BY MARIA TITIZIAN
The man in this picture is from Kapan. I don’t know his name, nor do I know anything about him. I don’t know if he is married, or has children or is employed. I don’t know what games he played or books he read when he was a child or who his first love was when he was taking his first tentative steps towards manhood. I don’t need to know much because everything that any of us need to know about him can be seen in his eyes. Look carefully and there you will see a lifetime of pain and suffering, maybe some resolve, perhaps a little bit of hope, an almost-there dignity. It’s an expression I have seen before. It’s an expression I see often. It’s an expression that takes me back many years to a time when the particular smell of the city was unfamiliar, when we felt outside of our bodies, when we couldn’t find milk for the children to drink or breakfast cereal or playgrounds for them to play in. A time when the streetlamps in Yerevan didn’t work when night settled in or when the roads had more potholes than asphalt and the sidewalks were a mess of cracked and broken concrete.
The photo of this man from Kapan reminded me of another man I had seen around the same time. It reminded me of how easy it is to strip a man of his dignity and how difficult it is to give it back.
We were driving to Charbakh, a suburb on the outskirts of the city near Yerevan Lake. It was a typical, dry, hot summer day. As we turned off the highway and were driving under a bridge, a solitary figure, a man of about 40 years of age was standing in the shade of the bridge. In his hand he held a rope with a single fish tied to one end of it. He was holding up the rope so that passersby could see his fish and perhaps stop to buy it. Close your eyes for a second and imagine a grown man, probably with a family to feed, who had caught a fish, tied it to a rope, walked under a bridge to escape the blistering sun to try and earn some money. Shock and dismay and heartache are words that can be written, but can only be felt when you come face to face with a man whose expression evoked pain and suffering yet a veiled, almost-there dignity. My heart cringed with sorrow and I had to look away.
That image has stayed with me 12 years on. I didn’t stop to buy the fish. I didn’t stop to offer some compassion. That man under the bridge remains unknown to me, without a name or an identity. Not unlike this man here in the photo taken in Kapan on February 27, 2013 when Raffi Hovannisian had taken the Barevolution to the south of the country. The city of Kapan, which is the administrative center of Syunik Marz, voted overwhelmingly in favor of Hovannisian in the presidential elections, something which was extraordinary, considering that the Marzpet (governor) of Syunik, Suren Khatchatryan (Lisga), a member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia has a reputation for being ruthless to those who go against his orders and his orders were to ensure victory for Serzh Sarkisian.
So, while I saw pain and suffering in the image of this blue-eyed stranger from Kapan, the young woman who took the photo, saw something different; she saw a man who was demanding justice who was hoping for change, who was fearlessly doing his part for the revolution. She wrote: “This man, during the entire rally was on the front lines, he was yelling, demanding, then laughing with his friend and once again demanding and without fear…he was calling out for resignation and revolution…And then he would calm down, he would look at the reality unfolding before him, and his expression would change…everything can be seen in that expression….he was ready for everything and afraid of nothing, he understood…it was today or never…he was doing his part for the revolution.”
Encounters and images of two men, strangers from different periods of my life here in Armenia represent a cycle of bitter reality yet determination. You see, the man with the fish under the bridge, he could have given up, he could have chosen to sit home and wallow in the hopelessness of his life, but he chose to fish and as tragic as that image is for me or anyone who can envision it, today I am trying to look at it from another perspective. And the man from Kapan, in whose eyes I saw pain and suffering, could have stayed home for fear of recrimination from Lisga and his goons but chose to take part in a growing movement calling for change in our country.
Sometimes just being present in the moment can be a measure of resolve. However insignificant or inconsequential the actions of these men might appear, what they were inadvertently doing by simply being present, was planting the seeds and laying the foundation for this revolution taking place in our country.
And while an entrenched and unapologetic regime, the usurpers of our common wealth continue to be arrogant and indifferent to the voices being raised in Liberty Square, on university campuses, in cities and towns around the country, they will have to answer to the common man and woman. We will continue to take part in rallies, to demand for accountability, to use every method of civil disobedience, to take away the levers of their power by choosing to be present and that will be the measure of our resolve today.