BY LORI SINANIAN
Zohrab Kevorkian emigrated from Aleppo to Venezuela in 1955, and raised a family in a small town called Cumana. Many immigrated to Venezuela and settled their part of a small Armenian community, starting a movement of the Armenians from the Middle East to South America.
Can you visualize visiting a country that gives off a feeling as though it is another world once described as comparable to Sir Thomas More’s ‘Utopia.’ Now, envision ‘the perfect imaginary world’ that no longer is a ‘perfect imaginary world.’ How could a perfect world all of a sudden not be? The term ‘perfect’ contradicts itself, and means nothing without further explanation.
I remember walking the streets of Liberatador, Plaza Bolivar, and spending time at my Dede Zohrab’s house on the streets of Cantarana, at 11 years of age, in a third-world country that didn’t really feel like one.
Aside from not being aware of the evident differences between the development level of worlds at the age of 11, I noticed the social norms based off of groups of individuals through the conversations they were having, for which I couldn’t understand, but I was able to grasp and comprehend what was obscure. My duration in Venezuela was կարճ.
If the stored thoughts in the back of my mind are allowing me to remember correctly, I was there for approximately 12 days, 8 years ago. But the length of my excursion was arbitrary and not something I was thinking about or counting down. I was visiting my mother’s side of the family, The Kevorkian’s. While musing back into time of those stored thoughts of mine, I’m remembering different shaped floating clouds in the light colored blue skies of Venezuela. I remember not being able to identify the shape and it causing frustration as if it were my only wonder, my only concern, and the only thought on my mind.
With the advancement of technology, and the largely populated world using time towards social media platforms, we’re on our phones opening our Facebook app’s for one last shot of social adrenaline before day’s end, engrossed in stories from our favorite digital mediums that allow us to feel melancholy to jollity, annoyance to pleasure every minute of the day. Venezuela is an under reported a story that needs to be told.
How does a popular movement address governance decision making without getting bogged down in the minutia in process and structure? Leadership will play out and power will play out whether we recognize it or not. But it has to happen in a principled way or else different forms of unprincipled behavior and countermovement building come into play — this is Venezuela. This connects to a cinema of history and struggle — whether that be Electric Yerevan from two summers ago or Venezuela, now. This could be the story of any third world country. During Electric Yerevan, the parallels were equivalent to Venezuela. The bus rates increased, the corrupted government did not respond to the people, the arbitrary rates and fees increased for the basic necessities of life. Venezuela, a country that once gave me fond memories is now a relatable segue to our homeland, Հայաստան.
One of the richest parts of the world and yet there are people standing in lines for food because of shortages — an oxymoron; an economic horror story. A country that made all of the wrong decisions with its oil money that caused a fundamental destruction of an entire society. The bloviate of never-ending, alternative spectrums, a timely topic that is of immense importance and infused with ongoing changeability on a daily basis, a political context we should understand, the bourgeois press that doesn’t cover all truths, the mediums that provide an outpost of pure truth when it comes to defending a radical group, the pro-government controlling media, and the vaster media — the other side of the divided — that is private and anti-government. These are the many different boundaries that are causing a divide. It’s a legislative standoff between the anti-government and the pro government — two groups that are incompatible because of different legalistic clashes; mayhem; life in reserve mode; a downward spiral. This is not a conspiratorial activity. This is a rational phenomenon. The objective is to put an end to this regime.
Venezuelans have become radicalized, fighting for justice of their own — vulnerable people — persecuted for their faith in democracy and free will. The future of Venezuela is bleak. Venezuela has been in a dictatorship for more than 15 years of redundant clashes between the people and the government. The anti-Nicolas Maduro ire is being manifested through anti-government demonstrations in opposition to the regime on a daily basis, and the demonstrations won’t stop until Maduro is no longer in power. Venezuelans are marching for intrinsic human rights, for the exhaustion of repression by the military force that protects a socio-communist lie, the exhaustion of being humiliated for begging for a bag of food, not being able to purchase any form of medication, i.e. from contraceptives to treatments for cancer, though there’s a minuscule chance to find these -necessary- items on the black market, but what does that matter if the inflation is in the triple-digits? The basic necessities of life are taken away, the government is stealing the wealth of a nation and lining its own pockets, a government that is not responding to human dignity.
The national police and the national guard are going against their people with gas bombs, shotguns, water cannons that shoot a high-velocity stream of water that can be physically injurious, snipers angled towards demonstrators while hidden guards are overlooking the edge of building structures. Peaceful protestors are using molotov cocktails, face masks made out of plastic water bottles, construction helmets, and large pieces of wood or tires as materials for shields. A victim of his country was doing his humane duty. Through the power of his voice he was asking for justice. He was attacked by National Police and shot in his back. He’s alive, and in the hospital, not able to feel his legs and with no medication or supplies for recovery due to lack of resources of a failed communist system.
The young man is Manuel Khatchadourian and he is 17 years old. He can no longer afford to stay in the hospital. If you’re in need of surgery be prepared to bring your own tools that includes bringing your own food to the hospital and a cell phone that has enough battery life for the flashlight to work while they sew you back up. The next step is recovering without any form of medication to help lessen the pain. It’s even worse than a war zone hospital. You can potentially envision an alternative option for those who take life for granted in the U.S., but Manuel doesn’t have an alternative option. For Manuel, this means, that’s it.
‘Cesta Basica’ also known as a market basket is the minimum resource one needs in their home to live off for a month. It consists of a limited amount of basic produce i.e. bread, vegetable oil, coffee, vegetables, eggs, meat, chicken, and fish –for 3 people, for an entire month. A person is required to earn 20 times the minimum wage in order to purchase it. The inflation is at a staggering percentage rate of 500%. How does a country get to the point where they fail to control inflation? Every month, the inflation of the ‘cesta basica’ rises an average of 16 percent. That means 772,614.30 Bolivars. Without providing what the number converts to, I believe that it’s a large enough number, even difficult enough to say aloud in under 5 seconds, try it. When the amount is converted to U.S. currency, it’s technically impossible to see the hardships of Venezuela for Americans because with the number it converts to, one would think Venezuelans are well off. Even if you make a little bit of money the amount you make is increasingly worthless because of inflation. The revelation of the value of Venezuelan currency dropping is a daily occurrence. To put things into perspective, the cost to make fake monopoly money is more than to make a bill of the official currency, the Bolivar. Adding to the economic crisis, people are dying as a result of violent protests and lack of basic resources, individuals are becoming mentally ill and are in desperate need of basic life necessities. It’s a constant day to day occurrence, for 3 years now of psychological warfare. The detrimental psychological toll is rising. Residents of Venezuela are becoming prone to no longer caring about the destructive political system, and instead are looking for any kind of goods they’re able to get their hands on. School days and office hours are even cut short to save electricity from a country that is still exporting oil and bringing in billions of dollars.
Where’s the international community? Venezuelans reached out to Organization of American States (OAS) to potentially find resources from elsewhere, whether that be Colombia, Panama, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and the United States. The countries were responsive and willing to help the people of Venezuela but the government denied the sincere requests with a message that “All is well in Venezuela.” As a result, because the government declined helped, the Venezuelan people began to rant and the next step of the opposition is protesting on the streets of everywhere, of people of all classes.
“It’s weird because we’ve never seen anything like this. We lost the meaning of being a Samaritan” Viken Yacoubian, an Armenian from Venezuela.