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What all budding governments know and what all outdated governments, in their hubris, forget, is that they are no match for the people.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their faith in their governors and in the belief that they will be secured by them, the reason for their past reserve is obsolete, and chaos impends.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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100 Դրամ

Մենք Չենք Վճարելու 150 դրամ

Looking at history, it’s easy to think that significant, groundbreaking events in the past were sudden, unexpected, and without premise. That’s hardly the case, of course.

Both world wars were a result of hundreds of minor events until one of those minor events broke the proverbial camel’s back; discovering America was the culmination of thousands of years of navigational science, shipbuilding, astronomy, and balls (see #2); Armenia‘s leadership in the independence movements of the USSR had a foundation in the fearless and unwelcome nationalism of Charents, Sevak, Parajanov, and other great Armenian intellectuals, and their sons and daughters who demonstrated on the 50th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide in Yerevan.

At an undetermined point in the future, when the old guard of Armenia are replaced with individuals whose belief system revolves solely around the betterment of their nation, we will remember and thank the movement that successfully forced the mayor of Yerevan, Taron Margaryan, to reverse his decision to raise bus fares by 50%.

Fare rises in public transportation are met with anger almost everywhere. I’ve seen protests in both New York and Los Angeles when the municipal authorities charged with managing public transportation raised the fares. One big difference was that the authorities in NYC and Los Angeles, as far as I know, didn’t have a stake in the subway and bus system, like this clown. Another difference is that they’re usually unsuccessful. See, in a place like Los Angeles or New York, when authorities make the claim that the cost of operating a modern public transportation system requires them to raise the fares, they can make a case for it. In Armenia, when the head of municipality transportation owns a bus route himself, the “we’re improving the transportation system” sounds more like “we’re improving my transportation system…by helping me buy a faster, darker tint Mercedes-Benz for the new digits I secured.”

It’s worth noting that in conjunction with the demands of the protestors that the fare be kept at the 100AMD level, there was also a parallel movement that effectively threatened the business interests of the parties raising the fares (i.e. government officials and their cronies). The online service Freecar.am (facebook) blew up overnight and people began offering rides to complete strangers for free. Inspired by the freecar.am phenomenon, others would pull over in front of bus stops announcing their destination and open seats for any takers. If this became widespread and was sustained – as I think would be a good idea if the movement wants to really make sure government leaders think twice before making stupid decisions – the businesses which are these bus lines would be severely hurt, thus making politicians and administrators-cum-businessmen unhappy.

It’s not too far-fetched to believe that the mayor was making a business decision more than he was concerned about popular opinion when he changed his mind on the fares. But the innovation of the organizers of the movement in using this tactic, whether purposeful or inadvertent, was a huge change from showing up to squares and listening to a few predesignated folks pontificate for a few hours without any concrete plan of action. Babken Der Grigorian‘s piece about the characteristics of the movement underscores the novelty of these demonstrations and how they differed from past movements.

Side note: Babken was also the subject of an insult lodged against him by an old-school cop trying too hard to either be fashionable or to look like the Terminator. Valery Osipyan, the cop in question, told him “go back and demonstrate in your country,” alluding to Babken being a repatriate from abroad (for more on the old generations, see below). This seems to be a common retort among these leftovers from the Soviet Union.

"I'm going to pay 100AMD!!! We're the ones at fault for having let them make us dumb. Drivers, strike for another 2 days. We're going to pay 100AMD!!!"
“I’m going to pay 100AMD!!! We’re the ones at fault for having let them make us dumb. Drivers, strike for another 2 days. We’re going to pay 100AMD!!!”

Finally, those not-so-minor minor events that set the stage for world wars, expedition and discovery, and independence all had initiators, contributors, participants. In this movement, these people were the youth. The groups who traversed Yerevan on foot, shouting slogans and handing out fliers were nearly all young people. The movement was mobile, loud, and almost omnipresent.

I overheard several young people say, before the reversal of the fare rise, that they will not be discouraged and they will not be compelled or forced to move out of Armenia, that this was their country and they would stay and fight to make it better. Music to my ears.

Astgh Igityan, a facebook friend, drew the distinctions between the old and new generations in Armenia succinctly (my translation) – before the mayor’s reversal.

In our country, the middle-aged and elderly cross the street without using crosswalks or under red lights more often than the youth. It’s the middle-aged and elderly who more often than the youth cut in line at the grocery store. It’s the middle-aged and elderly who more often than the youth try to subvert protests – although they complain more and are more pessimistic than the youth.

So, hereafter, nobody should be so brazen as to say that we have a bad youth.

Later on, she had an encounter with one of these said elderly – again, before the mayor’s reversal.

(Old lady:) It’s pointless, kids, leave this country, get out of here.

Sometimes it’s good to not listen to your elders. And if they keep giving you bad advice, it’s never good.

These kids didn’t listen to their elders and they won.

The new generation of Armenian youth is not just fighting against the old guard which is ensconced in its seats of power but it’s also fighting against popular mentality. Երկիրը երկիր չի (ԵԵՉ for short, as I recently learned – thanks Vartan!), after all, was invented by the old generations and is continuously spouted off by them. Well, brace yourselves because apparently I’m not the only one tired of hearing this; recently, Երկիրը երկիր է was launched on facebook as a first step toward remedying this mental sickness.

The success of this movement isn’t just in getting the mayor to reverse his decision and standing up, in solidarity, for social justice. Rather, the greatest success is the triumph of the belief of those involved that they can win and, what’s more, that they will win – that it’s just a matter of time and tenacity. The fire in the belly of the people of Armenia is burning anew and it’s spreading.

The time has come to say thank you to the old generations for the ground they prepared for today’s youth and it’s time to say goodbye. Goodbye to the hopelessness, to the depression, to the fatalism, to the cynicism, and to the pessimism.

To quote Armenian rapper extraordinaire, Misho: սա հաղթանակի սերունդն ա. Ask about us.

By: William Bairamian

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