Sunday, August 1, 2010

Unnecessary deaths in the Armenian Armed Forces

First and foremost, my sincerest condolences to all of the family and friends of those soldiers who died this past week. May they rest in peace.

I'm writing this post late not because I just found out about the recent events, but rather, because I did not, and still do not, know how to say all that I have to say. But after almost one week, I've given up on the hope that if I sit on it, my thoughts will come to order. And so here it goes. (Other bloggers writing in English, including unzipped, ditord, and nazarian had great posts, which I encourage you to read).

I took this photo years ago, probably the late 1990s or so (which may explain why the emblem is different). It was on a military uniform jacket, being sold in one of the open markets in Yerevan, probably more for tourist/diasporan consumption. It was marketable because it personified Armenian military strength and courage, Armenian unity and prowess. Completely outnumbered and underfinanced, Armenia and NK had won a war against Azerbaijan. It was because of our Herculean strength and courage, we wanted to believe. Because of our will. The same will and strength and courage of centuries past, which lives on in songs of Armenian victories against impossible odds. And what else could it have been but those attributes, when our fighters were victorious despite being underfed, frozen, and outnumbered. And the legend lived on...

And so I imagine now that I am a young man doing my required time or serving otherwise in the army- there is probably about a 40-50% chance that I was protesting against the present government just over 2 years ago; it is very possible that someone I know may have been beaten or imprisoned. Maybe I am not politically active for whatever reason, and just think all politics are false pretenses and all politicians are liars - I probably still, in this case, have many questions and concerns about the current situation... And now I serve in an Army where beating conscripts is required, NOT beating them is unacceptable. On many levels, the violence that the authorities were and are willing to perpetrate against their own civilians (via the armed forces, might I add), mirrors the violence that army officials perpetrate against their own soldiers - in fact, any perceived act of insubordination by footsoldiers is met with abuse, and any disagreement or individual opinion from those highly educated is met with "mysterious suicides." I see high-ranking officials with stuffed pockets, and even the Minister of Defense, Seyran Ohanyan*, is reputed to own the Pyramida Complex, which includes a night club with its own "Girls." And when, despite these obstacles, I try to take pride in the Armed forces of my Country, I look to my leadership and government, and there is no hint of true strategy or plan with regards to the NK issue - nothing except that they will do what it takes to keep themselves in power.

I cannot imagine how stressful this must be, and for some, how inhumane the life they lead under these circumstances. I imagine this as the baseline existence for those who serve our country now. It does not take too great a feat of imagination unfortunately, to envision how, under such circumstances, an educated man such as Artak - refusing to give in to pressure to commit violence upon others, to become part of a cycle of violence - could have met with such violence from his own superiors; or how an already unbalanced individuals, whose instability and unfit status to serve was overlooked time and again, could have caused such horrific damage.

I know that abusive behavior in the Armenian Army is not new, though it has definitely not gotten better, and by most accounts, has worsened substantially. And to have the day to day existence described about, makes it only worse - and could not really have come at a worse time. Given that such unnecessary abuse and death in the Armenian army may not be new, the question arises, why is it causing such a ruckus now? I would say for a few reasons- the general social distrust in society which has only strengthened since March 1; the difficult geopolitical moment with NK and foreign entities; the obvious and absolutely heinous reality that seven Armenian soldiers died unnecessarily and for unacceptable reasons; and, at least to some extent, the fact that Artak Nazaryan is the brother of Tsovinar Nazaryan, a well spoken, extremely bright and well-respected young journalist who was studying abroad in the US at the time of her brother's death.

The argument has been put forth by several that I have seen, and undoubtedly countless more (including ditord), that bringing such topics to the forefront is against the best interest of the country. I think it is a valid question that must be asked, however, in the end, I do not believe the premise that discussing openly these unacceptable abuses of power is wrong. As I have nothing too new to add to the arguments already made in the comments section of ditord's blog, I refer you to those. Though, now that I think about it, such arguments, against revealing, discussing and addressing these types of problems, are also used in other cases that are generally considered shameful - domestic violence, HIV, prostitution, poverty, to name a few. They all need to be addressed, in my point of view, without shame, but an open mind, and a hope for a better future for all of us.
By now, over 50 pieces have probably been written about the death of Artak Nazaryan, and the six who died just a day later (see articles in Hetq, Tert, A1plus, Lragir and Armenian Times, for starters). After the initial reports, a few articles were written that stand out and are very much worth reading, even if only in googletranslate (Բա՛րձր պահեք հայ սպայի պատիվը՝ հեռացե՛ք այս կյանքից,Մի օր պայթելու է, Չի´ կարելի լռել, Ինքնասպան լինեք դո՛ւք, Ինչո՞ւ և ի՞նչ անել, որ «ինչու»-ներ չլինեն). As Unzipped and others have pointed out, there are now several Facebook Groups on the subject: Չի´ կարելի լռել and Սեյրան Օհանյան եւ Ալիկ Սարգսյան՝ ինքնասպան եղե՛ք.

If we are to see ourselves, and truly be, of Herculean strength, as a nation, a country, and an army, then we have a long way to go. And unless we accept this, we will never get there.

My condolences, again, to the families of the seven lost to us:
Artak Nazaryan,
Robert Hovhannisyan, Andranik Sargsyan, Vardges Tadavosyan, Karo Ayvazyan, Garegin Hovsepyan, and Artyom Manasyan

*The following quote is also attributed to Seyran Ohanyan:
"Any attempt at demonstrating (rallies) will immediately result in adequate and strict reaction by the armed forces."
(March, 2008)
Given his connection to the Pyramida Complex - he will henceforth be known to me as Բուրգի Սեյրանը ("Burgi Seyran - Seyran of the Pyramid")

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