This past week has been particularly trying. Here is how it all unfolded…
A YouTube clip began circulating on Facebook about the Gyumri Hotel Palace built by the mayor of the city, Vardan Ghukasyan—a known thug, scandal-plagued swindler, and all-time low-life (see www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxMp96xo_Rs). Gyumri is a city where 6,500 families are still in need of permanent housing, and where the remnants of the earthquake 23 years ago still haunts its citizens both psychologically and physically. The hotel is a testament to vulgarity, to opulence in a city and region where severe poverty is dangerously on the rise, where people do not have the basic amenities for a decent and dignified life. It is a monument to tastelessness and the blatant abuse of public power. I wonder, are the roads leading to and around the hotel paved? Are there proper sidewalks or street lamps? Where and how did Ghukasyan “earn” the money to build this mini-Versailles?
This was followed by “parliamentarians” from the ruling coalition (Republican Party of Armenia) blatantly and shamelessly “voting” on behalf of their absent colleagues in a desperate bid to garner enough votes in the National Assembly to pass the government’s 2012 budget (www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=jnTGTqRKQ00). While they have the overriding majority in parliament, they still had to resort to flagrantly reprehensible activity to ensure the minimum number of votes. Caught in the act of pressing buttons in place of their colleagues, and seeing the camera filming them, they simply smiled and continued.
Why do they express absolutely zero remorse for their unethical actions? Why do we tolerate their presence in an institution that has been charged with legislative power in the country? How can we call ourselves a democracy when the very institutions of democracy are trampled upon and, as a result, are rendered worthless? Is it perhaps because a few weeks earlier, a public official (the regional governor of Syunik, Suren Khatchatryan) physically attacked Sylva Hambartsumyan, a businesswoman in the Marriott Hotel in the heart of Yerevan, and all criminal charges were dropped because she didn’t receive any serious physical injuries and refused a “medical treatment voucher” since he had simply “slapped” her (news.am/eng/news/85589.html)? You see, those who hold the levers of power in this country are above the law.
Of course, there was the now-common news about yet another young woman, Mariam Gevorgyan, severely beaten, abused, and tortured by her “husband” and “mother”-in-law (www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Kyxvw47ciD0). How can a husband call himself a man when he burns his wife with an iron? How can a woman deign to call herself a “mother” when she beats another woman’s child so mercilessly?
And on the heels of all of this came the news that Nareg Harutounian, an Armenian American philanthropist, was arrested, tried and convicted without any due process on trumped up tax-evasion charges (Note: Harutounian was later released). Who was behind this travesty and why?
To top it all off, we’re having a very cold winter and to be honest, I am mad. Not angry, mad—bordering on the insane.
All of this was compressed and presented to us in the span of one week, seven days, a little blip in the entirety of our lives. How do you begin to understand such injustice, such appalling abuse of power, such degradation? I wish I had the answer, but I don’t. All I have is madness. And what am I supposed to do with that?
And now as we’re approaching the holiday season, shops in Yerevan have already put up Christmas decations, Yerevan city officials are getting their crews to put the final touches on their Christmas decorations, stores are advertising Christmas specials, and it would seem that it was business and Chrstimas as usual.
But it’s not. If I had a magic wand to ensure that my wishes could come true, this would be my Christmas wish list for the Armenian nation:
That we raise our voices in protest against all kinds of social injustice.
That we demand accountability from our elected officials.
That we condemn any kind of violence, gender-based or otherwise.
That we accept responsibility for the collective ills that plague us.
That we no longer tolerate an undignified life for any one of our citizens.
That we celebrate our diversity as opposed to creating further division amongst ourselves.
That we replace indifference with compassion.
That we inspire ordinary people to become extraordinary heroes.
I don’t know that any of these wishes will come true in my lifetime. I would like to believe that we will learn how to become a nation, one with pride and intelligence, a nation that knows where it wants to go and how it wants to live and what kind of life it can provide for its people. Why should a single child go hungry and be in need of a decent education or equal opportunities? Why should we not be able to share in the resources of this country that belong to each and every one of us? Why should the law not be applied equally amongst all? Why can’t we build a country where people want to stay and live and prosper and love?
After all, what does it really take to empower a country with barely three million people? It requires having a vision, employing the vast amount of knowledge we have at our disposal. It requires having compassion and dedication and tolerance. We no longer need lofty proclamations or empty words and promises. We need to take action, all of us, regardless of where or how we live. If we could map a common vision for our future and act upon it, that would be the greatest gift of all.