Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"These things don't happen in the Armenian Army..." Really?

This is what is wrong with the recent responses of the Seyran Ohanyan's Ministry of Defense. They put the cart before the horse, and deny the obvious and known. Now, I'm not sure they're as bad, or at least as obvious, as Alik Sargsyan's Police Department - I say I'm not sure, I just don't have enough information - but that's not really saying much. What am I talking about? Let's take two recent occurrences - 1)the death of Artak Nazaryan and 2)the recent YouTube video.

In the case of the first, Artak Nazaryan's mother set out, in a well balanced, both logical and emotional public letter to Seyran Ohanyan, her specific concerns and doubts regarding the investigation into her son's alleged suicide. His response was just published on Lragir in Armenian here. The english is not available, but for those interested the google translation is understandable, and here is the summary:

Paragraph 1: You have doubts about the criminal investigation, you think it is flawed
Par 2: I am sorry for your loss. Under article 110 paragraph 1 and article 375 paragraph 2, Captain Hakob Manukyan is being charged.
Par 3: 3 others are charged with Article 358, paragraph 2, point 3
Par 4: This issue is important, continues to be investigated, is under my direct supervision, a detailed investigation has been ordered so that those guilty can be punished and so that such things do not happen again
Final Par: I am ready to have a private meeting with you, and have the head of the investigation answer your questions in my presence

A couple of things are missing for me here: an acknowledgement or validation of her detailed concerns regarding the serious flaws in the investigation, and a sense of transparency regarding the outcome. That is, why does it have to be a private meeting? Additionally, and maybe I'm just being picky, but really, I would have expected more with regards to a sense of loss, a sense of loss for the family, for the army, and for the entire country. And if the investigation is not complete, how do you already "know" it was suicide (and how did you "know" it was suicide so soon)? I have to say, its not a good response, but its not utterly horrific. Somewhere in there I think I see a glimpse of a shred of concern - but honestly, I can't tell if this is real, or they just have a writer who has some sense of what to write.

On to #2. The video which was pulled off of YouTube and DailyMotion, but then reappeared with some restrictions on YouTube. Some bloggers posted it after downloading, and apparently were criticized for it - parts of Ara Manoogian's comment on Unzipped's blog (both of them posted the video):
What is even more disturbing to me is how many people are demanding that this be covered up and not made public...[]
I have received threats of violence if I don't remove the video in private messages, have been called a trader and for the most part I am seeing the majority of the over 350 comments to be in favor of removing the video since it will scar our reputation...[]
I will also add that I have been contacted by the MoD media department, who have clearly stated their commitment to find the man in the video and have even gone so far as asking for my help to do this.

Likely due to the massive publicity the video attained, the MoD published a response on the website, here in Armenian. Again, the offical English is not available, but the google translate version is pretty good, and here is a summary:

Paragraph 1: Footage was put up on YouTube showing young men in Armenian Army uniforms being abused. The quality of the footage is low, so the faces aren't clear, and Armenian words can't be made out
Par 2: But since the soldiers are wearing Armenian uniforms, the public is upset.
Par 3: The MoD strongly condemns the preparation and dissemination of such materials which are intended to denigrate and blacken the reputation of the Armenian Army.
Last Par: The MoD is investigating the authenticity of the video, and aims to identify those pictured on the video, and the authors of the video, to punish those committing the violence

And there it is again - it seems to be they're trying to cover all their bases, but have their priorities backwards. If it is not authentic, why talk so strongly about identifying and punishing those in the video? And if it is authentic, why is production of the video such a horrible thing - yes it is embarrassing and demoralizing, but everyone knows its happening, and this seems to be the only recourse left. In the end, it seems to be the only way to bring these issues to light, and ultimately strengthen the army. If they're not sure yet, then state that, with a few more if/then statements. Honestly, I feel the priority here should be addressing the fundamental problem, not condemning the besmirchment of the army. [Unzipped has a good translation and discussion regarding this in the comments section of the relevant post]

So, maybe I'm not being fair, and MoD is really just trying to play it safe on all counts. Nope, that doesn't work, from (my emphasis):

Commenting on the Youtube video demonstrating harassment of soldiers, allegedly in the Armenian army, the Minister stated he does not believe such things happen in the Armenian army. He pointed out that experts are now studying the video. “If we find out such a thing really happened, the one guilty will be punished severely. Unfortunately, we have not yet been able to find that man,” the Minister said. He also stressed that those who put the video on Youtube will be punished as well.

Aaaakh, Seyran, Seyran...

Translation of the Criminal Code is from Legislation Online:
[Article 110. Causing somebody to commit suicide.
1. Causing somebody to commit suicide or make an attempt at a suicide by indirect willfulness or by negligence, by means of threat, cruel treatment or regular humiliation of one’s dignity, is punished with imprisonment for the term of up to 3 years.
Article 375. Abuse of power, transgression of authority or administrative dereliction.
1. Abuse of power, transgression of authority or administrative dereliction, if these acts were committed for mercenary or group-interest motives, by a commander or official, and if these inflicted essential damage, is punished with imprisonment for 2-5 years.
2. The same acts which negligently caused grave consequences, are punished with imprisonment for 3-8 years.
Article 358. Violence against the commander.

1. Battery or other violent actions against the commander related to the performance of his military duties, is punished with disciplinary battalion for the term of up to 2 years, or with imprisonment for the term of up to 5 years.
2. The same actions committed:
1) by a group of persons;
2) by using weapons;
3) causing grave or medium-gravity to health, or other grave consequences]

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