Monthly Archives: April 2013

Why Genocide Recognition Matters

I was having a discussion with my friend who asked me about the importance of historical and political recognition of the Armenian genocide. “Should people want governments around the world making official statements acknowledging the intentional destruction done by the Athenians during the Peloponnesian Wars?” The difference between the Armenian Genocide and ancient destruction is that there are still victims of the former and their healing is stunted by the active denial of the Genocide.

The reason that the Armenian Genocide matters in modern-day politics is 1) recognizing genocide helps the victims and possible future victims and 2) because the government of Turkey and certain sectors of the Turkish community actively work to silence or punish those that raise the issue.

Recognition helps make any victims whole, whether genocide victims or victims of any other massive crime. When (the lack of) law cannot provide compensation, at least recognition acknowledges to the victims that the world knows they have suffered and provides some solace. Recognition can also help limit the creation of future genocides as the famous Hitler quote of “Who, after all, speaks to-day of the annihilation of the Armenians?” implies. To engage in human rights is to take a victim-centered approach—to empower those that have been disempowered—and to learn what the victim wants and needs. If the victims want recognition, then it’s not a dismissible idea. Considering the stream of people passing my window to go to the Genocide Memorial, expected at many hundreds of thousands of people today, the Armenian people have made their desire clear.

Feelings of solace and peace are difficult to obtain when some people deny the existence of the genocide and actively attempt to persuade others to their side. The primary culprit here is the Government of Turkey, which has long denied the Genocide. Turkey has pressured Canada to essentially “unrecognize” the Genocide and has frozen all political ties with France when it almost passed a law criminalizing genocide denial. It’s because of Turkey that US Presidents are unwilling to use the word Genocide, even when they accept all events as true. It’s clear that denial of the Genocide is a key part of Turkey’s foreign policy.

Just as criticizing the policies of Israel is not anti-Semitism, criticizing the policies of Turkey is not to hate all Turks. Turks are often unable to learn about the Genocide as speaking open discussion of the genocide often leads to criminal sanctions. Turks learn about the massacres and deportation from government approved history books that paint the Turks as protecting their homeland from inside elements that wanted to destroy it. Unfortunately, the Turkish government also tries to alter the history books of other nations. Are modern Turks responsible for all the horrible things some of their ancestors did? “No, but they are responsible for realizing that they benefited and continue to benefit from those actions and institutions, … and to try to fix that shit.”

Recognition wouldn’t be painful for Turkey, just dangerous for its political leaders. Some people think that Turkey should compensate Armenians like Germany does for the Jews, but with almost no relevant international law on the subject in 1915, no one could force Turkey to provide compensation except for property that was taken from Armenians in violation of Turkey’s domestic law. Recognition would actually ease the pressure Turkey gets from many countries and would allow them to redirect a lot of their diplomatic resources. The only pain would be for the leaders from hard-line elements that flatly reject the Genocide. Unfortunately, fanatical people are the result of a biased history education, so they’ll have to be challenged at one point or another. Fortunately, there are people working on how to resolve this issue as smoothly as possible.

What can non-Armenians and non-Turks do about this situation? Recognize the Genocide as a genocide, regardless of the threats and accusations hurled at them by genocide deniers. That is the way to do justice to the countless victims of history.

Placing Flowers at the Genocide Memorial during the candle-lit march on the night of 23 April.

Placing Flowers at the Genocide Memorial during the candle-lit march on the night of 23 April.

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Clarification: the need for Armenian Activism

I want to add some explanation to my previous post. I did not mean to say—and will never say—that the popular protest is over and that the situation is hopeless. What I meant to say is that the period of large popular rallies is past us. If the rallies were double (or even larger) the size they were, maybe rallies would have been effective, but that is simply speculation. What needs to happen is the hard work of institutionalizing the spirit of the opposition. Pre-Parliament is a great example of this, as is the Barev Foundation. I wish Raffi could have started building these institutions weeks (months) ago, instead of saying “I’ll announce my plan next rally.”

These institutions can form the bedrock for future change. These popular institutions can provide both the manpower and the skillset to do something big. Want to run for mayor in Yerevan? Fine, tap into this network to get hundreds of volunteers to pass out leaflets or go canvassing. Want to stop a polluting mining operation? Great, brainstorm with the intellectuals and elites to develop a strategy to force them to change their operations. Raffi was able to show that there are tens of thousands that will support and contribute to a strategy of change. Unfortunately, he never developed that strategy.

Developing the long-term strategy is hard but absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, a long-term strategy needs hope and commitment. Two things that too many hayastanci lack. Instead, too many of them are waiting for a leader to solve the country’s problems, while also waiting for a green card.

One great example from America’s history is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP’s) strategy to combat racial segregation in education. Racial segregation in education was legal in the US and the NAACP was able to make it formally illegal in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. But, this case was only the latest in a long chain of victories.  The NAACP knew that with a prejudicial Supreme Court, there was no hope to try for a grand victory, so they started with the smallest and least objectionable issue they could find. They argued that Missouri was violating black students’ rights by not having a single law school for blacks within its borders, and they won. They then argued that black law students deserved access to equally good law libraries and law professors, and they won. The NAACP correctly counted on the Supreme Court being more interested in the study of law than on perpetuating segregation. Finally, the NAACP could go after its big goal of general educational segregation in Brown v. Board and the Supreme Court had to rule in its favor because of the precedents of equality it had created for itself. This victory didn’t completely solve America’s racial segregation problem, but it was a huge step in the right direction.

Barevolution as a popular movement signified by rallies is over; barevolution as a demand for change is doing just fine.

The question for Armenians is what is your strategy to improve the country?

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Blood in the water and the End of the Barevolution

It’s been almost a week since the Inaugurations and protests of April 9—and my last blog post, apologies. The short of it is that, if the lack of tweets is any indication, the barevolution is next to dead as a movement.

After the significant criticism Raffi got from his own camp regarding the events of the 9th, he gave a long response on facebook. The core of his defense is that he wouldn’t engage in actions that could lead to bloodshed, and that he was forced to be “flexible” because of the people. The first argument is defensible while the latter is not. In any coalition, you’ll always have differing views; the point of the leader is to select a path that the people support and can follow. Otherwise, the coalition starts to break down at the critical moment. The brutal weather did make it hard to communicate his plan, but there is no reason he couldn’t have communicated his steps earlier. Overall, Raffi was stuck between a rock and hard place, but the people expect a leader to be able to navigate choppy waters.

CivilNet has a video that summarizes the rally of the 12th. Armen Martirosyan, Yerevan mayoral candidate and arrestee on the 9th, has a nice quote:

“[A] leader is not hiding behind black walls … but standing in front of the people with his  family … leading the way. A leader like him might make mistakes, he might fall back for a second, but a leader like him never falls down. A leader like him always stands tall and leads us to victory.”

Unfortunately, Raffi didn’t provide any concrete plan to lead the people in the upcoming weeks and months and primarily echoed previous statements. He told people to come next week to another rally, the norm at his events.

Without any stated plan, Raffi’s coalition is breaking apart. The youth activist crowd is willing to fight “leaderless.” Pre-Parliament is starting to organize its own rallies. ARF-D backpedals from its support of the movement. The ANC criticizes Raffi’s actions and handling of the day and dismisses all of his rallies as “never pos[ing] a serious threat” (to the Republican’s delight). Everyone can sense the blood in the water, and there are plenty of sharks in the opposition that would love to knock Raffi down a notch or two for their own personal benefit. With ANC’s recent reorganization, they have a good chance to steal the momentum away from Raffi/Heritage/Barev Yerevan.

One group that deserves special mention in regards to the events of the 9th is the police and how surprisingly well they acted. There are activists that criticize the police for what they did. Just looking at some of the videos from the day demonstrates the aggression the police showed, at the height of the conflict. Just a short time after the conflict, the Armenian Chief of Police Vladimir Gasparyan walked with Raffi to the Genocide Memorial and even went as far as praising Raffi and calling him a “peaceful person.” Maybe it’s because of that praise that the authorities were openly annoyed at the “leniency” the police showed the protestors. The Ombudsman Karen Andreasyan did ask for explanation from the police for their actions, but the explanation the police gave is actually fairly reasonable, for a police department and especially for a post-soviet police department. [Updated:] The Ombudsman points out concerns but seems generally supportive of the police’s actions.

Of course, it’s easy to be upstanding when you have plain-clothes cops ready to rough people up, as this CivilNet video alleges. The video is heavily edited but appears to show aggressive members in the crowd shoving protestors with impunity, while the cops do nothing. When called out about it, Yerevan’s police chief says in the video that they would never have cops in civilian clothes and to bring a written complaint to his desk the next morning. Unfortunately for him, Gasparyan decided that he needs a fall guy and dismissed  Yerevan’s chief of police yesterday evening.

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So what the hell happened today!?

I just got home from a long day of frustrated protesting. There was so much activity today and action, but the momentum wasn’t retained. The conclusion is bittersweet in that so many people seem committed to change, but so little came of it. Here is my best to give a recap of the events of today.

10:30am: A march of people from Yerevan’s regions gets hassled by the police.

10:45am: The student protest begins with students marching to Freedom Square. When the protesters arrived at the Yerevan State University Black Building, the guards locked the door, trapping the students (and me) inside. The rationale being that they need to protect the good students inside from the protesters.

11am: Raffi’s rally officially begins. This is Armenia, so it doesn’t really start until noon.

12pm: Raffi gives his speech. It was a speech similar to other speeches saying that he’s here for the people and that the people of Armenia are the ones with power. Also, Serzh Sargsyan should come and apologize to the people. The square is filled with people at this point. Rumor has it that Reuters estimates 12,000 people present.

1pm: At around one, Raffi gives his oath. It wasn’t the oath of presidency, but a “citizen’s oath.” Hetq has the details. Afterwards, he said there will be song and dance and to reconvene at 6pm. This is where I, thinking it was over, leave to go back to work, disappointed with the lack of content of his speech and how it sounded similar to all of his other speeches.

2-3ish: Raffi stayed in the square and people started complaining that he needs to do something. So, while half of the crowd has already left, Raffi starts leading a march in the city. He heads towards Haraparak and Tigran Metz, but suddenly switches directions and goes up Mashtots towards Baghramyan. This is where things get iffy because the police aren’t happy with the changed marching path. Some people are arrested.

3ish: At some point, Sargsyan has his inauguration where he says he will focus on emigration, unemployment and poverty (videos).

4pm: The police hold back the people on Demirchyan. Rumor has it, that it was done to give time for police to setup barricades on Baghramyan. They fall back within an hour.

5:30pm: A splinter group of protesters does a sit-in in front of the Presidential Palace and gets arrested. This news report says it happened at six, more notably, Zaruhi Postanjyan asked the protesters to go back to Freedom Square but they refused.

[Added:] 6pm: The crowd reconvened at Freedom Square where Raffi told the crowd that he would reveal his plan on Friday, the 12th. The crowd was angry and “booed and screamed” at Raffi to get him to do something. They convinced  him to march to Baghramyan.

6:30pm: Clashes occur with the police as Raffi starts leading people up Baghramyan. Raffi tries to push his way through the police, which leads to a madhouse. Raffi gets knocked down. Armen Martiorisan, Heritage’s candidate for Yerevan’s mayorship, gets roughed up by police and arrested and his nose broken (both visible in this video). [Incorrectly listed at 5pm in the original]

7pm: Raffi pulls his second WTF?? of the day by giving a short speech and asking people to go the Genocide Memorial. He leaves with most(?) of the crowd, but a large portion of the crowd refuses to leave. Many people are upset and feel like he is abandoning the people and the cause. [Incorrectly put at 5:30pm in the original]

8pm: Marshall Baghramyan metro stop was closed all day, so I walk to the protest coming from the North West. I’m able to get into the closed off center of the street and take some awesome photos (see below). I join the crowd at Baghramyan and Isahakyan.

8-10pm: Absolutely nothing happens as the people mill about. The crowd is constantly dwindling, decreasing from a few thousand to a few hundred by the end. Frustration with Raffi’s back and forth is increasing. Many people are saying that he, as a leader, failed the people.

9-10pm: The people are stopped in front of Baghramyan with Raffi talking to the head of police to allow them through. The police say no. Raffi then argues to let them walk on the sidewalk. It’s unclear if Raffi stayed with the crowd or was leaving and returning. Raffi doesn’t have a megaphone and the crowd couldn’t hear anything he said to the cameras, so there was lots of confusion.  Armenians have not yet discovered the People’s Mic[Incorrectly put at 7pm in the original]

Finally at about 10:30pm, the police allow the people to walk up the sidewalk of Baghramyan and open the street to car traffic. Almost certainly this came about from Raffi’s negotiation, but I can’t confirm. The plan was to sing the national anthem at the Presidential Palace, but no one felt like singing at that point.

Overall, many of the people I talked to are excited for the amount of energy and activism shown by Armenian people, while being frustrated with Raffi. Raffi did not have a plan for today, let alone a plan for the near future. While the people showed a lot of energy, that energy was lost by people waiting to see what Raffi would do and by his inconsistent comings and goings.
[Added at noon on 10 April:] ArmeniaNow has a good write up on the day. Also, my friend Ani has a (long) first-hand account of the day’s events from her perspective near Raffi’s family. She also has maps of the marching paths,  in case my description above is confusing.

The wall of cops at Baghramyan and Proshyan, stopping anyone from coming down Baghramyan.

The wall of cops at Baghramyan and Proshyan, stopping anyone from coming down Baghramyan.

The wall of cops at Baghramyan and Proshyan, stopping anyone from coming down Baghramyan.

The wall of cops at Baghramyan and Proshyan, stopping anyone from coming down Baghramyan.

The empty street of Baghramyan, between the lines of cops.

The empty street of Baghramyan, between the lines of cops.

A secondary line, in case the protesters get passed the first line.

A secondary line, in case the protesters get passed the first line.

A water cannon available to the police.

A water cannon

The main protest line. The police and the protesters were milling about here for hours.

The main protest line. The police and the protesters were milling about here for hours.

After sitting around for a while without going on, the police put down their shields.

After sitting around for a while without anything going on, the police put down their shields and relax a little.

The walk up Baghramyan and the police that followed the people up.

The final walk up Baghramyan, and the police that followed the people up.

[Edited for grammar the next morning. Edited again at 10:30am and again at noon to add extra content and corrections.]

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Pictures: Geghard

Most people see Garni and Geghard in the same day. I did them 10 months apart. Regardless, I can happily say that I finally have seen the second most popular tourist site outside of Yerevan, and it was amazing. The amount of time it took those monks to carve rooms out of the rock is crazy. It gives Geghard a unique feeling and a sense of deep serenity compared to other vanks.

Check out the pics from the trip!

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Hetq names Names on the Corruption at Nairit Rubber Plant

It looks like Hetq’s previous threat to name the corrupt agents that swindled millions of dollars from Armenia’s Nairit plant was ignored. Today, Hetq released the details on exactly who profited from the corruption, how they did it and what shell companies were used to cover it up.

What no one suspected, is that Hetq was working with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the organization that was unknown to the average person until two days ago when they released a data set on offshore money 10 times the size of Wikileaks. That leak covers years of financial info on the super rich that hide money in the British Virgin Islands. Included in the list are family members of Azerbaijani President Aliyev.

It’ll be interesting to see what other fun corruption and embezzlement by Armenian oligarchs comes to light because of this leak. It’ll be more interesting to see what the authorities do about it.

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Human Rights Reports, get Them while they’re Hot

Recently, there has been the release of two important human rights reports: The Human Rights Defender’s report on the presidential election and Civil Society Institute (CSI), the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) joint report on general human rights in Armenia.

The Human Rights Defender’s report (press release, full report) covers the election from the beginning through post-election activities. It’s not the easiest read, nor does the Defender give recommendations, making this report a bit frustrating. It’s probably best to think of this as very well researched human rights journalism. The conclusion of the report is similar to OSCE/ODIHR’s hesitant support of the election with the Defender saying that “[t]he elections were freer than before, but many people do not believe were fair.”

The CSI/NHC/FIDH report (press release, full report) is a mid-term report based on how Armenia has been doing since 2010, when Armenia was reviewed by the Universal Periodic Review process. This report is not about the election, and instead it covers assorted major human rights issues: political persecution, torture and ill-treatment, judicial independence, and juvenile rights. They talk about the change to the criminal code (which should stop Armenia from getting regularly fined by the European Court of Human Rights), but there is no mention of the government rejecting the draft domestic violence bill. I can’t wait to hear how the government is going to defend that one in front of CEDAW or another international review.

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