Monthly Archives: June 2011

Armenian Youth Should Learn from Spain

I just read a compelling article on the front page of the New York Times web site, describing how the youth of Spain, sick of the bureaucratic, corrupt system of governance that doesn’t care about their plight, namely lack of employment and opportunity, are standing up for their rights. Much of what is portrayed about Spanish youth in this article directly applies to young Armenians in similar circumstances.

Below are excerpts:

Until recently, young people in Spain were dismissed as an apathetic generation, uninterested in party politics. But the outpouring of young people who have taken to the streets since May 15 — at one point about 28,000 protesters spent the night in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square — has changed all that, forcing the country to take heed and reconsider.

The recession that has ravaged Spain, along with much of southern Europe, has had an especially hard impact on the young, with unemployment rates soaring to more than 40 percent for 20- to 24-year-olds, about twice the national average and the highest in the European Union. Many of them see limited hope of improvement unless they reshuffle the political deck and demand a new approach to creating jobs.

“Suddenly people are talking about politics everywhere,” said María Luz Morán, a sociologist at the Complutense University of Madrid. “You go to have coffee or you are standing in the subway and you hear conversations about politics. It’s been years since I heard anyone talking about politics.”

Even young people who have jobs here are often caught in a system of poorly paid, temporary contracts. The contracts were once designed to help them break into the labor force, but they have served instead to put adulthood out of reach for many. Ms. Moran said that one survey showed that about 50 percent of 30-year-olds in Spain were still living with their parents.

“We call 32- and 35-year-olds young people in Spain, because they are forced to live like children,” she said. “Thirty-year-olds should have their own homes.”

Few experts are willing to say what the protesters might achieve. But already issues that were discussed only at the margins are being taken more seriously. One major conservative daily newspaper, ABC, polled constitutional experts this week about what it would take to change the election laws, one of the principal demands of the demonstrators, who say the current system heavily favors the country’s two leading political parties.

“They have already had an impact,” said Rafael Díaz-Salazar, another sociologist at Complutense, who believes that the protesters may represent about two million voters. “They are forcing people to take a look at this impoverished generation. There will have to talk about precarious work contracts and housing in the next election. They cannot avoid it anymore.”

The moral of this story — as I’ve repeated for years — is that if people who are desperate enough really want change in their society, they can make it happen. The youth of Armenia can follow Spain’s precedent and take charge of their future, they can make a difference and have a positive impact not only on their own lives but that of future generations. Emigrating to foreign countries murmuring “the country’s not a country” shouldn’t be the answer.

Journalism used to spread hatred

I just read a blatantly pro-Azeri, potentially dangerous article about the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict on the front page of the New York Times Web site. Not one Armenian interviewed. Biased and dubious information throughout. The article casts Armenia in a bad light overall. Specifically, Armenia is to blame for the squalid conditions Azeri refugees from Karabagh live in when the blame should be cast on the Azerbaijani government for taking advantage of their miserable plight so that such poorly written stories can be written. Once again, the country that started the war in the first place, an important point the article does not mention and that many seem to forget/not understand, is portrayed as the victim state.

It should be obvious to anyone who follows this issue that the reporter, Ellen Barry, who is also apparently the Moscow Bureau chief for the Times, has clearly not done her homework. Case in point:

Azerbaijan sees little way forward: though it could easily drive out Armenian forces, Russia could send its army to help Armenia, its ally in a regional defense alliance, just as it did in South Ossetia.

That point would be good to make in a blog post for instance since it is essentially a speculative opinion, but not on the pages of a reputable newspaper with international clout. It’s obvious that Barry either knew about and chose to ignore or was clueless about confidential memos brought to light by Wikileaks back in February — go here to read the full text, but scroll down to see it. In a July 2, 2009 cable former U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Anne Derse wrote the following:

Azerbaijan, even with its focus on improving its military capability, is unlikely anytime soon to structure a force large or well-equipped enough to overcome the terrain advantages enjoyed by the NK Self-Defense Force and the Armenian army.

Couldn’t Barry have actually traveled to Karabagh via Armenia (the only way in) to interview the authorities, or made a phone call to the Armenian Foreign Ministry for comment? There were and should still be four flights operating from Moscow to Yerevan daily, so transportation shouldn’t be an issue, especially with all expenses paid by the paper. So why is it so hard to tell the whole story?

The entire piece was written from Baku using the opinions of Azeris, some of whom seem borderline fanatical with their calls for renewed war. Why not get Moscow’s opinion — doesn’t she think a single Russian diplomat has anything to say about one of the worst, if not the worst, Soviet-born simmering regional fiascoes? She’s based there!

I’d like to know who’s actually behind this story, and why the editors at the Times approved it.

Irresponsible, very disappointing journalism from what is considered to be one of the most celebrated, respected newspapers in the world. This is only adding fuel to the fire of animosity and hatred between Armenians and Azerbaijanis. It’s counterproductive, aggravating rhetoric at best.