Titizian: The Enemy Within

Exactly three years ago, I had written an article about the dark side of life in Armenia entitled, “A Conversation with Myself.” A brutal and fatal attack on an old man for a few thousand dollars and the death of a little girl by a speeding motorist had triggered the torrent of emotions that ran through the piece.

Abuse within our country’s armed forces has been documented for years. The army has claimed that the number of deaths due to mistreatment has been declining, and while hazing is a common practice in armies throughout the world, our numbers do not give us the luxury of killing each other.

Looking back, I recall the outrage that had begun to blind my perceptions and distort my idealistic, perhaps naive understanding of the homeland. One passage reads: “I have crossed over to the dark side of the moon and am hanging on for dear life. Perhaps I need to exit the borders of this small plot of land that I adopted, or that adopted me, so that I can fill my lungs with oxygen and see that the planet around me isn’t sinking into oblivion.”

With seven Armenian soldiers killed in two separate non-combat-related incidents (July 27 and 28), one in Karabagh and the other in Armenia, I fear I am treading the dark, murky waters of despair once again.


When we learned of the ceasefire violation on June 18, the worst since 2008, by an Azerbaijani commando raid on a Karabagh Armenian outpost in northern Nagorno-Karabagh, in which four Armenian troops were killed, our hearts cringed. We were outraged at the blatant violation and for the young lives lost. We demanded condemnation from the international community and expressed our rage. While the Armenian government expressed its condolences, full military funerals were not bestowed upon the murdered soldiers and the families were left childless and broken.

In his blog, my friend Hayk wrote: “Last week, four soldiers died defending Armenia. But the only reaction in the mainstream Armenian media was the possible escalation of the Karabagh conflict, the political aspects of an Azerbaijani attack, the circumstances that made the Azeri offensive possible, what should be the retaliation, and on and on in the same vein. Four 19- or 20-year-old boys died for their country. Instead of a military funeral with honor guards and a tricolor folded and formally presented to their families, no one even mentions their names. No one talks about the sacrifice, about the heroism, about how they are the modern-day examples (living examples, one could say) of the lines in Armenia’s national anthem: ‘Blessed is he who dies for his nation’s freedom.’”

I was in Barcelona when I read the news of the attack and the resulting deaths. I remember trying to catch my breath as an ache in my heart began to swell. How much more blood did we need to shed? I immediately wrote a note to my Dutch colleague informing her of the news—after all we are good at being the victims, are we not? The enemy continued exacting revenge and I was full of indignation. The message of my note was blame and a self-righteous anger against the foreign aggressor.


But this recent spate of non-combat deaths of young Armenian soldiers is so intolerable and unbearable that for days I have asked everyone around me not to talk about it. Anytime the subject was brought up, I would leave the room. I could not bear to think about it, I wanted to pretend that it hadn’t occurred. I was being a coward because I tried to avoid the horrific reality of violence and abuse. And then I thought of all the mothers and how they would never be able to escape the reality of the pointless death of their sons.

Mah, voch imatsyal mah e. Mah imatsyal anmahutyun e.
(Death, not understood, is death. Death, understood, is immortality.)

We need to have an army; we need to have a strong army. I get it, I really do. We live in a conflict zone with the threat of war constantly looming over us. A Swedish parliamentarian, who was in Yerevan attending a conference recently, asked me rather condescendingly how I felt about conscription, and I told her that what we would want and what we need to have are two very different things. Our choices are always so limited—our geography and our history dictate the realities that we must face.

I am proud of every single young Armenian man when he leaves to carry out his military service, and prouder still when he returns. Over the past 10 years I have witnessed two military parades in Yerevan—my heart bursting with pride each time.

Serving and protecting the homeland is an honor and a privilege, a responsibility that our young men cannot shirk. While every mother’s heart is clamped with fear until her son returns home from his military service, she sends him off with honor and dignity. But there is no honor or dignity when it is a meaningless death; when it is a death that could have been and should have been avoided; when instead of worrying about the foreign enemy she has to worry about the enemy within.

Abuse within our country’s armed forces has been documented for years. The army has claimed that the number of deaths due to mistreatment has been declining, and while hazing is a common practice in armies throughout the world, our numbers do not give us the luxury of killing each other. The defense ministry, military leaders, generals, commanders, sergeants, officers are all to blame. And so are we, the ordinary people, because for the most part we have remained silent.

We have all heard stories of how young conscripts are humiliated verbally and physically by their superiors, sometimes so viciously that they take their own lives. Or they die under the beatings. Or they return to their families with psychiatric problems. For what? For whom? Who gains from this kind of abuse? Does it improve discipline within the ranks? Or does it demoralize them further?

On July 28, a young, 21-year-old conscript, Karo Ayvazyan, turned the gun on himself after allegedly going on a shooting spree that killed four soldiers and one sergeant. The reason for his maddening actions might never be truly known. What is known is that Ayvazyan, as young as he was, had a long history of criminal activity in the United States. He had emigrated there with his mother in 1992 and returned to Yerevan in 2009 after being deported for his criminal conduct. Ayvazyan should never have been conscripted into the Armenian Armed Forces. Why he was is the core issue of this particular incident.

We live in an independent and free state. We no longer live under a foreign oppressor. The Soviet Union vanished two decades ago. We now have the choice to move to the homeland, something we desired for so long. We are the makers of our destiny, and most importantly, we are accountable to ourselves and to our children.

When we learn how to govern ourselves, when we appreciate the value of statehood and its fragility, when we no longer point the finger and blame only the foreigner, we will be able to stop the madness that is all around us. I want to believe in the goodness of our people and the wisdom of our leaders. I am not calling into question the strength and preparedness of our armed forces. What I do hope is that we rise to the challenge and begin shaping a nation, a state, and an army that we can all truly be proud of.

Maria Titizian

Maria Titizian

Maria Titizian is a founding member of the Women’s Coalition of Armenia. She is Vice-President of the Socialist International, represents the ARF-Dashnaktsutyun at the Socialist International Women and has recently been appointed as the Director of the Hrayr Maroukhian Foundation. Maria repatriated to Armenia in 2001 with her family and is currently working as a writer, editor and translator.


  1. Ms. Titizian, you leave me with a heavy heart, but hungry for more insiders views of life in Armenia and thoughts on the role of the diaspora in aiding our homeland.

  2. Mary!
    When I was reading your soulful article, I Looked to Sir name ‘Titizian’

    Without knowing your gender. After I completed reading, I looked to your name and realized you are a mother, So I decided to send you my old poem from my Book…
    “Sons: Take My Heart and Transplant”.  I think this sends a few fresh flowers to your article.

    Mothers’ Tears Can’t Dry
    Until They Die

    Why war exists in happy lands?
    In gulfs, in deserts, and in mountains highs.

    Why mothers should cry for handsome sons?

    Cover their graves before they die!

    Why! Why! Why!—and endless why?

    We have incessant creations in life.

    Why can’t we silence  killers’ starve?
    Protecting mothers’ souls of gravely sigh.

    Why should soldiers die?

    Mothers will cry; tears will not dry.

    Till they reach, where their beats went lie.

    Wherever they lay, echoes stay calling . . . why!

    Mothers’ losses can’t be replaced

    In known—dishonest, fiery wild space.

    Which chromosome started cruel wars?
    Criminal genes rein endless crosses…roses on shores.
    The mother beloveds straggled in life.

    Homes distorted impossible to revive.

    Mothers are mothers wherever they are,
    Tears will not dry until they die!


    Sylva Portoian

    June 14, 2006

  3. Dear Maria
    I am back again to read your interesting article,
    It is well know that 5% of boys all over the schools in the world have hyperactive disorders and they cannot continue their education.May be this group enters the army and they go under discipline, receive harsh treatments from their bosses.
    Instead blaming any one this matter should be investigated from medical point of view.
    Because we are mothers we feel with mothers who lost their sons; our letters should reach to those who are in the office.

    We need more mothers to write about this subject as well as more army officers as they know the cause.

    Aggression must end at any level…Y chromosome has a lot to do with.


  4. To Maria:

    Thank you for your writing. As sad as the subject is. Living out here in the diaspora we are often unaware of life in the Hairenik.

    U.S. & other Governments deport many, and rightly so. But we think or would like to think “Armenians” do not live criminal lifestyles anywhere in the world! Sadly this is not true.


  5. Did you say we no longer live  under the yoke of an oppressor the USSR? How can you say that when the Armenian economy is 80% dependent on Russia?

  6. Dear Maria..thank you for your most touching article…

    I got very emotional when I read it….

    My country and my people is very dear to me and i cringe every time I hear something negative, painful or bad happening to them… To think that our soliders perish fighting for our lives and country without proper acknowledgements is just a sad reality.. and it is absolutely unacceptable…and heartbreaking.. but to perish without a cause and simply due to neglect and brutality within is even more unbelievable….. how can we do this to our heros?

    I remember when I was 13 years old getting ready to come to US leaving my classmates behind.. the people i loved and cherished most of my young life were no longer going to be in my life… years later, as all of us grew up, few of my classmates served in the Army.. in 2000 when I went back to visit my family.. i learned a sad news of my first teacher’s son, who was in my classmate and friend, passing away.. the reason was not because he fell during a battle, not because he had life threatening illness but because he came back from the army with his entire nerveous system out of place.. he passed away as someone who incurred physcological issues and that took his young life.. I could not keep my tears from rolling down when I visited my first grade teacher and hoping to see my classmate…. but when I went into their apartment, darkness and death seemed to take over.. my beautiful teacher who was tall and statuesque seemed out of place, unkept.. I felt that life was sucked out of her and left her dry and bony… it was one of the most emotional and heartbreaking moments I have ever experienced in my life.. why?  why did Saghatel had to die like that? for what? for who? the same questions you brought forth Maria jan.. I asked when I was standing in my teacher’s dark room…..

    I just hope that our govt can grow up and get their acts together because it is not them who will save our country, it is the young men and women that risk their lives to protect the Armenian people and the country.. Our govt should kiss the floor these soldiers walk and sleep on..and our media should always share stories about our heros..

    Thank you

  7. More and more I’m beginning to think we diasporans are more of a liability to Armenia than a benefit. You self-destructive people here need to realize that Armenia is a fledgling nation-state. A poor, tiny, landlocked nation surrounded by enemies. Armenia is not a fairytale land of saints and scholars you want it to be, nor is it your experimental test-tube. Like all nation on earth, including the most prosperous ones, there is both good and bad in Armenia. Armenia has enough problems without you complicating things even further.

  8. Without the rule of law, there is little hope for Armenia to become a place we all can be proud of. At the rate we are going, it will take several generations to make progress. The million dollar question is; what to do between now and then.

  9. i don’t know whether to be more upset at the senseless killings of our precious soldiers, the lack of public  outrage in armenia or some of the stupid comments  regarding this truly tragic incident, who is the real enemy, the otars or the shan tznund dramapasht antsnaser, anhayrenaser, leaders whose number one priority is to fill their blood stained bank accounts at the expense of anyone (much like the rest of the evil, greedy world).
    a nation that doesn’t protect its most valuable asset…its soldiers…is anitzyal and doesn’t deserve to exist, my only hope is that every time a skunk  commander/leader, causes the death of someone’s child may he lose his and suffer for the rest of his long miserable agonizing life.

  10. Serving in the US armed forces during the Viet Nam war years, I went through some very tough physical training. Having finished Police Academy training, and after a lifetime of water sports, I was at my personal best, Yet, I found it difficult. Others found it even more difficult. Many indolent parents do not see to their childrens physical development, and these boys arrive totally unprepared. The trainors, the drill sargeants, have a limited time to whip you into shape. Invariably ine in every unit attempts suicide. Which leads to worst scrutiny and therefore ridicule by fellow soldiers. Military life is designed to toughen, prepare for ultimate agression, and train mentally to accept orders and obey instinctively. Self restraint is the toughest thing to accept. Thats where most people have a problem with it. Being the only Armenian last name in a Cavalry unit had its challenges. Despite my rank and stature, I had to fight. There was no way around it. The military is no joke.

  11. Dear AW,
    Why my comment on this article deleted? Did I offend anybody or it was against your newspaper policy?
    Thank you

  12. Dear Shahan,
    Please re-post. We haven’t received your comment, perhaps because of a server issue.

  13. By the way, every country has the same situation, here in the USA, there are similar stories of soldiers, abuse, hidden deaths of soldiers, so this is a problem that’s Universal.

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