Sanctions Proposed Against Armenia

That’s right. Sanctions – remedial punishment for perceived wrongdoing – against Armenia. Except it’s not another country proposing them: it’s Armenians. There is a not-so-impromptu effort to get people to stop donating to the All-Armenian Fund during its annual Thanksgiving Day Telethon, money from which will go to development projects in Armenia

As with most sanctions, they will affect not the governors that are ostensibly the source of contempt but regular people.

Behold a pernicious effort to divide a unifying force among Armenians that’s unfolding in our midst. At first it looks disjointed but it’s more coordinated than it seems.

Deftly timed to be released ahead of the All-Armenian Fund (called Armenia Fund in the U.S.) Annual Telethon which raises money for different projects throughout Armenia, the Policy Forum of Armenia released a report about its views on corruption in Armenia.

Ara Manoogian, a member of PFA and the creator of The Truth Must Be Told, has had a personal crusade, now at least a few years old, to assail the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund and has urged people to not donate to the organization that completes humanitarian and strategic projects in Armenia.

Ara Manoogian - Fellow at the Policy Forum of Armenia
Ara Manoogian – Fellow at the Policy Forum of Armenia

It just so happens that the PFA promotes Manoogian on its facebook page and Manoogian uses the PFA report to dissuade people from donating. 

PFA facebook page
PFA facebook page
Manoogian on his local TV show (video below)
Manoogian on his local TV show (video below)

First, I’d like to note for the record that I’m not a big proponent of blindly donating money to Armenia. I think there are lots of other ways Armenians can and should help the homeland.

That said, I certainly recognize the immensely large impact the All-Armenian Fund has had on Armenia but, more than any other, its linking of the Republic of Armenia to the Republic of Artsakh and the development of the North-South Highway.

Second, I love criticism and critique. They are the exercises that allow our minds to expand, that require us to prove to ourselves the truths in which we believe, or change those beliefs altogether. That’s why I take such a dim view of what I’m going to discuss (and have before in this blog): poor, unsubstantiated criticism is not only worthless, it gives criticism a bad name.

If you’re going to tell me the “truth” because it “must be told,” you damn well better be able to prove it. 

Here are the most common arguments I’ve seen for not donating to the All-Armenian Fund:

1) Don’t Donate Because Armenia’s Government Is Corrupt.

PFA Armenia Fund 1-redacted

So, forget that the PFA doesn’t bother explaining how the government embezzles “more in a year than your combined donations,” they’re telling you to not donate to the All-Armenian Fund because of it.

That is, “government embezzles money -> don’t donate to the All-Armenian Fund.” Wait, what? Is that a logical leap or am I living in a different universe?

Oh, and if you want to know to whom you should donate, according to the last comment made by the PFA there, figure it out for yourself. This is called un-constructive criticism. Mostly because you’re not constructing anything to replace the destruction you’re attempting to wreak. 

2) Don’t Donate Because All-Armenian Fund Is Corrupt, Too.

Ohhhhhhhhh.

PFA Armenia Fund 3-redacted

So it’s not just the Armenian government, Diaspora individuals, Diaspora organizations, but the All-Armenian Fund is also corrupt. Got it. So, I’m guessing the only non-corrupt thing in the Armenian world is the Policy Forum of Armenia…and Ara Manoogian.

Protesting election of Serzh Sargsyan in front of US Rep. Adam Schiff's office. Ya, I don't know either.
Incorruptly protesting election of Serzh Sargsyan in front of US Rep. Adam Schiff’s office in Burbank, CA. Ya, I don’t know either.

And since the evidence for all this corruption is in plain sight, I guess they’re right. Except, no.

Well, there is this video where expert opinions are presented as evidence:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUA5XFXkC1A&w=560&h=315]

I didn’t know there were so many well-informed people ready to comment on Armenia’s economic situation at the Americana in Glendale, whose motto has recently been changed to, “Where you can shop till you drop and interview scholars on Armenia all in the same afternoon!”

I’ve also tried visiting TheTruthMustBeTold.com which is the website where the To Donate or Not To Donate? white paper by Ara Manoogian is contained. Unfortunately my computer won’t let me visit the site because my anti-virus detects a virus deemed a severe threat. Nevertheless, I found the white paper that Manoogian publicizes every chance he gets.

If anyone can extract something from that that actually proves endemic corruption in the All-Armenian Fund, please let it be known.

I’m open to being wrong and if someone can show me that there is proof of corruption in this video which is being circulated, tell me.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4KGbMbHwec&w=560&h=315]

3) Don’t Donate to All-Armenian Fund Because…Well, Just Because! Ufffff.

“And don’t ask me why because I’m so annoyed!”

Lara Aharonian, the founder of the Women’s Resource Center in Armenia, is also not a fan of donating to the All-Armenian Fund.

i.e. "It's so bad, I'm not going to bother proving it to you."
i.e. “It’s so bad, I’m not going to bother proving it to you.”

The WRC has an office in Shushi and I’m not sure how they would drive there from Yerevan if it wasn’t for the road built by the All-Armenian Fund (see below).

It also receives money from Counterpart International, an organization which receives funding from the U.S. government. But it’s really unclear what the WRC is using their money on. Actually, there is no publicly available report of how the funds at the WRC are spent. Is it unreasonable for taxpaying Armenian-Americans to ask how their money is being spent? 

More Ara Manoogian. Start, if you can bear it, at 33:18 and observe what “truth must be told.” If you want to skip ahead, take a look at 49:37.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/_AAH_-eND-U?t=33m18s]

If the All-Armenian Fund provides an annual report and audits of its work by an internationally reputed accounting organization because it wants to show that the money of donors is being spent for the uses for which it is intended, let’s require the same of Armenian organizations that are receiving money from the U.S. government.

In case you’re interested:

2012 All-Armenian Fund Annual Report

All-Armenian Fund Physical Audit Report performed by Grant Thornton

It’s rather audacious, and arrogant, for one to expect the assumption of good intentions about themselves while suspecting others of wrongdoing.

glass house - architecturaldigest.com

If the argument is that there is graft and that’s why people shouldn’t donate, could the same logic be applied to not paying taxes because there is terrific waste in government spending? Or perhaps we shouldn’t donate when natural disasters happen, as they so often do, because all the money doesn’t get to where it’s intended. Or maybe we shouldn’t donate at all. Is it really possible to be totally sure your money isn’t being used for something other than what you intended?

Actually, it almost certainly is. But that’s why you’re donating and not running the organization to which you’re donating in the first place. You entrust the people who are in charge to complete the task they’ve said they’re going to complete. You’re not supposed to manage

And you know what? Even part of the money being donated to the All-Armenian Fund is disappearing (of which there is no hard evidence, mind you – pesky thing that evidence), so be it. You know why? This is why:

Built by the All-Armenian Fund.
Built by the All-Armenian Fund
Built by the All-Armenian Fund
Built by the All-Armenian Fund

In my trade, highways are called “supply routes.” That is, if you need to get supplies, for example, to soldiers, that’s what you use. Without them, all the weapons that you have stored in various facilities throughout the land are worth squat.

Put more simply:

When this happens

explosion - flickr.com

And you have this

no road - flickr

Your

Armenia tank - 1280px-T-72B_-TankBiathlon2013-30 -

Might end up like

NoRoad0 - sperone.free.fr

Ջոկի՞ք:

Now, it’s one thing that to be annoyed at moronic attempts to get people to not donate to an organization that’s verifiably doing work, and good work at that. It’s quite another when someone suggests that that organization (the All-Armenian Fund) is doing wrong or shouldn’t be doing the work at all when that work is protecting Armenians from very real enemies.

If you don’t want to donate, don’t donate. But don’t lie to people when you can’t come up with a good reason for them to support you.

I’m going to donate $50, a paltry amount about which I am ashamed. If you’re able to donate more to make up for the boycott this year, you can follow the link here. If not, at least do Armenia this solid and don’t go around trying to convince others not to help.

I bid you a very Happy Thanksgiving and I’ll leave you with a final thought by the estimable Armenian hero, Garegin Njdeh, posted on the very cool blog People of Ar:

flyer 1.FH11

Corruption in Armenia: Not What You Think

The Policy Forum of Armenia has released its third “State of the Nation” report, this one entitled “Corruption in Armenia.” It is described on the PFA website thus: “New Report Deconstructs Corruption in Armenia and Sounds the Alarm for Political Reform.”

PFA Corruption Report

Sound an alarm it does. In line with its previous reports, the first on Diaspora-Armenia relations and the second on Armenia’s environment, it goes on to list the litany of issues while predicting dire consequences for Armenia if the country does not heed its words.

If the PFA’s goal were to establish that corruption exists in Armenia, as it does pretty much everywhere, it didn’t need to write a whole report on it. But it tries to do much more than that: it attempts to show that corruption is so widespread that it is severely hindering the development of Armenia.

Except it doesn’t bother with some major details and seems to care more for showing that it can put together a finely designed report with lots of references to economic jargon and carefully chosen information.

The problem with this report can be summed up succinctly: if you’re going to make a case for something, particularly an academic one, be honest.

Below are a few points about why I think the PFA is being dishonest in its “Corruption in Armenia.”

1) Laziness or Irresponsibility?

Although it’s second-nature for most people to assume that Armenia is drowning in a sea of corruption, that should not excuse the PFA from establishing, with evidence, the issue that they are addressing. They don’t.

Activists concerned with climate change can’t just take climate change as a foregone conclusion before they start pressuring governments to place restrictions on pollution; anybody calling attention to an issue they believe is a concern in Armenia should be required to assume the same burden of proof.

The PFA, conversely, tries to establish corruption as a fact in referencing studies that are not its own and by saying that it doesn’t want to “duplicate” those by doing its own analysis. I discuss why this is a problem in forthcoming points.

They excuse themselves from the task by saying that “without the political will to investigate cases and judicial systems to prosecute them, it is even more difficult to provide concrete quantifiable examples and clear evidence…” As in, it’s not their fault they can’t sufficiently prove corruption exists through their own study.

That’s all fine and good but you can’t address a problem by prefacing it with, “there is this problem which we can’t prove really prove exists and it’s not our fault that we can’t. But we’re going to use other sources – which is another reason why we’re not doing much analysis – that prove that it exists because these sources were apparently not precluded from conducting the studies we wouldn’t be able to do sufficiently.”

So, which is it? That corruption couldn’t be measured sufficiently or that the PFA just didn’t want to measure it because others supposedly had?

2) Perception vs. Reality

If you’re walking all by your lonesome in the desert, you might perceive that there is an oasis where you will be able to replenish yourself. The reality might be that there is no oasis and that your perception was just a mirage. We know the human mind plays tricks like this. Indeed, among the youth, this has been popularized by the meme “Scumbag Brain”:

scumbag brain

So it’s important to know that oftentimes when you hear about “corruption” in a country, like when Transparency International reports about it, it’s not actual recorded corruption but a perception of corruption.

This is significant because public perception can be affected by many factors, for example, a report on corruption that doesn’t provide much evidence of corruption. So is it conceivable that if you keep telling people there is a problem with something that they might start believing that there is a serious problem with something?

To elucidate the point, I’ll refer to the 2010 Armenia Corruption Survey of Households (sponsored by USAID) which is used in the PFA report, where the following is written:

“According to a majority (82%) of survey respondents in 2010, corruption is a serious problem in the country.”

That might be what you call perception. The following is what you might call reality:

Although the healthcare system is perceived to be the most corrupt institution, only 22% of those respondents who had a contact with the healthcare system said that they were asked for a bribe…People were rarely asked to pay bribes during contact with public utilities and communications institutions; only 1% of those who dealt with them mentioned that they made some unofficial payments. Only 10% of those who had contacts with the education and social security systems were asked for a bribe over the past year.

The respondents were asked also to describe the main scenarios of corruption cases in the public sector based on their personal experiences. In 2010, 22% of the respondents stated that in all cases, officials mostly do not directly demand a bribe. Rather, they show that they have expectations of money, some gift or favors. Another 14% say that in all cases, officials directly demand money, a gift or a favor. About 9% mentioned that in all cases they used their own contacts to get privileged treatment. Nevertheless, the majority of respondents mentioned that they rarely or never experienced bribe giving with public officials.

(The cat’s words not mine.)

So one of the same reports that the PFA uses to prove that there is corruption in Armenia actually says people haven’t really experienced corruption in Armenia? Then how do you write a whole report on it?

3) Straw Man

After doing a rotten job of establishing that there is rampant corruption, the PFA expounds on the effects of such corruption later in the report. This is called a straw man argument: attacking an issue which isn’t an issue but which was created solely to be attacked.

I know the people in the PFA are really smart but it would be great if they didn’t insult the intelligence of us common folk.

Look at how feeble this straw man looks.

In releasing the report, the PFA said:

The report is intended to spur a debate on the issue of high-level corruption in Armenia and serve as a warning for corrupt officials that civil society organizations are ready to help identify and recover stolen assets—irrespective of their location—and return them to their rightful owners.

It would have been a great help if the space in the report or the effort expended to produce it were directed toward elucidating the assets stolen and high-level corruption that are so prevalent that they necessitated a report discussing their impact and resolution.

4) Old and Selectively-Used Data

So say we don’t have to prove corruption is rampant in Armenia because, well, why would you have to do that if everyone believes it, right?

"Why couldn't people just take my word for it?"
“Why couldn’t people just take my word for it?”

Even with that, I’m going to make the extreme proposition that the most current information available and the progression of that information over several years be used to give an accurate picture of the issue we’re considering.

As mentioned above, the PFA Report doesn’t use its own studies to establish that there is a corruption problem in Armenia; rather, it uses other reports. Unfortunately, from these reports, it uses both outdated information and it does so selectively, at that.

None of the reports the PFA uses in its 2013 “Corruption in Armenia” was conducted after 2011, making the newest one at least two years old. This despite there being more current information available.

If the argument goes that Armenia should have done much more in 20 years since its independence, an extremely short time in history, then we can also grant that two years is a significant length of time during which changes may take place. So would it not have been the responsible thing to do to use the most current reports? Reports that might show an improvement? I’m sure PFA would agree that every year counts.

Here is a sampling of information selectively used or omitted by the PFA report:

Global Integrity Index

The Global Integrity Index, which the PFA cites, notes that Armenia was one of the most improved countries, second only to Liberia, in addressing corruption from 2009 to 2011 (a two year difference). The PFA does not note this in its report.

If you want to see how the Global Integrity Index measures corruption, you can read further here https://www.globalintegrity.org/global/report-2011/armenia/.

World Bank 

In the most recent rankings available, the 2012 World Bank aggregator of corruption perception around the world, Armenia is ranked in the same percentile range of the following pitiful countries with destitute economies: India, China, Argentina, Mexico.

Excluding the Baltic states, Armenia (37th percentile), Belarus (37th), and Moldova (33rd) come in only behind Georgia (64th) among former Soviet countries according to the World Bank rankings – all the others are ranked in the 0-25th percentile.

World Economic Forum

Along with the World Bank, the World Economic Forum noted a 10 percentile improvement in Armenia’s corruption perception between 2010 to 2012.

The WEF also indicates, in its Global Competitiveness Survey, indicated that between 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, Armenia gained 10 places in being globally competitive for business. In the 2013-2014 report, it showed that Armenia gained another three places (read: improvement).

Remember that in 2010, in the USAID-sponsored report cited above and also used in the PFA report: “Nevertheless, the majority of respondents mentioned that they rarely or never experienced bribe giving with public officials.”

Two years later, major international institutions noted marked improvements in Armenia’s corruption perception.

I can’t speak to the motivation of the PFA and why it was so irresponsible in writing this report, although it’s not the first time. But besides feeding the despondence which is prevalent in the same reports that it uses to prove its case, the PFA report seems to have little else use.

But I’ll give credit where credit is due: the graphic designer should be commended for making a really beautiful looking report. It’s just that that thing about judging books and whatever by their covers is one of the few things that stuck with me from elementary school.

I’d like to note, in the likely event that I’m accused, that I do indeed believe there is corruption in Armenia. What’s more, I  believe that corruption should be vehemently quashed. Nevertheless, I want to have an honest discussion about it, with facts. Not selective and anecdotal cases presented as fact and then generalized.

Armenia should be the least corrupt country in the world and given some of the information discussed here, it seems that it can be. But I’m not willing to accept discussions of perceived corruption in Armenia based on false premises that are having a real effect on the psychological well-being of people in the country. If you’re not willing to be responsible in the information that you disseminate, and I’m looking at you PFA, just stop. You’re not doing anyone any favors, least of all Armenia.

If you believe in critical thinking, do it.

Links:

Aggregate information compiled by the World Bank and used in the PFA report

PFA Report: Corruption in Armenia

By: William Bairamian

[twitter-follow screen_name=’bairamian’]

Who Is Shant Harutiunian?

Last week, most of my stories had to do with The Great Armenian Revolution of 2013.

Today, Gegham Vardanyan (@reporterarm), a journalist in Armenia, posted this picture taken in Yerevan of graffiti that’s appeared depicting Harutiunian.

[tweet https://twitter.com/reporterarm/status/399817408392593408 align=’center’]

Other famous individuals that have gained the distinction of appearing in Yerevan street art are Garegin NjdehSoghomon TehlirianWilliam SaroyanVahan Deryan, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, and others. That’s the company Harutiunian now enjoys.

There are clearly people who do not think this man is enough of a lunatic to disavow his actions as dangerous and unacceptable, as I have argued they should. There are people marching so that he, a “political prisoner”, be set free – never mind the blatantly illegal actions he committed. There are people making him out to be a hero and enshrining him among actual heroes of the Armenian nation.

So, I figured something’s awry: either I misjudged this man and he deserves better treatment than what I’ve offered or I was right in assessing peoples’ reticence to resoundingly reject his antics because of a starvation for something more meaningful.

As I don’t take anything for granted – not even my own opinions and ideas – I decided to do a little research to see if there is something I missed between him becoming a public figure and when I got to know him, which was mostly last week.

I spent hours watching videos of him available on You Tube, of which there are many, trying to get to know the man (kind of) behind the (Guy Fawkes) mask.

Here are my observations:

1) PASSION, CONVICTION, KNOWLEDGE

He’s obviously passionate about what he believes. He also looks like he’s read some philosophy and history. Although from the videos it’s hard to tell whether he read the Cliff’s Notes version of everything or if he spent time studying the various texts of the people he references (e.g. Njdeh, Nietzsche, Marx).

There is definitely something in the noggin, it’s just not clear where it comes from and where it’s going. And I’m not sure it actually directs his actions the way he would have us believe.

2) NO DIRECTION

He speaks generally about starting a revolution but gives no reason why. Some of the things he has said he wants were “cultural revolution”, “revolution”, and Armenian philosophy or philosophers.

Much of the time he’s lamenting the lack of philosophical thought among Armenians and, rightly, the inability to have a substantive movement without that. But, contradicting his own statements on the matter, he ends up starting a half-ass “revolution” upon no clear premise.

3) WORST. DEBATER. EVER.

When he’s talking to an interviewer by himself, he seems reasonable, even amiable. But golly gee, brace yourselves if he’s in a room with another debater, particularly one who doesn’t fully agree with him: he is plainly incapable of having a civil discussion, a loose cannon.

Even after he’s made his point, when someone tries to say something in response, he continuously interrupts them and not to add anything in particular but to expound on points he’s already made or to repeat what he’s already said.

Even if you don’t understand Armenian, you can watch his interaction with others in the following interviews.

(Warning: there is a risk to your ears’ ability to continue functioning properly after watching)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiR2Maz6bg0&w=560&h=315]

At 7:20

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_ZbzD_3FA4&w=420&h=315]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=isUcjIOpFzc&w=560&h=315]

When he has to interact with others, he’s unable to control himself, choosing yelling to discussion. His comments are often laced with insults. It’s almost a sight to see if it weren’t so excruciating to watch. He seems more interested in his own voice than in anything that anyone else has to say.

4) ANTI-RUSSIA CONSPIRACY THEORIST

He makes no bones about his disdain for Russia’s overbearing hold on Armenia – which is understandable –  and its meddling in Armenia’s affairs but the man is convinced that Russia controls every aspect of the Armenian government: Serzh Sargsyan’s presidency, Seyran Ohanian’s ministerial duties as defense minister, the whole national state security apparatus. What makes it a conspiracy theory, of course, is that he offers no evidence whatsoever besides saying that he has evidence that he can show. Absolutely nothing.

He actually seems obsessed with Russia and not very concerned with the Armenian authorities.

In reality, he pays so little attention to discussing the actual Armenian authorities and why he might not like them to the point that he’d want to start a revolution that I feel he would have been better served starting his revolution against Russia and not Armenia. After all, it’s not clear what the point of starting a revolution in Armenia is if, like Harutiunian apparently believes, Armenia is under Russia’s total control.

5) IRONY

I’m not sure if he’s being ironic or he just doesn’t see it as a big deal but as he’s roundly tearing Russia and its influence in Armenia to shreds, his speech is concurrently sprinkled with Russian words: “logika”, “dochni”, “proste”, “luboy”, “dubinkek”, “vopshum”, “militsek”,

6) PHILOSOPHER-CUM-REVOLUTIONARY

Harutiunian seems to fashion himself a philosopher-cum-revolutionary. He laments the lack of philosophy and philosophers among Armenians and sees them as a precondition, not only for Armenians but everywhere, to a proper revolution. So I can only imagine that if he’s complaining about a lack of philosophers but thinks they’re necessary for a proper revolution, he either believes himself to be the philosopher necessary for the revolution or he’s not interested in a proper revolution.

In any case, when I think of those two words – “philosopher”, “revolutionary” – I think these guys:

General Andranik, revolutionary
General Andranik, revolutionary
General Garegin Njdeh: revolutionary, philosopher
General Garegin Njdeh: revolutionary, philosopher
Raffi: revolutionary, philosopher
Raffi: revolutionary, philosopher
Plato: some would say philosopher but I ask, proto-Shant Harutiunian?
Plato: some would say philosopher but I ask, proto-Shant Harutiunian?

Not this guy:

Harutiunian (Credit: Photolur)
Harutiunian (Credit: Photolur)

He makes himself out to be a martyr before being martyred.

7) THE VULGAR PHILOSOPHER

His colorful language, sometimes during interviews, is a potpourri of Turkish, Russian, and Armenian vulgarity.

“TUFTA” (Russian obscenity)

“SRIKA” (Turkish obscenity)

“BOZ/POZ” (Armenian obscenity)

See him channel Khrimian Hayrig, Krikor Zohrab, and Monte Melkonian:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-AVQvb1RxTo&w=420&h=315]

Just imagine, as you’re watching that video, Khrimian Hayrig, Zohrab, Monte, or perhaps Njdeh, one of Harutiunian’s inspirations, standing behind that megaphone saying the things Harutiunian is saying. Ya, no.

8) REVOLUTION FOR WHAT?

He talks about revolution but nowhere does he explain WHY. He just says he’s going to do it, that’s it.

Because he didn’t answer my question, I offer to any readers: what does he want revolution for?

And I don’t mean what YOU want revolution for; I want to know why Shant Harutiunian wants revolution. Because, as yet, I have no idea.

BECAUSE IF YOU’RE GOING TO OPENLY TALK ABOUT SETTING FIRE TO THE PRESIDENTIAL PALACE or occupying the state intelligence service or carrying two cans of benzene (presumably to use in revolutionary activities)…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7NluSttecI&w=560&h=315]

… I feel like you should have a good reason for it.

FINAL CONCLUSION

Awkwardly, I didn’t find myself disagreeing with everything that he said, little of which centered on him conducting a revolution. But that doesn’t excuse his actions or his behavior. My final conclusion is that Shant Harutiunian is batshit crazy.

There isn’t a single video I’ve watched where he’s interacting with an interlocutor where he doesn’t go berserk, arms flailing, yelling at the top of his lungs, interrupting the host or other guest/s – even grabbing them. He seems to always be on the cusp of a massive emotional meltdown.

I stand by my original assessment that he’s a lunatic. I won’t lower my standards of the expectations of our fellow men and women because the man reached his wit’s end – his wit may have been shorter than normal. I also won’t accept him soiling the sanctity of true heroes of the Armenian nation, those who didn’t resort to pettiness and vulgarity in their effort to make a point. It’s inexcusable.

Anyone trying to justify Harutiunian’s actions is just feeding the depravity that not only created him but allowed him to feel that he would not be absolutely rejected by society for his actions.

I’ll take philosophers-cum-revolutionaries. Real ones.

By: William Bairamian

[twitter-follow screen_name=’bairamian’]

British Navy, Indonesian Special Forces in Armenia

Since the Great Armenian Revolution of 2013, there have been a flurry of news reports. Who did what, who hit whom, who was at fault and, my favorite, which country’s special forces and police were present.

In the daily CivilNet English-language digest yesterday, it was reported that some were alleging that Russian special forces were present at the protest because of Russian-language clothing on officers (at 2:22 below).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hb1ujnAVes&w=560&h=315]

Aravot Daily, which makes a sport of creatively presenting news headlines and exaggerating anything that has the potential to make the government look bad, published an article, entitled (quotes theirs), “In addition to Russian special mission units, there were also the U.S. service special agents at the Mashtots Avenue”.

That was distilled from a response to:

“[…] the question of why they brought detachments of the Russian special mission units to the Mashtots Avenue […]”

So: Russian on police clothing = possibility of Russian special forces in Armenia. Gotcha.

So: cops with the light blue stripes across their backs that have “POLICE” imprinted on them (below), in English = American/British/Australian/Canadian(<-lol) police in Armenia. Right?

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtIbJG_z7jw&w=560&h=315]

So: why isn’t anyone asking about the obvious American/British/Australian/Canadian(<-lol) police presence in Yerevan?!

The video that accompanied the Aravot article:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f23vRjv5Hmg&w=560&h=315]

It is admittedly proved that there was Russian written on police clothing, but there are a few more pieces of evidence that seem to skip the reporter’s mind who was asking the question:

:10, there is an Armenian flag on officer’s (#1) sleeve

:13, there is an Armenian coat of arms on officer’s (#2) hat

:24, there is an Armenian flag on officer’s (#3) sleeve

Unless, of course, this was a ploy to take Armenian-looking Russians and dress them up in police clothing with Russian on it but with Armenian symbols to utterly confuse the living hell out of anybody who looked at them.

In which case, the reporter asking the question is wholly justified.

By the way, the answer to the question above that was posed by the reporter?

“Not only Russian special mission units, but also Mossad and British Navy, the U.S. Central Bureau of Investigation servicemen were there, late at the end, our partners from Indonesia arrived.”

Courtesy of Ashot Aharonyan, head of the Police’s Public Relations and Information Department.

Indonesians: always late to the party. But they can do whatever they want because they have this guy:

Credit: Al Jazeera
Credit: Al Jazeera

Who looks a lot like a guy who actually can do pretty much whatever he wants.

Except get Republicans to like him. But I digress (like whoa).

In other news, in an interesting article by Hetq, Aravot is one source (out of two) cited about media professionalism and ethical reporting in Armenia.

Full Aravot article here.

CivilNet Gets It Woefully Wrong

I’ve recently been informed that my commentary is “ridiculous” because I am not currently in Armenia starting a revolution. But in my world, which happens to exist outside of the “why don’t you go [fill in the blank]” kindergarten playground of discussions, I believe I am free to comment on things that exist outside of the vicinity of where I live so that’s what I’m going to continue to do.

For context, I’ve been a fan of the CivilNet English-language video updates since they were announced in September. I think they are an important source of information for people whose primary language of communication is English and who want to have a connection to news in Armenia.

CivilNet fb

However, this short report on today’s cockamamie “revolution” really got it wrong.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xtj1p6ADGG8&w=560&h=315]

What about it? Well, thanks for asking. Come with me.

1) Look at all these police arresting people!

The video, as can be seen, shows almost an unhindered stream of what looks like police aggression and force. To those none the wiser, the police are brutally carrying away and imposingly blocking the paths of citizens simply trying to protest.

But what the video completely fails to show is that BEFORE the roundup and presence of significant police force, several explosives were detonated by this guy and his ragtag band of “revolutionaries”:

Harutiunian and his "revolutionaries." (Credit: Photolur)
Harutiunian and his “revolutionaries” (Credit: Photolur)

In fact, as can be seen in a video taken before CivilNet’s, although there was a police presence, there were no special forces or SWAT anywhere in sight. 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ypGza2cU90&w=560&h=315]

I’m going to guess they showed up after the fact but in the CivilNet video, it looks like it was a continuous event with the massive police presence, and accompanying arrests, happening just because people were protesting, which was NOT the case. 

Selective much?

2) Sequence of events

The video’s narration notes that “when protesters decided to start marching toward the Presidential Palace, more than 200 police and special forces, including the SWAT team, pushed them back.”

How about a scenario? Say you’re walking around with some friends and you all happen to have taken your favorite masks with you on this particular stroll. You also happen to be in Washington, DC (or Budapest or Kigale or Athens) and decide you feel like a protest. So you start heading over to the president’s pad. Except, on this particular day, THERE WERE EXPLOSIVE DEVICES DETONATED less than a mile from where the president lives.

What capital in the whole world would allow masked protesters to get anywhere near any government building, much less the president’s house, during a time of such disarray? If you answered not a goddamn one, you’d be correct. 

In real life, CivilNet doesn’t bother with the fact that there was a serious violent incident that took place before these marchers tried to head to the Presidential Palace and leaves the impression that activists protesting “corrupt governments and greedy corporations” were stopped in their tracks by police. 

Another fact not important enough to include in the report that I feel might have encouraged the police to pour hundreds of their officers onto the street: 8 policemen were hospitalized after the explosives were detonated.

“Revolutionaries” beating the shit out of some guy before 200 people with masks were stupefyingly stopped by police on their jaunt to the Presidential Palace:

Harutiunian in orange shirt. (Credit: Photolur)
Harutiunian in orange shirt. (Credit: Photolur)

3) Editing

After a full minute and a half of showing police carrying people away, the narration announces that,

“it appeared that the protests centered around Shant Harutiunian […] who for days has been repeating that somehow something must change.”

CUT TO FOOTAGE OF MAN BEING HAULED OFF BY POLICE.

So can we conclude that the thing that Harutiunian is trying to change is police dragging people away while distraught women weep in the background? Although it was Harutiunian that inspired the police to be doing that in the first place?

And then there is no mention that Harutiunian was the jackass who led the initial group and was doing this, and throwing explosives on the ground like firecrackers, before the area was flooded by police:

Harutiunian (Credit: Photolur)
Harutiunian – seriously, WTF? (Credit: Photolur)

For effect, both the beginning and end of the video was flanked by audio of a screeching woman, I suppose to accentuate the egregiousness of a police officer carrying away a possible suspect in the explosions that CivilNet didn’t bother spending much time on.

Wonderful editing. Grade A. But so terribly disappointing. 

Look, I get it. Every outlet has its tilt.

CivilNet is a project of Civiltas which is a proactive think tank established by one of the longest-running government officials in modern Armenian history who happens to be a member of a political party on tepid terms with the ruling party. Fine. But this was just too blatant.

You want to make the government look bad? I’m sure you can come up with something better than craftily editing a video in a way that renders it a half-truth.

I also recognize that we’re so damned starved for something we’ll take anything. Indeed our state of affairs must be in doldrums if there are smart, serious people riding the coattails of a lunatic to make their point.

Successful revolutionaries, even violent ones, make a case for revolution.

Think about Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Adams making a sign announcing that they’re starting a revolution like they’re having a fucking bake sale.

Or Lenin walking into the street with a stick and swinging it at people like Donatello (the Ninja Turtle, not the artist). Or Mao Zedong and Robespierre muttering nonsense like a common fool and then expecting the people to fall in line.

No, these revolutionaries wrote, debated, organized, spoke, planned, and thought. They had purpose. They would not be satisfied with the painfully bland, “somehow something must change.” What person who respects their own intelligence in the least could be inspired by such ambiguity?

By not condemning Harutiunian and his ilk for what they are, we would be complicit in encouraging the vapid rhetoric that is fit not for revolutionaries but charlatans. We cheapen our goals and our expectations of others and ourselves.

We’re capable of thinking deeply. We just need to do it.

By: William Bairamian

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The Great Armenian Revolution of 2013

You may have seen or read that explosives were detonated after protesters clashed with police in Yerevan today.

This is the level of maturity of “revolutionaries” in Armenia. The moronic, self-styled cigarette-hanging-from-his-mouth-Guy-Fawkes-mask-wearing-stick-wielding-resident-hooligan-“revolutionary Shant Harutiunian, decides to detonate flash (magnesium) bombs in a crowd of people, injuring several who were marching with him and at least 8 police officers.

Image
Shant Harutiunian (Credit: Photolur)

No rhyme, no reason, no target. The best I can come up with for his motivation is, “I’m mad so I’m going to blow shit up – even if I might hurt innocent people.”

“Revolutionary” rushing and taking down a female bystander (News.am)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EabMwxvQL1Y&w=420&h=315]

“Revolutionaries” beating a man with sticks (Armenpress)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=545jZX-i1S8&w=560&h=315]

By the way, for all the media outlets that are reporting that there were riot police:

Asbarez

An Armenian opposition activist and more than three dozen of his supporters were detained in downtown Yerevan on Tuesday in violent clashes with riot police that followed what he called an attempt to carry out an anti-government “revolution.”

RFE/RL

A maverick Armenian opposition activist and more than three dozen of his supporters were detained in downtown Yerevan on Tuesday in violent clashes with riot police that followed what he called an attempt to carry out an anti-government “revolution.”

WHAT RIOT POLICE?

This is what riot police look like in my crazy imagination:

Image
Credit: flickr/Nigel Parry
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

And they don’t seem to be anywhere in the videos of what happened in Yerevan, as one acquaintance astutely pointed out to me.

Ironically, now the police have probable cause to believe that seemingly peaceful protesters might be equipped with explosive devices. And the reason was some purposeless action. The only thing that will be revolutionized because of this is how law enforcement officials deal with public protests.

Way to go, dumbass. 

If this is the type of revolution people want to have – unfocused, pointless, indiscriminate – then they don’t deserve to have one at all.

By: William Bairamian

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Oligarch Bodyguards Should Unionize – And Civil Society Groups Should Help

Credit: tristat.com
Credit: tristat.com

A story about bodyguards being overworked for little pay by News.am aroused a simple solution in my mind: the bodyguards of oligarchs should unionize.

What’s more, they should be supported by civil society groups that want to improve the working conditions of workers in the country. This may sound facetious. Bodyguards, after all, are working for the same people some of these groups are trying to rein in (then again, so are thousands of others, but a factory worker isn’t as ominous as an oligarch’s bodyguard). But, I’m dead serious. Let me explain.

In order for unionization to be successful, the potential union workers have to wield some leverage over their employers. That is, if the workers quit en masse, it would cause great economic harm to the employer or would threaten something they hold dear. In the case of the oligarchs, I’m going to assume something they hold dear is their lives because, well, they have bodyguards, presumably to protect their bodies (from harm, that is).

So, the logic might go that the bodyguards have some leverage over the employer in convincing them that they’re worth keeping around. And it’s not like the bodyguards are working at the Wal-Mart of personal security services and can be replaced with part-time high school teenie boppers. These oligarchs have to trust these men with their lives, which is not something that happens during a weekend orientation on how to be a good bodyguard. Meaning they can’t just fire the ones they have. That would be like some idiot firing a bunch of trained killing machines and expecting there to be no negative backlash.

This is to say nothing of how befitting their huskiness and willingness to use strong-arm tactics are for union membership.

With these ideal circumstances for unionization in mind, civil society groups should look seriously at helping the bodyguards for a few reasons. First, unionizing the bodyguards has a higher likelihood for success than workers who are much more replaceable. Their skills (and body types) are less teachable than a cashier at a fast-food restaurant so they hold a higher value for their employers and thus have more leverage in any potential negotiations. In effect, unionizing bodyguards is low-hanging fruit compared with others who have less skills or who might be more scared of their employers.

They have "union" written all over them. (Credit: news.am)
They have “union” written all over them. (Credit: news.am)

Second, securing a victory in unionizing any group sends a clear message that employers need to take their employees’ welfare more seriously if they hope their enterprise to be sustainable. If unionizing the bodyguards achieves that goal, it’s well worth it. It also helps the civil society groups dangle the possibility of unionization when an employer doesn’t want to budge on improving working conditions.

Finally, the victory would have the greatest impact on employees throughout other industries who will realize their worth in the jobs they are doing. And, if they happen to not be getting the pay they think they deserve, they can see unionization as an option, facilitating the work of civil society groups trying to help employees. That’s because employees in these other industries will have realized that they can, indeed, help themselves, and can look to the civil society groups for direction.

Of course, this does not mean that the oligarchs are going to welcome the idea with open arms. Actually, in all likelihood, they won’t take very kindly to the bodyguards in their employ being so ungrateful for being allowed to work 24 hours a day for scraps as opposed to the 0 hours a day they would be working without them. It is still unclear what gives employers almost everywhere delusions that they are Jesus and Robin Hood combined but it’s a reality employees everywhere have to address.

To be sure, unionization is not always a peaceful endeavor and has often led to crazy violence. But I guess when you never see your family, barely have enough money for food or rent, and are treated like an indentured servant, the prospect of violence is less scary than if you’re working for Google.

And, look, when I say they’re going to realize it’s unsustainable, I mean it. Whether it happens through unionization or emigration or whatever, employers have to learn that not paying your workers is bad for business. So far, it’s been easier to skip scrutiny because the argument has been that at least they are providing jobs when there haven’t been many to go around. That only works for so long.

People eventually realize the difference between good and bad, mutual benefit and exploitation. Unionization happens to be an organized way of ensuring that the trend is toward mutual benefit and not exploitation.

That said, unions are not the solution to everything. I have an ambivalent relationship with them because I believe they can be of great use in situations where workers are being exploited. They can also become cesspools of corruption like any powerful group.

That should, however, not be a deterrent. Any good idea can be soiled with bad intentions but with the right people and the right foundations, it can also be a great boon to society.

Solutions to problems often come from unlikely places. This may be an example of one such unlikely source for progress that can have resounding effects throughout the workforce of Armenia. 

And, political parties, I know it’s not election season (so, yawn, right?), but maybe something to work on.

Well paid employees are good for their employers and good for Armenia.

By: William Bairamian

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