BY ANGELA HASSASSIAN
The events of February 13 in the Yerevan City Council, in reality, reveal a very multifaceted problem facing Armenian democracy and society as a whole. This was made apparent by the intense outpouring of public opinion and the dichotomous stance and interpretation of what took place. As a repatriate, this reaction has been revealing. It’s unfortunate, but moments like these provide an opportunity for contemplation.
While progress is slow, I still have hopes that this incident will raise awareness about key issues which need to be addressed. There are many factors, among them corruption, lack of democratic values, gender inequality and societal issue. All of these reared their ugly heads in a tumultuous theatrical performance, which raises questions of how things would have, should have and could have been, had these issues not been present in our society in the first place.
It begins with the question of corruption. It is by now no secret that corruption in the ruling regime is excessive to say the least. The members of Yerkir Tsirani, in fact, were in an uphill battle against a broken and corrupt system. But before I get into the details of the implications of the incident at the City Council, let’s take a look at the events leading up to it.
Nubarashen is a district of Yerevan with low socioeconomic standing. For years residents have been exposed to unhealthy conditions, due to the damaged sewage systems. As a result, wastewater has been continuously released and accumulating, I repeat, over the span of years in the neighborhood, causing a putrid smell in the area and toxic living conditions. February 13 was not, in fact, the first time the question regarding fixing the sewage system was raised at different levels of government.
Meanwhile, my peers and I repeatedly have seen streets in perfectly normal conditions, in the city center being ripped apart and repaved over and over. We could not help but scoff and look in wonder. Surely it was not necessary to pave these streets on so many occasions. Clearly there are more crucial areas in Yerevan in desperate need of attention. Undeniably, the problem facing the citizens of Nubarashen could have and should have been resolved long ago.
There is no question that if our governmental bodies functioned as they were intended to, the spectacle which unfolded would not have occurred. Which leads to the next issue: the absurd and intolerable behavior of those involved. In an attempt to once again raise the question of the plight of the citizens of Nubarashen, members of the Yerkir Tsirani party fulfilled a request from the population of Nubarashen to bring the putrid sewage water from the district to the City Council meeting.
The intentions were clear, to give the members of the City Council the opportunity to understand the full scope and gravity of the situation. Unfortunately, these intentions were reframed as being an attack on the members of the council, specifically the Mayor of Yerevan, Taron Margaryan. Hysteria ensued as an army of male members of the city council aggressively attacked one of the small-framed female members of the Yerkir Tsirani party, Marina Khachatryan.
Ms. Khachatryan alleges that she was sexually violated, after which she slapped the aggressor. He responded in kind with a slap to her face, after which she was pulled violently by her hair from behind, grabbed, pushed, carried, tossed out of the room and prevented from collecting her belongings which were left behind. Whether or not one approves the actions taken by the female city council members, there can be no justification for the scale of violence against them.
Furthermore, it raises a very serious question of whether or not they would have received the same amount of animosity from not only the members of the council, but the general public, had they been men. The opinions voiced during the last couple of days truly reflected obvious and deep-seated misogynistic undertones. There wasn’t a moment of hesitation when faced with the option of physically attacking these women or finding a more civil option for dealing with the situation.
More unnerving, is the fact that both men and women shared condoning views of the violence taken against them. This points to a more rooted and toxic societal issue, which is the blatant disrespect toward women. These women posed no immediate threat to the lives of the people gathered in that room. They were noticeably outnumbered. There was no need for that amount of force. There was no need for the chaos. Quite frankly, given the circumstances mounted against them, they handled themselves well.
The outrageously defensive behavior, the fear, the overcompensation for feelings of inferiority, the unwarranted violence, the voiced opinions thereafter, all speak of a society which in the year 2018 sees women as a threat and as being unworthy. A society where the democratic system is flawed and where attribution reflecting education and general behavior of civility are lacking.
But not all hope is lost. Against all possible odds, it appears that the people of Nubarashen, with the help of Yerkir Tsirani, were able to achieve what they set out to do. As of February 14, construction has begun in Nubarashen, with the aim of fixing the leaking sewage system. Perhaps this is an opportunity for Armenians, as a society, to think introspectively? Where do the roots of these issues lie? Why did this incident occur? How could it have been handled differently?
Personally, I genuinely hope that these events will be a catalyst for change, in the sense that non-traditional methods may be adopted more frequently. After all had it not been for the spectacular show staged by the members of the city council, how many of us would have known about the woes of the residents of Nubarashen?