Monthly Archives: May 2012

Armenia’s History Continues to be Destroyed

The Mashdots market
The Mashdots market

Yesterday I learned that the market at the end of Mashdots Street, which is a historical landmark, was slated to be demolished. But today on News.am, I saw a photo of the rear of the building completely destroyed. The photo and story were published late Monday morning (on Independence day of the First Republic). Hetq reported that Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian said the recent work undergone was not authorized.

Two weeks ago while walking by the building I noticed that a steel fence had been erected around the entrance of the building. I thought that meant it was going to be restored since there are renovation projects of building exteriors citywide. Turns out that the building was sold to the oligarch and Republican member of parliament, Samvel Alexanyan who is infamous for controlling a monopoly on sugar and flour imports, gouging consumers, and selling inferior vodka as genuine at high prices in his City Yerevan supermarkets, which are popping up all over the place. He wants to convert the market into yet another gigantic supermarket and destroy it in the process (he says otherwise). People are already starting to protest the demolition but it will take a lot of mobilization to stop him from completely taking the market down, although the Ministry of Culture insists that somehow the architecture will be preserved. Sounds a bit empty considering that half the building is gone.

Questions begged to be asked: Who approved the sale of a historical landmark and who was consulted before the building was sold? Did the transaction occur in secret? If not, was there any movement to stop the sale in the first place? Why weren’t concerned citizens investigating the reason for the market’s closure, especially the sellers? Who else knew about what was planned for the market, and why wasn’t it discussed beforehand? Why didn’t the press break the news sooner, long before the building was damaged beyond repair?

All sorts of unique architecture across Yerevan are being dismantled without warning. Several years ago the Youth Sports complex and guest house that was situated at the top of Abovyan Street on the hill there was dismantled to construct a luxury hotel, which was never built because the developer went bust apparently. About two years ago a new hotel project was announced by the Armenian government with the backing of a Japanese investment firm on the same site. Although the area has been cleared, nothing is being built on the location. About 95 percent of Old Yerevan in the city center has already been wiped off the face of the earth and there’s no telling when the remaining buildings — all architectural masterpieces — will be raised.

In Armenia, there is no system of checks and balances, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone with any ethical standards working in government. Even when citizens do catch word about something about to go drastically wrong, they don’t talk about it until it’s too late. Then these same people complain that the country is not a country, the laws don’t work, etc. There needs to be accountability. No one, no matter how wealthy or “powerful” they are, should be allowed to touch any historical landmark without the public being informed beforehand. In this case, since the Ministry of Culture is making promises about the market’s final transformation not being as bad as it seems, Minister Hasmik Poghosyan, a Republican, is complicit in letting the sale go through (so is Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian, yet another Republican for that matter).

Petty carelessness, whimsical power wielding, and defeatism are bringing the downfall upon the Republic of Armenia. This is applicable to virtually all large-scale business projects sponsored by the government or those with close ties to it. If those in power continue to do whatever they wish without being held accountable for their actions, Armenian citizens will have no one to blame but themselves.

Republican party headquarters on fire

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A couple of hours ago I began to smell something burning in my home office, I didn’t know if it was the plugs from my equipment going into the new power strip I bought yesterday or whether a neighbor ruined dinner. Then my wife called and told me that the Republican headquarters located right down the street from where we live was on fire. We went to the scene at once. The photos you see here were taken by me. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out how and why the fire was caused, but something tells me it wasn’t no accident.

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Cruel realities of Armenian society

doonething

I just heard about a parade that took place yesterday to promote diversity that went awry when the participants, some of whom happened to be homosexual, were harassed and even attacked by nationalist youth. In Armenia, gay bashing is a normal thing.

As yet another paradox, Armenian politicians defend the actions of homophobes, claiming that homosexuals are defaming Armenian society and values and that something should be done about it, to paraphrase. As has been reported repeatedly in the news, two National Assembly members representing the socialist ARF-Dashnaktsutyun party made public statements to that effect, defending their decisions to bail out two vandals who bombed a bar called DIY on May 8, a place where gays socialize. The spokesman of the Republican party even came out and said that homosexuals “are perverting our society, are defaming the Armenian national identity.” According to a survey conducted last year by Public Information and Need for Knowledge (PINK), out of 1189 people surveyed 72 percent believe that the government needs to do more to crack down on homosexuals. Like it’s their frigging business. It was only in 2003 when the law making homosexuality a criminal offense was overturned. And if you claim to be gay you can avoid military service since you are considered to be “mentally ill.”

This is the same society in which young women, to preserve their “virginity,” commonly agree to be sodomized by their suitors to demonstrate their love and dedication to their men. Meanwhile, you see young guys holding hands, kissing and caressing each other in plain daylight, calling each other what would be translated as sweetie or baby — they are straight, although if you didn’t understand the perplexing youth culture here you would think that they were indeed gay. The hypocrisy of the majority in Armenia is really appalling.

There were videos of the parade and protests against it on the Internet, which showed chaotic scenes and it wasn’t clear at first who was on what side until I read an explanation from my cousin Haig as well as some news reports. To shed light on the situation he wrote “Today is International World Cultural Diversity Day. So www.pinkarmenia.org along with some other organizations held a Diversity March. This was interpreted as a gay parade and these cavemen showed up singing old Armenian revolutionary songs and started harassing the marchers calling them names and spitting on them and even attacking them physically. They kept chanting ‘send the fags to Baku’ and ‘you’re not Armenians’ and ‘you are Turks’. Then they blocked off the final end location of the march” which was the Painters’ Union on Abovyan Street.

DIY was (and hopefully will be again) a place for people of diverse interests, including homosexuals, to gather, where people could interact, to exchange ideas, to have a drink or two. Why anyone would take offense to that is beyond the limits of logical, modern thinking. It is no one’s business who goes in there and for what purpose. The other night I happened to walk by there and saw swastikas and even the Republican party emblem spray-painted on the wall.

I remember when a gay bar opened just across the street from where I used to live on Nalbandian Street, near the metro (the building houses a bank now). There were scuffles out front almost nightly, with shouting back and forth and even blows exchanged. The police would come to break things up but infrequently.

Armenia is in a perpetual identity crisis. While it aspires to be a European nation, society by and large has no tolerance for diversity, and politicians unabashedly encourage hate crimes. And people who know better, who understand the importance of diversity regardless of their own sexual preference, want to leave. They have no hope that prejudices will ever wane. Judging from what I saw in the online videos the country is seemingly leaning towards becoming (or has already become, depending on how you look at things) an absolute autocratic state, with all its paradoxes and insecurities firmly in place. That’s a scary thing to contemplate.

What happened on election day?

results?

While walking my dog this evening I finally got to thinking about what went down on Sunday. Without having to do a lengthy, exhaustive analysis, I put what I know to use.

  1. Most people are discontent with the authorities in Armenia and are too spineless, lazy or clueless to do anything about it. This observation I gathered from my interactions with citizens over the last 10 years. So based on the logic that most people hate the authorities (unless they’re making money from their connection with them somehow, the number of those people being miniscule), there is no friggin’ way that 663,000 voters cast a ballot for the Republicans. Even if the entire Armenian army were forced to vote Republican, and every single public servant and state employee including teachers, doctors, etc. voted the same way, that would only amount to 100,000 at my guesstimate. Where’s the rest coming from–from those same morons who keep whining to me there’s no country and there’s no justice? Oh, I almost forgot about the guys crying about there being no laws. So what–they voted for the same people they loathe, the same people causing untold angst and psychological torment? Perhaps since there does seem to be a latent sadomasochistic element in the Armenian persona, but that’s a debate for another day. Back to proving my point.
  2. All the people I know voted for either the Heritage/Free Democrats alliance, ARF-Dashnaktsutyun or the Armenian National Congress. No one I know supports the authorities. Okay, I am mindful of the fact that I do not know over a half-million people in this country, but I am going to make an educated guess and say that there are many others that are like-minded as my family, friends and acquaintances.
  3. If indeed 663,000 ballots were not cast in the Republicans favor, not to mention the fact that there is no way you can actually falsify so many ballots to make it seem like the Republicans legitimately won, the only logical conclusion is that the numbers released by the Central Electoral Commission were invented, cleverly on a dynamic, rolling basis in “real time” all night long (there are many talented mathematicians in this great land and I’m sure they came up with a fantastic algorithm). We have yet to see the actual results because they are with the Commission under lock and key.

When do we get to see the actual results? Good question. Most of that depends on what deals have been brokered today. We still have tonight, too, to work out the important details of who gets what position or what’s in it for them. But if Prosperous Armenia Party is indeed serious about getting all democratic in this country as Oskanian keeps claiming, and the Armenian National Congress people still know how to say “fugget about it” tomorrow morning, not to mention the ARF and Heritage/Free Democrats being the bad asses they are born to be, we could have some protests and, dare I say, a movement to reverse what just happened. We might just see an Armenian public rising up, standing tall, demanding that the real election results be released, thereby putting the government at the mercy of the people for a change.

Eh, maybe not.

A Defeatist Nation

This article originally appeared on the Armenian Weekly web site.

With the Armenian National Assembly elections right around the corner slated for May 6, I am obliged to reflect upon the political situation of the last four years and contemplate where Armenia is headed. These elections will be the most important in this republic’s brief history as a test for the functioning of democracy, yet most people don’t realize it.

Whenever I meet someone for the first time here in Armenia a minute doesn’t pass before politics comes up in conversation. For the last seven or eight years I have heard countless people express their disgust in the Armenian government and authorities, that the country is not a country, there is no justice, the oligarchs do whatever they want and take advantage, and so forth. Indeed, not once have I met anyone who has told me that they approve of the regime in power — either backed (in Robert Kocharian’s case) or fully controlled by the Republican Party (along with its coalition partner parties). Nearly everyone has told me the same thing — the laws don’t work or there are no laws, and the judicial system is corrupted. They are desperate, hopeless and dwell in a self-imposed realm of defeatism, each playing the role of the eternal victim. They expect governmental reform without having to work for it, as if the authorities will magically one day realize that they shouldn’t lie to and cheat their citizens any longer. They want justice and good governance, but no one can agree on how it will be achieved and who will lead that reform movement. Meanwhile, the Armenian Diaspora remains silent, continuing to turn a blind eye to the lack of democracy and governmental irresponsibility.

Given the negative mindset in the motherland, one should come to the logical conclusion that the Republican Party will win less votes than it has in the past–despite election fraud that is bound to occur–making way for a new National Assembly controlled by a union of parties, albeit fragile, that have been in opposition. This ideal union would likely comprise the Armenian National Congress, ARF-Dashnaktsutyun, the Heritage Party and Free Democrats alliance, and the Prosperous Armenia Party, which has been keen to distance itself from the authorities in recent weeks although it refuses to officially break away from the pro-government coalition. This fresh National Assembly will also signal a new era in government, one where the demands of the people will conceivably be met and, as Raffi Hovannisian put it in my interview with him [link to http://hetq.am/eng/multimedia/videos/62/], emigration is reversed so that a wave of immigration displaces it. Nevertheless, the Republican Party’s notorious pre-election terror campaign of intimidation and harassment that has already been unleashed is bound to coerce many voters to cast ballots in their favor. The authorities are also counting on disenchanted citizens to sell them their votes for twenty bucks apiece.

The issues plaguing Armenia are too numerous to list. But the most relevant points to tackle in random order are the following: a reformed, competent and properly trained police force; an independent judicial system; a substantial increase in funding for social services including doubling the minimum wage and pensions (which all contending opposition parties are pushing); the renovation of schools and hospitals nationwide starting with the most remote areas first; the reconstruction of roads and infrastructure again with the most remote villages a priority; the encouragement for civil society to flourish; the break up of the trade monopolies, especially on staple foodstuffs to promote competition in the marketplace; incentives for small and medium-sized business ventures to start up; a four-fold increase in efforts to encourage foreign investment in the thriving Armenian IT sector; additional investments in the tourism industry; and the immediate cancellation of long-term environmentally devastating mining projects that would only benefit foreign investors (the local economy would not be positively affected by any means). The list can go on and on, but tacking the aforementioned issues is a good start to getting things on track in Armenia and reversing the trends of narcissism and greed that have been strangling this country for far too long.

Some argue that it will take decades and several generations to pass before the aforementioned issues even begin to be properly addressed. Unfortunately, we don’t have that long to wait. It’s been nearly twenty-one years since Armenia declared independence, and most citizens are no better off than they were then. Unofficial population estimates in Armenia are between 2-2.5 million. Entire villages have picked up and moved to remote parts of Russia where they have been provided housing and employment as part of a rural colonization scheme. The talented, technology savvy youth are leaving for the US, Canada and elsewhere–I personally know five software engineers that have emigrated during the last three years. Artsakh is continuously being emptied of its populace–only around 2,700 people are left in Shushi alone.

The new wealth and economic growth that is noticeable to foreigners and Armenians from the Diaspora is concentrated in central Yerevan–it is a mirage, actually a smokescreen obscuring what things are really like here. The sooner the Diaspora comprehends this and puts pressure on the Armenian government to get its act together, the more secure and yes, entrepreneurial Armenian citizens will be. But that reshaping cannot happen on its own, it needs stimulus; it requires motivation and dedicated hard work. It is dependent upon foresight and ingenuity. And it has to start right now.