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Khanjian: To Armenia with Love

The following is an open letter penned by Canadian-Armenia actress, producer, and activist Arsinée Khanjian, in which she urges the Armenian Diaspora to be deeper engaged with the homeland.

Arsinée Khanjian (Photo: Giulio Muratori)

 

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I was detained by Armenian police, in the capital city of Yerevan on July 27 while photographing a rally for democratic rights and social and political reforms. This random, unjustifiable arrest made me realize that as an artist and human rights activist, it is my responsibility to speak out about issues essential to the stability, unity and perpetual sustainability of the Armenian homeland. I also realized we are overdue in re-examining the nature of the Armenian Diaspora’s engagement with its homeland.

On this 25th anniversary of independence, there are huge social, political and economic obstacles deeply challenging and taxing the livelihood of the Republic of Armenia.

The country has major internal problems due to systemic corruption, nepotism, and an oligarchic economy, where power and wealth remains in the hands of a few. Absence of equitable rule of law and upward social mobility combined with the suppression of freedom of speech and thought as well as civil liberties and rights, have all further exacerbated an already intolerable situation in the Republic.

There are other alarming factors fomenting Armenia’s domestic and foreign problems. Lack of natural resources; an economic blockade by Turkey and Azerbaijan; geopolitics of superpowers in the region; adversarial neighbors; a “no war no peace” situation at its border with impending and continued international pressure in the peace negotiations for the Nagorno-Karabagh Republic (Artsakh/NKR), have all thwarted international interest in the twin Armenian republics. These circumstances have created an existential impasse where public mistrust, resentment and fear coupled with inadequate economic and social welfare, have resulted into desperate acts of defiance and outrage.

This deadlocked situation and the sudden incursion of Azeri forces beginning of April 2016, that caused the death of over one hundred soldiers along with the loss of some 800 hectares of land to Azerbaijan, led to a group of gunmen to take over a police station in Yerevan on July 17, as an act of last resort after exhausted attempts at promoting change through political movements.

The subsequent expression of public support for the group’s extreme measures illustrated the level of the frustration that has been percolating in Armenian society in the face of governmental indifference and negligence towards the plight of the people. In short, the citizens of Armenia have widespread misgivings about their government and have ceased to believe that their children and grandchildren can have sustainable and dependable living conditions or a future in their ancestral homeland.

Hundreds of thousands are leery about the ruling elite and the questionable, constitutional legitimacy of those in power. Over a million people or one third of the population, have opted quietly, for an exit strategy from the country causing massive depopulation and brain drain of the cream of the crop of our homeland. The preservation and the security of the Republics of Armenia and Artsakh is alarmingly threatened as a consequence.

Citizens and civil organizations who are fighting ongoing indignation or injustices on the ground are calling on the 8-million-strong Armenian Diaspora and its institutions for attention, participation and support.

For years now, citizens of the Republic and a spattering number of Armenians from the Diaspora have been demanding honest and fundamental reforms to the much-too-fragile social contract between the government and the people it’s supposed to represent. They are calling for these changes to remedy the country’s ills and misfortunes—all brought upon by systemic and abusive practices at all levels of state institutions.

Time and again, I have been urged by our compatriots in Armenia that the Diaspora takes upon itself and share the responsibility to pay heed to these circumstances and positively contribute to their efforts in rehabilitating this untenable and explosive environment.

So how can the Diaspora participate in a direct and impactful way toward positive social and political paradigm shifts in Armenia?

Defending human rights, civil rights, and rule of law is the prescient and effective way. A simple step will be for independent volunteers from across the Diaspora to go to Armenia in the spring of 2017 and man every polling station at the upcoming parliamentary elections. This on the ground engagement in support of our compatriots should be the priority of every Armenian and their institutions worldwide in order to promote and secure fair and free and transparent elections in the country.

All deployed participants should be non-partisan observers, participating at their own expense and whose sole interest and responsibility is to oversee the election process from the dropping of ballots into boxes, to the counting votes at the closing of the polls. This is a direct and constructive involvement that can help eliminate electoral fraud or vote rigging.

The role of the observers who will work with Armenian civil associations, non-governmental organizations, and anti-corruption bodies is vital and imperative to the process. These observers will be armies of democracy, joining local groups that have the knowledge, the experience and the acquired wisdom from past elections in carrying the work from the ground up.

In the crucial months leading to the next parliamentary elections, voters throughout the country should be provided extended civic education programs about the importance of their participation in a transparent electoral process. They should be encouraged to learn about their privileges and options, and their power to influence with their votes the election’s outcome. They should be brought to believe that this civic duty can and must be carried out without bribery and bullying in the full dignity of their rights.

The protection of these basic human rights of inalienable freedom is closely linked to furthering long-term, sustainable development. It is an instrumental and first crucial step in attaining a true democracy in Armenia.

Diasporan leaders, scholars, and activists—especially those coming from Western democracies—can help organize and secure training and expertise to implement fair and free elections. They can play a key role in translating the best practices from their adopted countries of residence to practices in Armenia that promote rule of law.

The Central Electoral Commission on the other hand is one good place for those in power to begin implementing democratic safeguards as a gesture of good will. In doing so they will start to build confidence and trust within the electorate, that their vote will not be rigged and that their voice can in fact help secure much needed fundamental change to the existing system.

The upcoming parliamentary elections in May of 2017 will give the Armenian government an ultimate opportunity to take the first and honest transformative steps to conduct transparent elections in the most expedient and effective manner.

Those in power should and must refrain from manipulating or using non-democratic procedures that can lead to the falsification of election results. The Republic of Armenia is a signatory to many conventions and treaties, which stipulate compliance with democratic procedures. Thus, the Republic is obliged by international laws to hold fair and free elections.

It is by engaging in this process as a facilitator that the Diaspora can and will help the Republic of Armenia’s newly elected government to earn respect and legitimacy with its citizens, and with the international community.

On the other hand, a transparent election process will turn citizens into stakeholders and give them a sense of ownership of democratic practices. It will also provide them with hope for a better future and a compelling alternative from the dismal, hopeless prospects they now face.

At this crucial juncture of so many challenges in the homeland, the Diaspora cannot plead ignorance. The Diaspora must not be an ambivalent bystander. Armenians around the world must not avoid or neglect the pleas from our compatriots. The Diaspora must no longer ignore the perils of inaction. We can never say we did not know. We can never say we were not offered a chance to participate in these formative years of our collective future.

As I finish writing this letter, I come across a call from President Serge Sarkisian in a recent statement published in Diaspora papers: “… I believe, we must not limit ourselves to resources within our ranks and for the resolution of issues before us we must seek and find individuals and people who are able and willing to shoulder responsibilities for the difficult tasks, regardless what part of the world they are.”

I rest my case.

I urge volunteers in the Diaspora to get in touch with Citizen Observer Initiative through Transparency International in Armenia, make plans and commit to being in Armenia as volunteer observers during parliamentary elections next April and enroll as soon as possible by writing to ditord@transparency.am until a volunteer registration platform is built online.

All emails/registrations are also to be cc’d to: iobserve2017@outlook.com to help share interest in volunteering with other organizations working similarly on transparent election initiatives.

In the name of our nation, we all have an opportunity to commit to the ideals of action and advocacy so that Diaspora and Armenia are brought closer—much closer than they are today.

My Armenia deserves better.

To Armenia with love,
Arsinee Khanjian
Toronto, Canada

9 Comments on Khanjian: To Armenia with Love

  1. All decent minded Armenians must support Arsinee Khanjian’s initiative which I firmly believe to be a noble cause.

    Armenia deserves much better than what we had and what we have now.

    Sadly, Armenia has been turned into a corrupt and criminal entity by this regime where there is not an ounce of justice left. By changing faces or shuffling people around through a revolving door will not solve our chronic situation,it needs radical system change.

    Arsinee Khanjian deserves full credit for her courageous work for the sake of our country and its suffering people,for the sake of democracy and human rights.

  2. Khanjian had no business getting involved in illegal demonstrations in support of foreign funded militants that had murdered policemen in an attempt to overthrow the Armenian government by force. In a normal country Khanjian would have been put away for a very long time for aiding and abetting foreign funded militants. Diasporans like her and her husband are slowly becoming a liability for Armenia…

  3. avatar Peter Mikaelian // October 4, 2016 at 8:51 am // Reply

    I agree hundred percent with Arsine. Unfortunately my age and health do not allow me to travel. But, I urge all my compatriots in diaspora especially young Armenians to participate in the pledge of this brave woman.
    Try to save travel expenses if you are not wealthy, make a trip to your homeland and get involved, don’t worry about getting arrested. You will be released within a very short while , just like Arsine.
    Let us try to make our fatherland a country worthy of living freely and enjoying life for our brave people in Armenia and heroic Artsakh.

  4. Criticizing is the easiest thing to do… I would like to see Arsinee invest real $$ in Armenia, share the real pain of running a business and feeding local families, then have the right to criticize. It’s so funny that all these so-called “intellectuals” come up with utopic ideas, yet on a personal level they don’t contribute anything concrete, and I’m not talking about donations but rather real investments. I’m just a simple Armenian from the Diaspora, however in a period of 10 years, I did my share my contributing over 1 million $ into Armenia’s economy (buying an apartment and opening an office with local staff) while paying zero $ in bribes nor contributing to any corruption; however during that time I did help families by paying their salaries and showing them that there is hope in Armenia. I also showed the next generation of Armenian professionals that the only way forward for Armenia is through little steps. I live in Canada, as does Arsinee, and our adopted country still has a lot of unresolved issues and corruption (yes corruption in Canada!). Next year, Canada will be celebrating its 150th anniversary. Should we expect Armenia to be different and fix all its problems in 25 years? Let’s be realistic, not utopic, in our approach and let’s get fully involved in the daily life of Armenia before starting to criticize. You can’t simply pick and choose when it pleases you to get involved in Armenia’s affairs. Either you are fully involved with full right to criticize or not.

  5. avatar Sandy Altiparmakyan // October 4, 2016 at 5:54 pm // Reply

    I myself is not Armenian just my husband was. I can see the need for help from the diaspora . Investments are heavily needed as the country only got it’s independence 25 years ago and it will take time to rebuild.The professional people some have no work . They live in poor conditions. The 21st celebrations were overkill and lots of Soviet presence. Roll Royce Showroom was opened whilst I was their.I observed extreme contradictions in wealth. Expensive cars being driven like maniacs especially the military driven vehicles,Certain arrogance of power mixed in with sincerely humble and nice people.It will take time with the help of outside investment and mentoring.I loved the fact of all tickets to cultural events were very inexpensive and they events were wonderfully attended. The young generations are really benefiting from this. A clean cut intelligent youth.I wish them all the luck in the world. Education is important to all of them . Hopefully their neighbours leave them alone to improve their country.

  6. Khanjian had no business getting involved in illegal demonstrations in support of foreign funded militants that had murdered policemen in an attempt to overthrow the Armenian government by force. In a normal country Khanjian would have been put away for a very long time for aiding and abetting foreign funded militants. Diasporans like her and her husband are slowly becoming a liability for Armenia.

    That said.

    Armenia is a TYPICAL developing nation with TYPICAL growing pains. Actually, when one considers that the country is small, poor, remote landlocked, blockaded and in a state of war since its independence, one may actually realize that Armenia is actually doing not so bad after all. It could have been much, much worst. But Armenia is alive and well. The constant, relentless complaints about the country are being propagated by Western intelligence agencies via their proxies (servants) in Armenian communities around the world. The net result: Today’s hysteria, panic, hate, hopelessness, disillusionment and thus, population flight. Armenians may think they are running away from “injustice”, “corruption” or “oligarchs” what they are actually doing is running away from all the constant negativity being propagated by Western powers. Injustice, corruption and oligarchs are much worst in most countries of the world. Yet, it sometimes feels like Armenians are the only ones fleeing from it. The Western agenda to weaken Armenia has achieved some success. Western interests want to foment a revolution in the country like the one they managed in Ukraine simply because Armenia is allied to Russia. This is why Western agents in Armenian society (and there are a lot of them) constantly air Armenia’s dirty laundry and this is why Western agents in Armenian society (and there are a lot of them) constantly bad mouth Russia. Trust me folks, had Armenia been in bed with Uncle Sam we wouldn’t be seeing any protests against our “corrupt leaders” or “oligarchs”. At the end of the day, we must realize that the Western agenda is alive and well in Armenia today only because we Armenians are foolish enough or, in the case of the thousands of Western funded NGO workers in Armenia, financially desperate enough to allow it. Anyway, despite all the hysterical rantings, be it in the homeland or in the diaspora, Armenia is slowly but surely developing and moving forward. People can begin developing a positive attitude and join in the long process of nation-building or continue staying on the murky sidelines and continue spewing their poison. Those who choose the latter are merely doing the bidding of Armenia’s enemies.

  7. How amusing it is that these Russian nationalist runts (who are obviously protective of that Moscow-controlled mafia crew which owns Armenia from top to bottom) are persistently galloping from article to article, in an extremely desperate and failed attempt to convince the audience that anybody (whether it’s people living in Armenia or visitors) who speaks out about the severe domestic problems threatening Armenia’s existence, must therefore be an agent connected to Western intelligence agencies. The intense paranoia of these particular runts, is indeed growing by the day.

  8. avatar Gurgen Grigoryan // October 8, 2016 at 6:02 pm // Reply

    Yerevanian,

    I don’t post comments much but I have been reading AW for many years. I’m sorry to say that guys like Norserunt, Harutik and Avery make much more sense than guys like you. More people are beginning to see what’s going on around the world. More people around the world are coming out of their political darkness and seeing Western powers for what they really are. Whats happening in Ukraine, Iraq, Libya and Syria opened Armenian eyes. There is no doubt that Armenians and Russians natural allies and nothing will change that. Most Armenians know this. Armenia is no more controlled by Russia than much of the world is by imperial America and its cohorts. If you are not here with an agenda, I ask you to also open your eyes and see that Western powers pose a grave threat to Armenia whereas Russia is Armenia’s one and only natural ally and it has been so for the past two hundreds years. Yes there are some problems in the relationship between Armenia and Russia but these are superficial problems that can be fixed with proper dialogue. So no, Norserunt does not sound like a Russian nationalist in the least bit, he sounds like an Armenian patriot with a very good understanding of realpolitik.

  9. Gurgen Grigoryan,

    When one speaks out about the severe internal problems which are threatening the existence of Armenia today (and desires to find solutions to these problems), and is then accused of being a Western agent, most certainly does not make the slightest bit of sense.

    And, as the Russian nationalists have been doing this whole entire time, in senselessly and persistently attempting to minimize Russia’s four billion dollar sale of heavy military arms to Armenia’s mortal enemy of Azerbaijan (along with its future plans to sell so many more military arms to the Azeris), most certainly does not sound like Armenian patriotism; on the contrary, it’s called being anti-Armenian.

    “Russia is Armenia’s one and only natural ally and it has been so for the past two hundred years.”

    Well, a natural ally would not go behind its ally’s back, and furnish its ally’s mortal enemy with heavy military arms; nor would it give away a huge chunk of its ally’s homeland (the three provinces of Artsakh, Nakhichevan, Javakhk, along with Kars, Ardahan, Artvin, Ani, Lake Van, Mount Ararat), as Soviet Russia backstabbed Soviet Armenia (shortly after becoming a part of its union) in a failed effort to persuade Turkey into joining the former Soviet Union.

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