Gems, Genocide, Germs

The gems being discussed this week are not stones, but the conspiracy theories that are flying about regarding the germ-of-the-day, the coronavirus sickening millions and killing tens of thousands of people all over earth.

The response to this pandemic has been less competent than what we as a species are capable of. I suspect this is due, at least in part, to our lack of recent experience with a biological enemy that is so effective at sickening us. But even that considered, we still could have done better by listening to the expertise of those who study this sort of thing, epidemiologists and virologists most of all. But, for whatever reason, many countries, and in the U.S. individual states, governmental/political leaders in many cases ignored scientific bases for action and instead relied on their own “gut” (or sometimes even more cynically, profit motives) in deciding how to proceed. Now that the situation has gotten bad, some of those same governments are trying to mask their failures by inventing and spreading conspiracy theories.

No doubt you’ve heard some: the virus was a secret U.S. bioweapon project; it is a Chinese bioweapon; it is all a hoax; it is not as bad as “they” make it out to be; and so on. But it’s not just governments. Wacky groups see it as a government plot to control their lives. Some advocate drinking a bleach variant to kill the virus. It goes on and on. I haven’t been able to avoid encountering these unfounded premises. The only one that I wish was true, and provably so, is the one that Trump was behind it all so he could cancel the November U.S. election and stay on as president. Alas, I’m too sane to buy that one.

This kind of conspiracy mongering is typical of low-information societies. Most often this is the case in authoritarian or dictatorial countries where people are kept in the dark intentionally so explanations pop up for phenomena and events that have no basis in fact. Of course with the internet, that sort of information desert is much harder to create. But, perversely, there is something new on the scene. The World Health Organization (WHO) has labeled it “infodemic” – there is now so much information, true and made-up, available to people that they can become overwhelmed. As a result, they can’t distinguish fact from fantasy and end up in a different kind of information desert.

Turkey is a good example of a place where conspiracy theories flourish and are also floated by the government, including current president Erdoğan. That’s probably a contributing factor to many Turkish citizens’ continuing belief that the Armenian Genocide is a lie, a hoax, a foreign plot, etc. Turkey is a country that has: closed its borders to neighbors even before the pandemic (and now especially to Iran where the virus has taken a heavy toll); flown its citizens out of Wuhan, the epicenter of the pandemic; a president who is playing down the impacts of the virus and insisting on many workers, especially the low wage, continuing to go to work (despite deciding to support them by paying part of the wages of those laid off); millions of Syrian refugees in crowded camps where “social distancing” is very difficult to achieve; as of April 9, 40282 recorded cases of, 908 deaths from, and 2142 recoveries from COVID-19. Who knows what people will believe, especially with their governmental/political leadership also bickering as a result of Erdoğan’s excluding other factions from the countrywide efforts he is heading up. It’s a wonder at least some people in the country do recognize the Genocide.

Now, let’s have some fun inventing a Turkey-based COVID-19 conspiracy theory. Maybe Ankara is behind the pandemic. It engineered and timed the release of the virus in China through the Uighur terrorists it supports such that the pandemic would hit in April so that Armenian Genocide commemorative activities and pursuit of reparations and lands by Armenians would be disrupted! They did this because both the House and Senate in the U.S. passed resolutions last year recognizing the Genocide. How’s that for conspiratorial creativity?

In fact, I’ve been dreading/expecting another Ankara-based conspiracy theory that happily has not popped up. Do you remember when a few months ago, Kobe Bryant, the famous basketball player, was killed because the helicopter he was in crashed? Do you remember the pilot was an Armenian? You might also remember that Bryant was shilling for government-controlled Turkish Airlines. This action is reprehensible, but, that’s life in the cynical debauchery of our modern advertising and marketing. What I have anticipated, and may still happen, is that some Turkish pundit will publish a typical, speculative, conspiracy-mongering article about how the crash was actually intentional and the Armenian pilot was on a suicide mission to “get” Kobe for his cooperation with the Turkish government. Don’t you find this a plausible scenario, given how non-fact-based Turkish media are especially when it comes to matters Armenian and in these days of Erdoğan?

Please, resist the temptation to believe absurd explanations for a simple biological phenomenon. Don’t engage in conspiracy mongering and stay sane and healthy until this pandemic subsides.

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Garen Yegparian

Asbarez Columnist
Garen Yegparian is a fat, bald guy who has too much to say and do for his own good. So, you know he loves mouthing off weekly about anything he damn well pleases to write about that he can remotely tie in to things Armenian. He's got a checkered past: principal of an Armenian school, project manager on a housing development, ANC-WR Executive Director, AYF Field worker (again on the left coast), Operations Director for a telecom startup, and a City of LA employee most recently (in three different departments so far). Plus, he's got delusions of breaking into electoral politics, meanwhile participating in other aspects of it and making sure to stay in trouble. His is a weekly column that appears originally in Asbarez, but has been republished to the Armenian Weekly for many years.
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