- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
April 16, 2004

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

Events of this week have placed some of us in the unfamiliar position of necessarily agreeing with Minister of Defense Serzh Sargsyan who, after unleashing brutalizing force on oppositional party demonstrators Tuesday said:

“Nobody would have understood us if 2,000 people had paralyzed all Yerevan.”

Except for the fact that a much less number of minibus drivers paralyze Yerevan everyday, there’s no argument here.

Nosir. Not a right-minded dictator in all the universe would have understood if 2,000 (!) common and probably mislead Armenians had been allowed to dance away their blues outside the Presidential Residence Monday night.

"Bagramian Avenue is no place for dancing," the minister said. Right again. The street of embassies and government administration is instead a place for convincing demonstration of who's in charge here and to what extent measures will be taken to make it so.

To be fair, these weren’t just down in the mouth “nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen” malcontents of the “we shall overcome” variety. Some of them were carrying sticks and tools for cutting fences. What better way than water canons, percussion grenades and thick rubber beating mallets to maintain international respect in the face of threats backed up by discarded lumber and hand tools? Thank St. Gregory the Illuminator, forces were on hand to defend Armenia’s dignity. Poster boys of restraint, they were, as they hosed down threats to national security and exterminated these streets of those predatory stick toters and wire-pliers ne’er do wells.

“Nobody would have understood us . . . ” the minister says.

Here’s something a bit hard to understand, unless you live here and learn the reality behind perception: Does anyone ever question why it is always the Minister of Defense speaking on behalf of law enforcement in Armenia? I mean, if unrest breaks out in your town isn’t it the mayor, the chief of police, the city manager who represents order and with whom responsibility lies?

Not in this city. Not in this country. And not, surely, on Bagramian Avenue, where Robert Kocharyan represents the country, but Serzh Sargsyan runs it.

But I don’t want to lose the real focus here, which is that, limits of power notwithstanding, the MOD made some good points. Among which, was his recommendation that journalists have proper identification during the clubbing and water blasting of ordinary citizens so that reporters may without interference fulfill their duty to expose the wrongdoing of paid public servants, for which the offices of government authority would no doubt extend their grateful thanks. By the way: While batons are waving and police are chasing down evildoers, how big would my id need to be on a dark street in a heated confrontation?

“Just because someone has a camera or Dictaphone, it doesn’t mean he or she is a journalist,” Mr. Sargsyan said. Right again. In this environment provocateurs masquerade as “journalists” and splash their propaganda as fact in newspapers that would be supermarket tabloids, if Yerevan had supermarkets and Armenians more interest in Elvis sightings. I’m not saying such imposters deserve to be beaten, but if they are, it ought to be for their “journalism” instead of their politics.

But think about the message behind the minister’s suggestion. If you’re a citizen with a camera or a tape recorder, but not a badge calling you a journalist, does that disqualify you from a right to record the actions of public officials in public places? Further, does lack of a government-approved id imply that police have immunity against destruction of your private property? How many people “would understand us” if those are to be the conditions of civil liberty in Armenia?


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Not Opposed to Blessing

Before all hell broke lose in the center of Yerevan the next day, His Holiness Garegin II offered blessings to worshippers attending Easter services. Roads linking Echmiadsin and the Holy See to Yerevan have been blocked, even on the Holy Day, to discourage travel to the capital for political rallies.



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