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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Another Index. Armenia is #95. Meaningful?

The Legatum Institute, a London-based think tank, released its annual “Prosperity Index” and, as reported by PanArmenian, Armenia came it at #95.

Credit: rifreedom.org
Credit: rifreedom.org

After looking through the data, I can say that it is varied enough that it presents what I’ll call a picture of general understanding. That is, the use of reports like these is less what rank a country achieves and more about giving the reader an idea of where the country falls on a wide spectrum. In the case of Armenia, the prognosis looks to be that it has a lot of room for improvement.

Otherwise, the “index industry” (c) William Bairamian, is in full swing. Every think tank and their mother (do think tanks have mothers? the jury’s out but I’m going with yes) is publishing an index of something: happiness, corruption, poverty, water, sex, environment. Some are useful, some are an exercise in finding data no one else has yet manipulated and putting it in digestible form to keep up with the think tank Joneses. The Legatum report falls somewhere in the middle.

They aggregate dozens of pieces of data, including polling data from Gallup, so the ranking gives a more holistic picture than something like “X is the happiest country in the world and Y is the unhappiest based on our evaluation of data about the average distance a citizen must travel to the nearest lollipop stand.”

However, strongly lacking is any non-quantitative, country-specific analysis. The whole report is neatly based on an evaluation of numbers but an overreliance on numbers doesn’t tell the whole story. They do recognize this, though insufficiently, in my opinion. Their section on Prosperity Index Anomalies grants the inconsistencies that the data may belie; it deserves more attention.

Here are a few of the issues, in order of importance:

1) Lack of qualitative analysis

This is a major problem with these indices: everything is reduced to data. Culture, for example, has no bearing on the evaluation of the results, probably because it cannot be dependably quantified.

To make the point, here is a scenario:

You’re Armenian, you go to someone’s house and they ask you if you want something to eat. Almost invariably, you will refuse the first, maybe, thousand times they ask.

This cultural peculiarity in answering questions is not represented in polling data although it may well significantly skew responses in one direction. And when a significant part of your conclusion is based upon polling data, this can have a huge impact when that information is whittled down to a number. 95, perhaps?

2) Autocratic countries

As noted in their Anomalies section, it’s hard to conceive that people in an autocratic country might answer questions fully truthfully. A conversation might go like this:

Pollster: “Do you feel you’re able to freely express yourself?”

Citizen who believes he might be asked a similar question by undercover police to determine who isn’t saying the right things so they can get them to say the right things…in an empty room…with no cameras: “Obviously! We’re freer than hell! I mean, not just hell, everywhere! Long live our nation! Can I go home now?”

Pollster: “Of course you can. I’m just a pollster. I can’t prevent you from going home.”

Citizen: “Sure. Last time a guy told me that, I woke up without any clothes and pain in my, er, uh, my face! Because I was smiling so much! Have a nice day!”

Credit: times.co.uk
Credit: times.co.uk

Conversely, and curiously, when a country has greater freedom of expression, citizens may use that freedom to comment on the country’s lack of freedom more freely.

3) Unrecognized countries

This is an issue when, for example, the people of Artsakh aren’t polled. Comprising a sizable part of the population of Armenia, about 7-9%, it may have had an impact on the results, which Legatum seems to acknowledge.

Similarly, if they did the survey 25 years ago and asked Armenians living in Artsakh, then under Azerbaijan SSR, “How do you feel people of other ethnicities are treated in this country?”, I’m going to guess that would’ve affected their score a wee bit.

4) “Data Lag”

Not all the data is current. Some data points are from 2012 or, even 2011. Kind of a big deal for an annual prosperity index.

It’s not perfect. Nowhere close to it. But it has some uses. I think it’s better to explore the data that’s conveniently summed up in one place and beautifully presented rather than getting hung up on the ranking which, in a defiance of the laws of mathematics*, is less than the sum of its parts.

Full Prosperity Index Report.

* My knowledge of the laws of mathematics is only surpassed by, well, my knowledge in pretty much everything else.

By: William Bairamian

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Armenia Does More With $1 In Education Than U.S., Norway

The Huffington Post reported today on a study that compares the math and science skills of students in American states and countries around the world.

United States Math Scores

According to the infographic above, Armenia appears to have received the ignominious distinction of being among the worst. The Anniston Star, that I’m going to go out on the limb and guess less Americans know than even Armenia, noted the “bad news” and seemed a bit disgruntled about being in the same category as Armenia.

Ever conscious of the possibility of the Armenian community to collectively bury its face in its hands from shame or call for the heads of everyone in the Armenian government, I wanted to take one step beyond the basic infographic above and lend some context.

However, I would like to note that there is no excuse for not pursuing excellence and I like to think I’m fully aware of the government’s shortcomings. I just happen to think that the best approach is not always bludgeoning each other to a pulp and then expecting that things will get better.

1) The comparison is based on the results of two different tests.

This is relevant because it seems the two tests are being compared in similarities in length and type of question and not on qualitative similarities. Nevertheless, this isn’t so much a problem of how the countries in the world (except the U.S.) compare to each other as it is with how U.S. states compare with those countries. 

2) Armenia scored 467 in mathematics. But is that bad? Compared to Japan, which scored 570, yes. But how about compared to some others? Well, here are some countries Armenia scored better than in mathematics:

Bahrain: 409

Iran: 415

Chile: 416

Georgia: 431

Lebanon: 449

Turkey: 452

Romania (EU): 458

UAE: 456

And although it didn’t score higher, Armenia was just below that loser of all losers in the international community, Norway, who racked up a whopping 475 points.

Oh, and Norway spends $4,595 of public money per capita on education. That’s $4,396 more than Armenia, which spends $199 per capita. Which brings me to the next point:

3) Nothing to brag about but Armenia spends significantly lower per student than Alabama and pretty much everyone else.

Per capita (not per student) public spending on education:

(I used the percentage spent as reported by the NCES study, country GDP/capita as reported by the World Bank on Wikipedia and state GDP/capita on Wikipedia.)

Armenia: $199

Alabama: $1,090

California: $2,076

Massachusetts: $2,324

United States: $2,998

Norway: $4,595

South Korea (highest score in mathematics): $1,231

Turkey: $734

Georgia: $177

UAE: $420

So, per dollar spent, Armenia has a much higher return in terms of test points.

Which leads me to the following conclusion:

4) Armenia may be the most efficient educator of children in the world.

Or darn close, according to this study.

To make the point (pun!), Armenia spends about 43 cents per point on the mathematics exam.

South Korea which scored highest in mathematics, spends $2 per point received.

Alabama, ranked the same as Armenia, spends $2.34 on education for every point on the mathematics test.

The United States, with an average score of 507, spent $5.91 per point.

Of course, relativity here does not count for much because if a student performs better on the test it’s better than if they didn’t perform well on the test. South Korean students are the best at mathematics and if it took spending $2 per point on education, so be it.

But when you look at Alabama spending almost two dollars more than Armenia and still getting the same score, it suggests that unlike Alabama, Armenia is doing something right, even if it’s not everything.

(Alabama, looks like you need to go to the emergency room because I just burned you.)

It is further encouraging to know that given the apparent ability of the education system of Armenia, a still-developing economy, to score as well as it did given scarily low spending on education, there is a good likelihood that things will get better before getting worse.

5) Ah, but what of the science, you say? After all, the tests were in mathematics AND science. Well, Armenia scored 437 in science which is admittedly among the lowest scores. But, being the optimist that I am, there is a silver lining:

Georgia: 420

Maybe if Georgia spent some money on the Armenians in Javakhk, it could up its scores the next time test time comes around.

And although the Anniston Star (from that place in Alabama) suggests that politicians from low-performing states should be sent to high-performing states, maybe they should send them to Armenia instead. It has Armenians just like Massachusetts does – and the food is better.

The full NCES report with all the data is here.

By: William Bairamian

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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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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.
Ew!

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 core...like, 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.

Heaven.
Heaven.

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

Thanks!

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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