Bartering Freedom

When people agree to being governed, that is, they agree to limitations on their absolute freedom, there is an implied understanding that they will be getting something in return. Generally, they are bartering that freedom for security and stability (read: order) and the belief that they are gaining something that they would not have in an anarchic (read: insecure or unsafe) state.

When in the Republic of Armenia you have, on the one hand, massive arrests conducted by the police and, on the other hand, people being beaten and bloodied, as Babken DerGrigorian (interview and story in Armenian) and Mihran Margaryan (pictured below) were, the question arises about what the people are exchanging for agreeing to be governed by the officials and rules that are meant to provide them with security. Officials and rules which do not seem to be holding up their end of the bargain, at that.

When seven hooligans can roam the streets and violently prey on peaceful protesters, someone who has received the trust of the people in exchange for the promise of security has failed in their duty. And when the citizenry no longer believes that the executors of that promised security, the police,  are there to protect them but they are there to protect the disingenuous merchants in the freedom trade, things begin to fall apart.

Mihran Margaryan, post-beating. (Photo credit: Pan-Armenian Environmental Front)
Mihran Margaryan, post-beating. (Photo credit: Pan-Armenian Environmental Front)

What all budding governments know and what all outdated governments, in their hubris, forget, is that they are no match for the people. Once the governed lose all their faith in their governors and in the belief that they will be secured by them, the reason for their past reserve is obsolete, and chaos impends. 

It is generally not in the interest of rulers to ignore mass discontent but history proves that they do, often at their peril. Armenia’s rulers can choose to ignore the discontent, they can choose to abuse the agreement of which they are the beneficiaries, they can choose to be afraid of standing apart from their colleagues or they can choose to recognize that their power and their status and their wealth is due to the complicity of a discontent people with whom they have an implicit agreement. And the rulers of Armenia should know that when they make their decision, they are deciding not only what the future of Armenia will be but what theirs will be, as well.

By: William Bairamian

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Another Election Boycott

It seems like in Armenia “boycotting the elections” has become code for “we have no good candidates but want to look like we’re doing something.”

In Syunik, home of the infamous and royally evil Suren Khachatryan, the province’s ex-governor, the ARF has decided it will boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections being held to replace Khachatryan’s successor, Vahe Hakobyan. Hakobyan was a member of parliament when he was appointed to succeed Khachatryan (a.k.a. Liska) after a shootout at the latter’s compound that left one Artsakh war hero dead and his war hero brother wounded.

Apparently the reasoning behind the decision is that nothing will change although no explanation was given whether boycotting the election will, conversely, change anything.

For a succinct evaluation of political parties in Armenia and their absence from any substantive change in the country (i.e. 150 drams debacle, environmental movements, etc.), see Khatchig Mouradian’s “The Sultans of Swindling“.

Over-promising and under-delivering has become a staple of politics-as-usual in Armenia. Unfortunately, this also includes much of the opposition, which has thus far failed to muster the strength and ingenuity to tackle the profound economic and social challenges the Armenian citizen faces.

Better to do nothing between elections or better to do nothing during elections? Time will tell.

By: William Bairamian

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8 Things You Do If You’re From Yerevan

Yerevan is Armenia’s biggest city. Like most big cities, its citizens have peculiarities that distinguish them from those of other cities in the country. If you’re from Yerevan, especially if you’re over the age of 30, you probably do all these things. 

1) You hate Karabakhtsis. 

Because they supposedly control everything and even have a conspiracy to keep Yerevantsis unemployed. Although your only evidence for this is that native Artsakhtsis (Karabakhtsis) are in high-level government positions (i.e. president, defense minister, etc.). Which is like me claiming that the troubles I might have, being a Californian, are because Barack Obama is from Illinois/Hawaii/Indonesia and Chuck Hagel (U.S. Sec. of Defense) is from Nebraska. OK…I guess.

No Tatiks and Papiks
No Karabakhtsi tatiks and papiks…or pretty much anyone from Karabakh.

2) You hate anybody from the regions of Armenia. 

Because those villagers (գյուացիք) live better than you do. Though that might have something to do with them doing back-breaking work. Or maybe it’s not true that they live better. But whatever about that fact stuff.

We are city folk and don't like village folk.

3) You hate(d) akhpars.

Because they were different and drank coffee and ate lahmajoon and basturma, except you love that shit. Or maybe it was something else, like they got one-way tickets to Siberia because they were suspected of being spies on the regular. Actually, I’m not really clear on what the beef was with the akhpars.

We'll take the coffee, lahmajoon, and basturma but no akhpars!
We’ll take the coffee, lahmajoon, and basturma but no akhpars!

4) You hate Yerevan.

After all, if the country is not a country (ԵԵՉ), the capital and biggest city of that country must suck, too! I mean, the suckiness has to come from somewhere. Or maybe it’s because all the inhabitants are աֆերիստ (shysters). Though what was that about taking one to know one?

Can you blame us?
Can you blame us?

5) You claim you and your whole family are originally from Yerevan, since hundreds of years ago.

Which means there is a good chance you’re either a Persian or Turkic Tatar. Congratulations – you are now much cooler. 

Fine looking ancestors they were.
Fine looking ancestors they were.

6) You say you’re from Yerevan but you’re really just embarrassed to say you’re not from Yerevan because everyone in Yerevan hates people who aren’t from Yerevan…although no one is from Yerevan. 

Yerevantsi to the core! Kind of to the, right around it. (Photo credi: Ann Larie Valentine)
Yerevantsi to the core! Kind of to the core…like, right around it. (Photo credit: Ann Larie Valentine)

7) You dream of moving to Glendale, where you will start hating all non-Yerevantsi Armenians in Los Angeles.

Except you don’t live in Yerevan anymore and nobody cares that you’re from there.


8) You inspire me to be a better Armenian by trying hard to not be you.


Ya, buddy. Jack said it right.
You are now in the same class as Helen Hunt!

By: William Bairamian

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Artsakh : Sparta (II)

(Second of a several part series)

If you watched “300” and wished you could have visited Sparta, good news: there is Artsakh.

The parallel between the Battle of Thermopylae and the Artsakh War is actually striking: the Artsakhtsis and Spartans were both severely outnumbered, fantastically outgunned, and, on paper, fighting them should have been a cakewalk for their enemies. The only difference in their stories (besides a few thousand years, the weaponry, and most everything else) was that Artsakh won and Sparta didn’t.

"I'm the soldier of a victorious army."
“I am the soldier of a victorious army.”

This is a martial culture. The calm of Stepanakert would have you think you’re not in a war zone if it weren’t for the soldiers everywhere. There are barracks all over the place that house thousands of soldiers and they are all carefully guarded.

The young men wear their neatly prepared uniforms proudly. They don’t have any reservations about what they will need to do if there is a war but you will not hear a single person go into a bravado-inspired tirade about crushing the enemy or threaten to kill civilians.

Both the men and women of the older generations have seen war and you can see it in their eyes and hands. Though they are serious, they are never disrespectful and their shells of titanium belie a kindness so rare, I was subconsciously reticent to interact with them because I might violate its purity.

Soldier playing dodgeball, no holds barred, with kids at Gandzasar.
Soldier playing dodgeball, no holds barred, with kids at Gandzasar.

The women are the fierce parallels of the men. One we met runs a youth center. She tells the kids who come through there that as an Artsakhtsi, you cannot afford to say that something is impossible, you have to make it possible. Oh, and she brings her baby to work where she attends to the child and works concurrently. And oh, we went on a hike that involved crossing narrow bridges with some of the local kids and she brought her baby, probably so he can grow up to be a badass like everyone else. And oh, she’s having her fourth child.

Soldier visiting the Shushi art museum.
Soldier visiting the Shushi Art Museum.

If there is another war, which is incredibly unlikely, the people here alone would crush the Azeris. I think that’s why there hasn’t been a war yet – there are still Azeris who remember what it was like fighting against the Artsakhtsis and are, plainly, scared.

There are many reasons to come to Artsakh but if there was only one, being among the men, women, and children who are the essence of what we want to be as Armenians and thinking that you share something with them would be it.

By: William Bairamian

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