In Armenia, in the diaspora, and in the world, we are living in a new dark age. An age made of the piled up wreckage of arrogance, broken political systems, self-interest, profit, and the collapse of compassion and humility. The weight of this failure has induced a coma in which we allow ourselves to be tossed about and bullied by a system that seems somehow outside ourselves and beyond our control. Yet, by not waking up, we are complicit in that which make us numb and powerless. And we are therefore complicit in the psychic pain and paralysis of others.
Today, Artur Sargsyan, the man who took bread to the Sasna Dzrer group that took over a police station last July, died quietly in a Yerevan hospital. He had been arrested, released, arrested again, and was on a hunger strike for around 25 days. Mr. Sargsyan used to sell his handmade woodwork at the Vernissage flea market and was known to give free classes to those who wanted to learn the craft. He turned 48 while in detention.
What is one to do in such a system? A system that callously turns its back on its citizens year after year; a system that has duped diasporans into some faux sense of being a nationalist paradise; a system that is composed of a few grotesquely wealthy oligarchs in a country of maybe 2.5 million where the average salary is $250USD per month.
There is not much to be done until there is a new, re-energized critical discourse on all levels of Armenian society, from Meghri to Gyumri, from Yerevan to Los Angeles, from Boston to Paris. If people in any country want change, they must dig deep and look within themselves first. Who are we? What kind of society do we want to live in? Are we moral and compassionate, or are we determined to put self-interest and personal comfort before anything else?
Either a nation is full of apathy and hypocrites and gets what it deserves, or it isn’t.
As wave after wave of thousands migrate from Armenia, emptying its melancholy, majestic landscape; as working class and impoverished citizens struggle to pay for a day’s milk and bread or buy their child a coat; as young, bright, talented Armenian youth look around for some kind of future; as young soldiers, poorly equipped, keep dying in Artsakh; which choice will we make, you and I? Will we check our privilege and hypocrisy or will we keep relativizing and making excuses?
Last July, while Mr. Sargsyan was simply taking food to a group of veterans, Kajik Grigoryan set himself on fire during one of the protests in Yerevan. Those around him put out the flames, but he was already badly burned. He refused help from police until other protesters put him in a taxi to the hospital. He died soon thereafter. He was 58 years old. It was said that he had HIV, was unemployed, and had legal issues regarding his house–pointless facts to explain away the stunning act of burning oneself alive.
Two men who did not know each other, both dead from the same thing: the psychic violence of a broken system that suffocates average people day in and day out. They will soon be completely forgotten and Yerevan will open its outdoor cafes and pubs to all the tourists and diasporans enjoying the Disneyland that is downtown Yerevan–literally a few blocks–outside of which there are thousands and thousands of Artur Sargsyans and Kajik Grigoryans, struggling quietly in miserable conditions year after year, without the options and choices that some of us are fortunate to have.
The rain is still coming down in Yerevan this evening. Smoky thick clouds hang low from the sky like dirty curtains. But there is a light on in my office, there is a light in my students’ eyes, there’s a light in the hearts of all those in this city, across Armenia and in the diaspora who have been the silent, exhausted majority for too long.
A dark age does not last forever. But it can only be broken by radical empathy, radical love, radical honesty, and personal accountability. And it must first come from everyday Armenian citizens themselves. They are the true heroes among us. And they are the daily victims.
There are so many voices who are not heard. We at EVN Report hope to be a small, humble part of a new, much-needed discourse. To try and wake up is all anyone can do, but that’s more than half the battle.
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