- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 October 17, 2003 

Outside Eye: A non-Armenian's view of life in his adopted home

Everybody's got to have somebody to look down on
Who they can feel better than at anytime they please
Someone doing something dirty decent folks can frown on
If you can't find nobody else, then help yourself to me.

My hero Kris Kristofferson of Brownsville, Texas wrote those lines as a commentary to the reaction of rednecks to hippies in the turbulent times of the 1960s America.

Baku isn't Brownsville (though plenty of Texas oil barons might make it so) nor does Yerevan bear much resemblance to anything from the time of Kris' inspiration. But his song has found its way into my thoughts as I watch my friends and colleagues react to the presidential elections in Azerbaijan.

Behind every breathless "Did you hear what's happening in Baku?", is an unstated but understood conclusion that Armenia is finally off the hook as the hoodlums of the Caucasus.

Tell me honestly: If you are of Armenian blood, aren't you just a little pleased that things turned ugly in Baku yesterday?

Reports vary, but it is confirmed that at least two people were killed in election-related rioting (including a child who apparently was crushed in the melee) as police and protestors equally turned mad-dog in post-election blood-letting.

Ever since March, when Robert Kocharyan versus Stepan Demirchyan filled Yerevan's streets with anger, threats, minor violence and a damning spotlight of international scorn, Armenians have awaited last Wednesday's Azeri election with hope of somebody making them look better. The Azeris accommodated such wishes with a demonstration that made the Armenians look like dilettante rebel rousers.

As with the elections here, hundreds of international observers, including an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe team led by Peter Eicher (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) opined on an unpretty picture.

"This election has been a missed opportunity for a genuinely democratic election process. We were particularly troubled by the level of intimidation and unequal conditions for candidates during the campaign," Eicher said yesterday.

Sound familiar?

But it didn't take a team of observers, only access to a television, a newspaper or a website to see what really made the experts on election etiquette "troubled".

Photos of bloodied faces and of police running from assailants and video of bodies broken by beating told a story that in Yerevan media might have been headlined: "At Least We Didn't Do That".

OSCE isn't making a big deal of it, but at least two reports said that Eicher himself was on the receiving end of police batons during the melee. An OSCE spokesperson in Baku was angered by ArmeniaNow's effort to confirm those reports. That's usually pretty good evidence that the information is accurate.

Of course last March there was civilian unrest in Yerevan and mistreatment by police. But after mostly some scrapes and bruises the reaction here was a riot of rhetoric. Certainly, there were no photos of police running from angry mobs.

(My personal favorite act of insurrection was when a woman approached armored riot police outside President Kocharyan's residence and threw a brassiere at them, shouting "If you're going to let him tell you what to do, you ought to be wearing this!")

During those days in March, a repatriate businesswoman thought I was being too critical of the election process here. She had point: I mean, what's a little ballot box stuffing, illegal mass arrests, and campaign headquarters torching among ourselves, right? She said I should just wait and see what would happen in Baku if I wanted to understand real anarchy.

Well, she was right. And if Armenia had a Ministry of Public Relations, today would be the day for it to send flowers to Baku, thanking them for out-uglying Yerevan.

So the onus for bad behavior has been lifted, replaced by subtle smugness. As if being the world's tallest midget makes one a giant.

According to Agnes
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