A beautifully written constitution modeling successful Western European states has put Armenia on the map as an independent country since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Yet, the struggle for democracy is as intense as it was immediately after the collapse of the mighty empire. Throughout the years, people have taken to the streets in protest of what they see as a plutocracy. One self-proclaimed president has followed another with a circle of criminal oligarchs who have been dividing amongst themselves entire industries, as well as lands, rivers and lakes in a small landlocked country of modest resources, leaving everybody else below as wage slaves, managed by a network of their boot-licking loyalists.
With a fatigued but relentless popular struggle over the years, Armenia still never had an armed uprising until the recent hostage standoff in which a group of armed men, many of who are well-respected veterans of the war over Nagorno-Karabakh two decades ago, stormed into Yerevan’s central police station and took several high-ranking officials hostage, demanding the withdrawal of the regime and freedom to political prisoners. Even if relatively few in numbers, courageous citizens took to the streets in support of the men behind the standoff, chanting their demands for days on end. Their long history of dissent has been disappointingly futile and some feel speaking up will achieve nothing and so the vast majority of disheartened citizens chose to stay home. There is an illusion that non-violent resistance cannot be effective if the rulers don’t care to listen. The facts are that they are twice more effective than violent resistance, as can be shown by most statistics. And given the spotlight of the current hostage crisis, this is an especially important moment for people to speak up. It is important to speak up against the nonchalant and confident posture of the powerful elite who think they’ve got everything under control during each episode of public revolt. It is important to speak up against the high-pitched chorus of Yerevan’s droopy-eyed public intellectuals; writers, movie directors, actors, composers, singers and other familiar TV faces, who repeat embarrassingly trite talking points to help legitimize the regime and maintain status quo, all in the seemingly noble name of peace and non-violence.
But not any speaking up will do. For communication to be useful, language must be used with careful precision. One of the things preventing popular struggle from turning into a serious force has been ordinary misuse of words and concepts, which can be so confusing it may be hard for people to make sound judgment even with the facts available to them. An example of such misuse of language is calling president a person who was never elected to serve as one. Once you do this, then your complaints swiftly center on his bad governance and various smaller concerns resulting from it, leaving aside the obvious elephant-in-the-room issue of his illegitimacy. This is a tacit approval of his criminal takeover of the presidential office. The way Serzh Sargsyan rigged elections is so wide known that it is never a subject of debate in Armenia. But he nevertheless acts as if he were the president- giving interviews, shaking hands with foreign dignitaries and walking along presidential red carpets with an idiosyncratic smirk Armenians have learned to despise. And the suggestive power of this pose is so great that people -- even those who recognize his criminal rein for what it is and want him out -- also call him a president. The consequence of this linguistic mistake, even when it’s just a passing reference, does significant harm. Language has a tendency to solidify concepts. If it is true that Serzh Sargsyan rigged the elections to come and stay in power, then he has as much claim for being Armenia's president as he does for being the Pope. And it is time that people unanimously and unyieldingly refused to accept his presidency.
Next, in order to protect his criminal takeover of the presidential office, this president wannabe has a group of salaried thugs in police uniforms whom he relies on to savagely assault and punish any public uprising which may seek to restore the country's rule of law. Beyond this primary task, they are free to scam citizens, charging them with made-up crimes in order to extort money, among a host of other crimes they routinely commit against people, while those patrolling the highways are little more than pitiful beggars who take small amounts of cash (anything will help) from cars they stop. Calling them police officers is, again, an example of language misuse which continues to further confuse people and promote automatic and unwitting submission to their will. This can be observed in specific situations, such as when protests turn a bit unruly and protesters march towards these uniform-wearing bullies, there are those who bring the example of European states, correctly noting that such unruly behavior from rioting crowds would create a similarly harsh reaction from the police officers there, too. After all, what would the police in Belgium or Denmark do if people threw rocks and other objects at them? This would be correct if the uniformed bandits in Armenia were actually police officers performing their duties of protecting the rule of law of their democratically elected government. But that is not what they do and, therefore, they are not police officers. The reason this may sound simplistic and black and white is because it is indeed simple, indeed black and white.
These ideas, even though they are not too far-fetched and are often echoed in people’s conversations across the country, still may seem impractical to most, which, I imagine, is the result of poor appreciation for the power of language. And fear, of course, is the other factor. Fierce crackdowns on dissent have made people afraid to speak up. Some remain silent for the fear of losing their jobs and some worry about the safety of their families. Most of these fears can be understood and it would be unethical to blame people who choose not to risk their safety and security for a bigger and just cause. But public resentment is so wide and deepening that most of those fears are no longer justified. With over half as many Armenians living outside Armenia, Serzh Sargsyan has little hope of effectively shutting down free speech. And he is not trying much either. Still, free speech is what will eventually burst his bubble, taking away his longstanding rule of terror. And if free speech is important, then calling things what they are is important, which is not only necessary to maintain the accuracy of stated facts and principles; it is also a vital condition for the formation of clear thoughts and well-reasoned arguments against unjustified control. Once this ethic has turned into a popular habit in Armenia, dictatorial authority will become increasingly difficult to maintain and Armenians will eventually have a better chance of overcoming their perpetual struggle for decent life.