Turmoil and Tragedy in Yerevan: Some Painful Thoughts
In my last column, I expressed the hope that the post-election crisis in Armenia would be resolved peacefully. Alas, it was not to be. During last weekend’s street clashes at least eight people were killed, over a hundred injured, stores looted, and scores of cars and buses burned. In the aftermath of these confrontations and the ensuing vandalism, some ravaged streets of Yerevan looked like worn-torn Baghdad, deeply saddening Armenians worldwide. Since the imposition of a 20-day state of emergency, an uneasy calm prevails in Armenia.
Here are my thoughts in the aftermath of these very tragic events:
-- A small country like Armenia, surrounded by enemies, can ill-afford to weaken itself through internecine struggles that would make it vulnerable to possible foreign attacks by hostile neighbors which are waiting for the opportunity to capture not only Artsakh, but parts of the Republic of Armenia.
-- The violence of the last few days tarnishes the international image of Armenia and undermines the legitimacy of its government. After these tragic events, Armenia’s leaders would have greater difficulty in resisting outside pressures to force compromises on vital national interests, such as the independence of Artsakh, the reaffirmation of the Armenian Genocide or the lifting of the Turkish blockade.
-- No one should appeal to external groups or governments to intervene in Armenia’s internal affairs. Foreign entities pursue their own agendas to the detriment of Armenia’s national interests. It is incumbent upon Armenians to put their own house in order.
-- Political groups should exhibit high level of maturity and strive to come together at a time of national emergency in order to prevent the country from further dissension and instability. A coalition government should be formed immediately composed of various political factions. Electoral disputes should be resolved through legal avenues and political dialog rather than street clashes.
-- Throughout the campaign and in the aftermath of the elections, many angry and rabble-rousing words were uttered by some presidential candidates and their supporters. It is high time that everyone tones down the rhetoric and speaks in calm and measured words. Everyone should be able to freely express his or her opinion without resorting to insults, harassment and intimidation.
-- In these tumultuous times, it behooves all Armenians to be extremely cautious in lending credence to unsubstantiated rumors that further disorient the naive and unsuspecting public and create chaos and panic.
-- Ever since Armenia’s independence in 1991, the majority of the population has lived in poverty, making many feel alienated and frustrated, leading them to acts of desperation. Most of the street violence committed over the weekend was not the work of a particular political group, but individual hooligans who took advantage of the chaotic situation to rob, pillage and burn.
-- Last week’s bloody clashes have regrettably shown once again that Armenians lack political maturity – a flaw in their national character throughout much of their long history.
-- Armenians should not discriminate against each other. They should not disparage each other on the basis of one’s place of birth, religious persuasion or political affiliation. No distinctions should be made between those from Armenia, Artsakh or the Diaspora. It is simply unacceptable to divide Armenians and pit them against each another.
-- Two opposition parties have asked the Constitutional Court of Armenia, the highest court of the land, to review the legitimacy of the February 19 presidential elections. All sides should respect the judgment of the Court, even if they disagree with it.
-- After the Constitutional Court pronounces its verdict, the state of emergency should be lifted to restore normalcy to the capital.
-- Finally, an impartial non-governmental panel, possibly composed of wise and respected elders, should review all actions taken prior and during the clashes and make an objective assessment of the guilt and innocence of all involved, be they members of the opposition or the government. All those who incited and provoked the confrontations, regardless of their identities and positions, should be held responsible for the great human and material losses. Also, all those who engaged in fraudulent activities during the elections should be tried and punished in order to discourage such illegalities in the future.