BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN
Another appropriate title would have been, “Lawmakers fiddle while Armenia burns,” which is my version of the well-known phrase, “Nero fiddles while Rome burns,” referring to Emperor Nero’s inaction during a massive fire in Rome.
This is the tragic situation in Armenia nowadays. After losing a major portion of Artsakh and the lives of thousands of young Armenians in last September’s war, one would think that Armenians both in and out of Armenia would rally together to lick their wounds, strengthen the military and repulse the enemy’s further advances.
Unfortunately, the exact opposite is happening. The culprit is not Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia or anyone else, but us. We are unable to unify even in the aftermath of a massive disaster. Before we blame anyone else, we need to hold the mirror to our faces.
Ever since Armenia’s independence, we have been boasting that Armenia has the most powerful military in the region, Azerbaijan would not dare to attack us, and if it did, we would march into Baku. Before last year’s war, Armenia’s Defense Minister David Tonoyan arrogantly announced: “New War, New Territories,” meaning that if Azerbaijan attacked Artsakh, Armenia would conquer even more Azeri territories.
The previous and current leaders of Armenia and Artsakh refused to make any concessions regarding the territories surrounding Artsakh, unless Azerbaijan first agreed to recognize Artsakh’s independence. Even though the rest of the world was urging that Armenia’s leaders make compromises and return most of the territories around Artsakh, we dismissed all such suggestions self-confidently. That is the reason why no other country was willing to recognize the Republic of Artsakh. Even Armenia itself refused to do so, expecting that others would defend Artsakh’s interests before us.
As a result, we squandered our unique chance to force Azerbaijan to recognize Artsakh’s independence in the 1990’s, while the enemy was defeated and weak.
Without getting into the meaningless debate of whether the former leaders or the current one was responsible for our defeat in 2020, I would say, we are all responsible for that disaster.
Since the end of the last war, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan rejected repeated suggestions that he resign and allow others to take the helm of the devastated state. He insisted that he is the only one who can remedy the country’s massive problems. How could the one who was in charge when the country suffered such a defeat be able to fix anything? But, he stubbornly dismissed all such suggestions and insisted on staying in his seat of power. Using the state resources at his disposal, he managed to convince a little over half of those who participated in the election to support him and his political party. In reality, many of those who voted for Pashinyan actually voted against the former leaders. As expected, almost a year after the war, not only Armenia’s problems have not been resolved, but in many respects, they have become much worse.
While the previous leaders were not well-liked during their reign, the degree of antagonism and hatred that we see today in Armenia is unprecedented. Regrettably, the current Prime Minister made matters worse by constantly issuing threats and warnings against not just the former leaders, but anyone who disagreed with him. He started his rule by preaching democracy and tolerance, but quickly became a dictator, dividing the public into “blacks” and “whites, and shockingly, during his recent electoral campaign, held a hammer on the stage threatening to smash the heads of his opponents!
In such a toxic atmosphere, uniting the nation against the common enemy is impossible, when it is much easier to fight against the opponent inside the country. Neither the government nor the opposition is willing to make any compromises trying to solve the problems and defend the homeland against further hostile incursions.
Not surprisingly, last week, when Pashinyan came to the Parliament to present his government’s five-year plan, several fistfights erupted as a result of which the Chairman of the
Parliament Alen Simonyan ordered the security guards inside the chamber to forcefully drag some of the opposition members out. The Parliament looked more like a military garrison than a legislative assembly hall. Simonyan frequently violated the right of free speech of opposition members if they dared to refer to the Prime Minister in a critical manner. He ordered that the speaker’s microphone be turned off and the cameras broadcasting the meetings shut off.
These draconian measures are unbecoming of any country. The ugly scenes of the fistfights were aired by TV stations around the world, embarrassing all Armenians.
As a result, the government’s proposed five-year plan was hardly mentioned. Instead, there were repeated attacks by the Parliamentarians, both physical and verbal, on each other.
In the meantime, Azerbaijan and Turkey, emboldened by their recent victory, and seeing the deep divisions inside Armenia, are encroaching on Armenia’s borders and demanding more and more concessions. Armenia’s weakened leader is unable to resist the overbearing demands of Azerbaijan, while Armenia’s military ally, Russia, is pursuing its own interests in coordination with Turkey and Azerbaijan.
In conclusion, I would like to make two points that are often debated on social media.
- At the slightest criticism of Prime Minister Pashinyan, his supporters are quick to admonish the critics by saying that Armenians in the Diaspora have no right to criticize the Armenian government. I reject such objections because Armenia is the homeland of all Armenians regardless of where they live. Criticism or praise is a sign that the individual cares deeply about his or her homeland rather than take the posture of a disinterested spectator. Why is it that we have the right to express an opinion about developments on any other country in the world, for example Afghanistan, but when it comes to Armenia, our homeland, we have no such right? It is also interesting to note that those who object to criticisms of Armenia by Diasporans have no objection when they praise Armenia. So the issue is not one of having the right to criticize Armenia, but one of not wanting to hear criticism of the Prime Minister.
- In my opinion, criticism, if it is constructive, is much more valuable than blind support. Which is more patriotic? To see something wrong and keep our mouths shut or try to correct it and improve it? In my opinion, taking corrective action is much more patriotic than remaining silent.
I hope we stop fiddling, or in our case, feuding, and unite to create a strong Armenia that can withstand the incessant assaults of the barbarians at our gates.