Good Intentions, Misguided Decisions

Editorial, 28 February 2015

Himnatir Khorhrtaran (“Founding Parliament”) until recently known as Nakhakhorhrtaran (“Pre-Parliament”) is an important civilian initiative in Armenian life. Established in 2012, the Armenia-based group believes “there is a moral, psychological, social, economic, demographic and administrative crisis in Armenia which threatens the State…” Himnatir Khorhrtaran (HK) says the “criminal-oligarchic system, social polarization, dependence of the judicial system, the unsustainable use of natural resource and growing dependence on outside forces” have sunk Armenia into an abyss which had led to country-wide apathy and to costly emigration.

Those who follow Armenia politics would have a tough time challenging HK views on the state of affairs in Armenia. Unfortunately, the group has been unable to amass sufficient following to make it a serious player in Yerevan. HK has adherents, called Renaissance, in half-a-dozen countries but membership numbers are believed to be low. Renaissance members promote HK activities in the Diaspora and help it financially.

Among HK prominent leaders are Jirair Sefilian, ex-military commander of the Artsakh War; ex-ombudsman Larisa Alaverdyan; filmmaker Tigran Khzmalyan; ex-ASALA member Alexander Yenikomshian, and ethnographer Hranush Kharatyan. The group is led by Karekin Chugaszyan. Its membership in Armenia and in the Diaspora represents a cross-section of both societies with a significant participation by professionals.

In essence, HK wants to establish an Armenia which enjoys proper governance: a country where the rule of law is supreme. It’s no surprise that the group has been persecuted by Armenia authorities. Last November cars belonging to HK members were torched on Yerevan streets. Several of its high-profile members have been beaten. Undaunted, the group has continued its campaign to bring about positive and peaceful change.

One of the more effective ways the group disseminates its views is through public gatherings up and down the country and through auto “marches”. Despite intimidation by the authorities, people have come out to hear what HK has to say.

While supports HK’s agenda, two recent blunders of the group have to be condemned. These missteps can hurt HK, the dream for a democratic Armenia, and the Armenian Nation.

In January HK organized an auto march to Artsakh, although it was told the marchers would not be welcome. At Berdzor—the “border” between Armenia and Artsakh—HK members were met by police and civilians, some of the latter in masks. They ordered the marchers to return to Armenia. HK members wisely decided to retreat. While doing so, they were beaten by the police and the civilians.

When asked on Armenia TV (“Realpolitik”) why HK had organized the march, HK leader Chugaszyan said that since Artsakh is a province of Armenia, he didn’t see any reason not to proselytize there. He also rightly stressed that the status quo between Armenia/Artsakh is changing against the interests of the Armenian Nation and that a “Great Wall of China is being built between Armenia and Artsakh.” It seems the march was intended to force President Sargsyan’s hand and to make him declare the borders of Armenia/Artsakh inviolable.

So far so good. But why take women and children along on a political mission that HK leaders must have known could end violently? In the weeks following the beatings, some HK members merrily reported that the attacks had roused interest among many Armenians. At what price?

A more serious HK blunder could be in the offing on April 24, at the Yerevan commemorations of the Genocide. The group is planning to hold another—and bigger–march on that day to show its opposition to the regime. The HK website states: “The aim of the auto march is to convince our people not to believe in Serzh, criminal oligarchs and fake opposition leaders, as they are different heads of the same regime; instead people must stand up for their country and on the 100th anniversary of the Genocide, on April 24, 2015, they must come out into streets and remove (our bolding) the regime jointly and start the creation of new quality national state.” These are fighting words.

For a century we have told our story at every opportunity presented to us. Next April 24 is the best platform—in one-hundred years– to tell our story to the world—formally, convincingly, and in a dignified manner.  Unseemly events would not only embarrass Sargsyan but hurt our Sacred Cause. The intentional/unintentional hijacking of the day by HK and public divisiveness would tell the world that Armenians don’t know what they want and can’t even agree among themselves. In the words of a HK leader, it “will be a watershed moment.” Watershed means dramatic. Dramatic as in violent?

As well, knowing the propensity of some Armenia police to resorting to violence, it would be unwise to goad them into baton-swinging. HK leaders should note the media axiom: “If it bleeds, it leads.” The international media would love to see dramatic violence. Some HK people maintain that April 24, 2015 would be the safest day of the year because the authorities wouldn’t dare heavy-handed tactics when the world is watching. That may be true, but what’s to stop security people from photographing the “trouble-makers” and persecuting them when foreign dignitaries and media have gone home?

At a recent Toronto gathering organized by Renaissance, an attendee cautioned that such public resistance may encourage Ankara to send agitators to Yerevan on April 24 to induce violence and sabotage the commemorations.

HK owes Armenians the assurance that its members/adherents will avoid violence, especially when the organization has always preached non-violent change in our homeland.  The best option for HK is to persuade political parties to join the group in organizing a national work slow down or a general strike. Sargsyan’s goons can’t drag the whole work force to work.

Meanwhile HK has to clarify matters on two crucial fronts. In the socio-economic field there exists a dangerous level of polarization. The unemployed, the underemployed and the underpaid form the majority of the populace. If the concerns of this economic underclass are not met, “change” will remain just a slogan without much traction.

Armenia and Transcaucasia are in the centre of simmering international conflicts. HK, by design or neglect, has not addressed this issue. It has not come up with a clear view, thus leaving the door wide open to the possible hijacking of the movement, infiltration by saboteurs, agitprop manipulation and ultimately to an imported “color revolution” which could be disastrous for Armenia and Armenians.

  1. No Violence on April 24

    Congratulations, Keghart, on another timely, well-written and well-researched article.

    This editorial must be forwarded to the people of Pre-Parliament post haste.

    1. No Violence on April 24

      Founding Parliament (formerly Pre-Parliament) and the "Centennial without this Regime" movement (hereafter Movement) have NEVER advocated or called for violence on any day, let alone on April 24. On the contrary, the Movement has ONLY and at the MOST called for peaceful acts of civil disobedience.

      The threat of violence is NOT from the Movement and could not be interpreted that way by any stretch of the imagination. The threat of violence is from the regime that has already proven that it can resort to violence as it did on March 1, 2008 and recently on January 31, 2015. The regime's cynicism has reached such heights that it thinks it's invincible and that it can get away with murder in broad daylight. So far the regime has been right. 

      So the question arises: "On what facts does the regime base its claim that the Movement is calling for violence?" The short answer is that there are no such facts and the proof of that is that none of the leaders of the Movement have been arrested or charged with the criminally punishable act of instigating violence. What has been said by the Movement a number of times and will be repeated when necessary is that if the regime resorts to violence in order to suppress the constitutionally guaranteed right of expressing discontent through peaceful acts of civil disobedience, then the people (participants of the acts of civil disobedience) have the constitutionally guaranteed right to DEFEND themselves by any means, including the same methods that were used by the authorities. This is NOT a call to violence.

      Furthermore, in order to have a restraining effect on the regime from using violence on peaceful participants, the Movement has chosen April 24 as the last possible day of the beginning of acts of civil disobedience, hoping that the regime will not dare to turn April 24 into another March 1.

      The second question that one should ask now is: "Why would the regime try to turn the tables on the threat of violence and accuse the Movement of it?" That is how the regime's propaganda machine wants to portray the Movement in order to demonize it, thus making it easier for the regime to "justify" its repressive, criminal and illegal actions such as the violent attack on the peaceful participants of the motorcade to Artsakh. Furthermore, by falsely accusing that the Movement is being financed by Turkey, it is touching a very sensitive nerve in the Armenians and once again the intention is to demonize the Movement in order to justify even a "rampant" murder of one of the leaders.

      1. Don’t Hold April 24 Centennial as hostage

        There are times that the commitment to a cause blinds the proponents to take unnecessary risks in order to promote their cause. What disturbs me in the above reply is that already the finger pointing has started. But how about putting the focus on the sacred day of the April 24 Centennial when the whole world will be watching us? For God's sake do not hold this sacred day as a hostage to make your point.

        1. Very Well said, Vahe Balabanian

          First thank you for exposing in this editorial what some misguided people are planning for our sacred Genocide commemoration day. The day when a million people (on average) have been marching solemnly every year in a silent procession, holding "gagach"es to place them around the "eternal flame" in Dzidzernakabert.

          I condemn the violent incident on the Artsakh border (on the basis of the video I've seen and pending the results of the investigation). I also understand the "opportunism" obvious in this proposed disruption planned by a small group of activists who cannot otherwise dream of having large numbers of supporters show-up at their events.

          I therefore join Mr. Balabanian in calling all concerned to "not hold our sacred April 24 commemoration hostage".


      2. It is not our activists we doubt

        Sireli Garo and friends,

        I read with great love and support the comments you made above regarding the strangulation of our beloved homeland and people by this criminal regime. Our courageous activists who are on the front lines trying to bring dignity and prosperity back to Armenia are to be congratulated and thanked.

        What I took away from the editorial was that the greatest threat we Armenians face is from the regime itself, who may take the opportunity to — once again — turn on our people when we are pursuing peaceful means of bringing about political and social change. There is nothing to stop this shameless regime from making it look like the activists are the ones who are threatening soldiers, the social order, fellow citizens, etc, at a future, peaceful demonstration, protest, show of civil disobedience.

        April 24 is a day when people will be outdoors in great numbers. This means that there is always a chance that government forces will use any perceived vision of 'provocation' as a reason to lash out at our people and even create chaos. I do not put it past this regime to be capable of anything.

        I too, with great love and compassion for our activists, request that PreParliament consider a day other than April 24 to protest.

        1. Government Reaction

          I fear that  unarmed people will be victimized by the repressive government of Armenia if Founding Parliament embarrasses the SS government on April 24. 

          Nothing is worth the bloodshed that might be spilled.

          If I were leading the Founding Parliament, I would build up mass (membership) and persuade the citizenry to hold general strikes, work stoppage, work slow down. I believe that's what the editorial is recommending. To build up membership, FP will need Diaspora funds, backing, publicity.

          People should remember that Armenia is a highly-militarized state. In addition to the security forces, some veterans have hidden arms.

          The FP should not ally with the political parties. The political parties are corrupt, unreliable, incompetent. FP's program and clean hands are its strengths.

      3. “widespread civil disobedience on April 24”

        In his article titled  “Oligharch’s or People’s Choice “ and posted on on February 3, 2015,  Zareh Ouzounian wrote. I quote

        “These auto rallies are organized by the Nakhakhorhrtaran (pre-parliament), now the Himnatir Khorhrtaran (Founding Parliament)  and the stated purpose is to inform and engage the general public in the political discourse, promoting systemic and regime change in Armenia, with the stated intention of starting widespread civil disobedience on April 24, which coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide.”

        Free expression is the right of any citizen of Armenia and on any day. However, what kind of “widespread civil disobedience”  can and is being planned on April 24 when the country is at a standstill and in a sober mood?

        Members and supporters of HK should not be dismayed that an ambiguous assertion such as the above raises much concern.

  2. Police behavior will negatively impact Artsakh’s future

    There are two issues here that the author is either confused about or intentionally concealing one issue inside the other. 

    As the author pointed out, a person would have a tough time challenging Himnatir Khorhtaran (HK)’s views on the state of affairs in Armenia, to eliminate corruption, monopolies and oligarchy systems.   I would also add that a person would have a tough time challenging people’s rights for freedom of movement, freedom to peaceful assembly, and freedom of speech and expressions.

    The second issue here is the barbaric behavior of the police and paramilitary units that should be checked and corrected.  The road-ambush and attack by the Police on civilians waiving Armenian flags while driving in Artsakh, was designed & provoked by the authorities to cause bodily harm and property destruction (which is well documented in a lengthy video footage).  

    The civilians offered no arguments or resistance to the police, and yet the police aided by civilian-clothed people descended on them with beating and destruction.

    Sadly, I am certain that the uncivilized behavior of elements within the Artsakh law enforcement will be used by the Azeris & Turks as propaganda to discredit Artsakh’s right for self-determination in the eyes of the world. 

    The Artsakh government should stop its ridiculous justification of the savage behavior of its law enforcement, admit wrong doing, and train its police force on how to manage crowd control and police limits in addressing civilians.  People should run towards the Police for protection, not run away from Police for their safety.

  3. This is the worst editorial

    This is the worst editorial I have read and the editor seems to have lost his way to put it mildly.

    Everything that I wanted to say has been said in Berge's and Garo's comments nothing left for me to say except that by writing such misguided editorials who are encouraging barbaric behaviour by NKR officials which is totally abhorrent to the Armenian public.The fault must be put squarely on the officials who have barbarically beaten peaceful Armenian rally demonstrators and not the other way round which is the case with your misguided article.

    You should be ashamed of this editorial.

  4. Dear Keghart

    Dear Keghart,

    1) In 1988 and 1989 the majority of people (including myself) believed that some “troublemakers” were deflecting us from our true and rightful request to ask Gorbachev to defend the people of Artsakh.  These “troublemakers” were very few of them and they realized very soon that the defense of Artsakh is not in Gorbachov’s hands, but in ours. And of course the media was 100% full of articles similar in spirit to your article (and most of the time non-intentional and very sincere) such as the fear to hurt our Sacred Cause. Let me ask you a question: what makes us victorious as opposed to a victim?

    2) And also Sargsyan’s regime does not have any right to speak up about Genocide because he represents a group of people systematically violating and abusing basic human rights. By the way, from the same point of view you would not accept any genocide advocate from Erdogan’s cabinet. Please do not argue that the only president (good or bad ) we have is Sargsyan. Remember, he is not elected and thus has no right to represent people, unless he wants to represent the kleptocracy.

  5. The sacred day of April 24 is a day of resurrection

    It is understandable why the Diaspora clings onto the mourning part of the sacred day of April 24 and completely forgets about the resurrection aspect of it.  After all, the Diaspora is far removed from the catastrophic condition that Armenia is in at this time and by extension also from the population that lives there, therefore it can not, and we should not expect it to, feel or comprehend the urgency of the situation.

    Fifty years ago, Armenians throughout the world overcame the victim mentality of mourning and went full force into demands for justice and lands.  Now, after another fifty years and with Armenia at the doorstep of “to be or not to be”, we need a resurrection if we want to survive for the next 100 years.

    If anyone doubts the urgency of the situation then I would suggest studying the demographics of Armenia and the trends that it has established for the past 25 years.  There is no doubt in anyone’s mind who has studied that we are a dying or disappearing nation/country.  In 1988 we were 4 million in Armenia (3.5 plus .5 refugees from Azerbaijan).  In 2015 we should have been 6 million but instead we are left with less than 2 million.  We lost 4 million in 25 years, well one can say that Diaspora gained.  But all know too well that at the assimilation rate that Armenians are going through throughout the world, in another generation most of the Diasporans would refer to themselves “my grandmother was Armenian”.  We have tens of millions of those "Armenians" in Turkey, Poland, Hungary, India, Romania, etc.  now, how many have returned to their roots and would call themselves Armenian let alone think or feel like one?

    Since independence of Armenia, all three of the regimes have been anti-Armenian in their nature since they have not done anything to stop or slow down the depopulation of Armenia, but on the contrary, because of their corruption they have facilitated it.  Corruption in simple terms means: for the benefit of officials instead of the population. Criminal/oligarchic officials from the presidents on down have plundered the country and its population only in a way that is befitting of a Turkish Pasha.  Depopulation of Armenia is a crime against humanity perpetrated by our present day pashas and it is what some call the “white genocide”.

    The regimes that have perpetrated the depopulation of Armenia for the past 25 years which is as much genocidal as the Genocide, if we only compare the numbers, have not and could not defend our rights in the international arena as far as recognition or reparations, not only because they lack the moral authority, but also because their corruption i.e. self interests would not allow them to do so.  So it is the regime that is using the Genocide and the Centennial for its opportunistic purposes to show that they "care" and "mourn" and accuse FP in not doing so.

    Now it is incomprehensible to me why would some cling onto the mourning aspect of the centennial of the Genocide when we are facing a new Genocide?  Let it be known in no uncertain terms, that the responsibility of this new Genocide rests at the doorstep of the present regime.  Why can’t we look beyond the past and see what is right under our noses, that we are not going to survive another 100 years if we continue at this rate?   Why can’t we fight for our survival and consequently for our  resurrection against the "internal enemy" on the day that 100 years ago the external enemy tried to eliminate us.  When are we going to learn to stop crying and start fighting?

    And for all those out there who “don’t want to rock the boat”, who don’t like words such as “fight” or “struggle”, be rest assured, we are very peaceful and will not do anything to jeopardize the mourning aspect of April 24.  After all, we have also lost family during the Genocide and it is our grieving day as well.  It is just that we want something much more important for our survival than just laying flowers, concerts, medal ceremonies, etc.

  6. Police Brutality Unacceptable

    A step in the right direction was taken by the authorities in Artsakh on March 6th.

    Police in Artsakh moved to sack 10 officers for their violent response to dozens of opposition activists from Armenia who had attempted to enter the territory in late January.

    An ad hoc police commission petitioned the Artsakh police chief, Kamo Aghajanian, to fire and take disciplinary action against 15 policemen as a result of a month-long inquiry. It said they committed “blatant” abuses when security forces confronted a motorcade of some 30 cars carrying leaders and members of the Yerevan-based  Founding Parliament group.

    Although it is a step in the right direction, accountability is what matters to make sure that the barbaric behavior is not repeated. 

    Artsakh authorities should issue an apology and compensation for the damage caused to personal property.

    As, I wrote in the previous post, accountability is the only way to make it right. 

    The eyes of the world are on Artsakh, watching for any signs to discredit its pursuit for the right for self-determination and recognition of its independence.  

  7. Founding Parliament extremists,Western-financed troublemakers

    It is my personal opinion, that which I expect Keghart to respect, that Founding Parliament extremists are Western-financed troublemakers tasked with sabotaging the Genocide centennial as well as putting pressure on Yerevan for joining the Russian-led EEU. They are our version of Western backed groups in Ukraine that unwittingly destroyed their country with their extremism, political illiteracy and Russophobia. So, I suggest you people disregard their lofty rhetoric and begin seeing them for what they really are.

    Moreover, I am not an apologist for President Sargsyan's failed political policies, although the situation in Armenia is not nearly as bad as what the Western-led political opposition wants Armenians to believe. What I mean by that is this: Most nations on earth have "oligarchs" (i.e. monopolists) that are much worst than the ones that exist in Armenia. Corruption of all kinds exist in worst forms in most other nations, even in Western nations. And Armenia's population-drain is the result of four fundamental factors: The 24/7 doom and gloom hysteria of the political opposition's news media; typical Armenian otaramolutiun (the gypsy like quality in Armenians); the terrible geopolitical situation in the south Caucasus which began as a result of the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union; and the fact that Armenia is a tiny, poor, remote, landlocked and blockaded nation stuck in the middle of predatory animals and in a state of war.

    What remains crystal clear to me is that President Sargsyan's administration is by-far the lesser of all the evils in the country. I say this because those waiting on the political sidelines in Yerevan to take advantage of any serious political unrest are Western and Turkish interests. If God forbid the Western agenda for Armenia proves successful, Armenia will cease to exist. Therefore, anyone in the Diaspora that supports Armenia's political opposition is doing Armenia a great disservice. I suggest you people wake up from your American dreams and put aside your silly EUrotic fetishes and recognize that what Armenia needs is a sociopolitical evolution and not a Western-sponsored revolution, and what the south Caucasus desperately needs is Pax Russicana. At the end of the day, Armenia is too small and too vulnerable to make the kind of mistakes made by Serbians, Georgians, Ukrainians, Libyans and Syrians.

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