earlier when he was about to break another man’s jaw over a destroyed ballot. When I refused he kept finding an excuse to approach me as the ballots were being counted, asking my name, where I was from until I told him to be careful because he didn’t know who he was dealing with and there would be irreversible consequences for him if he continued trying to engage me. He walked away with his tail between his legs and left me alone. For all my own bravado, I was literally shaking.
Once the ballots were finally counted with the RPA getting about 60 percent of the vote in my precinct, I asked the commission chair to unlock the door so that I could get out. I was done. I walked out into the clear night trying to breathe in some air only to be confronted by gangs of Republican Party bullies who had been hanging around the polling station waiting for their victory to be heralded. My husband quickly pulled up, picked me up and drove me home. On the drive I couldn’t talk, I was heartbroken, disgusted, disillusioned and felt dirty. And then the fireworks began all over the city…they couldn’t wait to celebrate their deepening grip on power.
After 12 years of believing, hoping, praying that we would be able to embark on the road toward democracy, I have come to the conclusion that while trying to stay the course, you sometimes need to fight like a bulldog, unyielding and be prepared to struggle till the end of your last breath.
Of one thing I am sure, those small-minded, power-hungry thugs with their minions who conduct themselves with disgrace will answer to all of us when we refuse to do their bidding, there just needs to be more of us to shift the balance of power away from the darkness and toward the light. I believe that this regime will collapse only when the rest of us can come to our senses by taking away their power.