Armenian parliamentarians brawl while the barbarians are at the gates

RA National Assembly, August 25

Another appropriate title would have been, “Parliamentarians fiddle while Armenia burns,” which is my version of the well-known historic phrase, “Nero fiddles while Rome burns,” referring to Emperor Nero’s inaction during a massive fire in Rome. This is the tragic situation in Armenia. After losing a major portion of Artsakh and the lives of thousands of young Armenians in last September’s war, one would think that Armenians both in and out of Armenia would rally together to lick their wounds, strengthen the military and repulse the enemy’s further advances. Unfortunately, the exact opposite is happening. The culprit is not Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia, or anyone else but us. We are unwilling to unify even in the aftermath of a massive disaster. Before we blame anyone else, we need to hold the mirror to our faces.

Ever since Armenia’s independence, we have been boasting that Armenia has the most powerful military in the region; Azerbaijan would not dare to attack us, and if it did, we would march into Baku. Before last year’s war, Armenia’s Defense Minister Davit Tonoyan arrogantly proclaimed: “New War, New Territories,” meaning that if Azerbaijan attacked Artsakh, Armenia would conquer even more Azeri territories.

The former and current leaders of Armenia and Artsakh refused to make any concessions regarding the territories surrounding Artsakh unless Azerbaijan first agreed to recognize Artsakh’s independence. Even though the rest of the world was urging Armenia’s leaders to make compromises and return at least some of the territories around Artsakh, we dismissed all such suggestions. That is the reason no other country was willing to recognize the Republic of Artsakh. Even Armenia itself refused to do so, expecting that others would defend Artsakh’s interests ahead of us.

As a result, we squandered our unique chance to force Azerbaijan to recognize Artsakh’s independence in the 1990s, while the enemy was defeated and weak.

Without getting into the meaningless debate of whether the former leaders or the current one were responsible for our defeat in 2020, I would say, we are all responsible for that disaster.

Since the end of the last war, Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan rejected repeated suggestions that he resign and allow a new leader to take the helm of the devastated state. He insisted that he is the only one who can remedy the country’s massive problems. How could the one who was in charge when the country suffered such a defeat fix anything? But, he stubbornly held on to his seat. Using the state resources at his disposal, he managed to convince slightly over half of those who participated in the election to support him and his political party. In reality, most of those who voted for Pashinyan actually voted against the former leaders. As expected, almost a year after the war, not only have Armenia’s problems not been resolved, but in many respects, they have become much worse.

While the former leaders were not well-liked during their reign, the degree of antagonism and hatred that we see today in Armenia is unprecedented. Regrettably, the current Prime Minister made matters worse by constantly issuing threats and warnings against anyone who disagreed with him. He started his rule by preaching democracy and tolerance, but quickly became a dictator, dividing the public into “blacks” and “whites,” and shockingly held up a hammer while on stage during his recent electoral campaign threatening to smash the heads of his opponents!

In such a toxic atmosphere, uniting the nation against the common enemy is impossible. It is much easier to fight against your political opponents. Neither the government nor the opposition is willing to make any compromises to solve the country’s problems and defend the homeland against further hostile incursions.

Not surprisingly, when Pashinyan came to the Parliament last week to present his government’s five-year plan, several fistfights erupted as a result of which President of the National Assembly Alen Simonyan ordered the security guards to enter the chamber and forcefully drag out some of the opposition members. The Parliament looked more like a military garrison than a legislative assembly hall. Simonyan frequently violated the free speech rights of opposition members if they dared to refer to the Prime Minister in a derogatory manner. He ordered that the speakers’ microphones be turned off and the cameras broadcasting the meetings shut off. These draconian measures are unbecoming of a country’s legislature. The ugly scenes of the fistfights were aired by TV stations around the world, embarrassing all Armenians.

As a result, the government’s proposed five-year plan was hardly discussed. Instead, there were repeated attacks by the Parliamentarians, both physical and verbal.

In the meantime, Azerbaijan and Turkey, emboldened by their recent victory and seeing the deep divisions within Armenia, are encroaching on Armenia’s borders and demanding more and more concessions. Armenia’s weakened leader is unable to resist the overbearing demands of Azerbaijan, while Armenia’s military ally, Russia, is pursuing its own interests in coordination with Turkey and Azerbaijan.

In conclusion, I would like to make two points that are often debated on social media.

At the slightest criticism of PM Pashinyan, his supporters are quick to admonish the critics by saying that the Diaspora has no right to criticize the Armenian government. I reject such objections because Armenia is the homeland of all Armenians regardless of where they live. Criticism or praise is a sign that the individual cares deeply about his or her homeland rather than taking the posture of a disinterested spectator. Why is it that we have the right to express an opinion about developments regarding any other country in the world, for example Afghanistan, but when it comes to Armenia, our homeland, we have no such right? It is also interesting to note that those who object to criticisms of the Armenian government by Diasporans have no objection when the latter praise Armenia. Therefore, the issue is not having the right to criticize Armenia, but not wanting to hear criticism about the Prime Minister.

In my opinion, constructive criticism is much more valuable than the blind support of a leader. Which is more patriotic — seeing something going wrong and keeping our mouths shut or speaking up and trying to correct it? In my opinion, taking corrective action is much more patriotic than remaining silent and allowing the error to continue.

I hope we stop “fiddling,” or in our case, feuding, and instead join hands to create a strong Armenia that can withstand the incessant assaults of the barbarians at our gates.

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Harut Sassounian

California Courier Editor
Harut Sassounian is the publisher of The California Courier, a weekly newspaper based in Glendale, Calif. He is the president of the Armenia Artsakh Fund, a non-profit organization that has donated to Armenia and Artsakh $917 million of humanitarian aid, mostly medicines, since 1989 (including its predecessor, the United Armenian Fund). He has been decorated by the presidents of Armenia and Artsakh and the heads of the Armenian Apostolic and Catholic churches. He is also the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.

3 Comments

  1. Don’t take this as an attack, Mr. Sassounian, but the information here is misleading.

    1) Turkey is not behind this border skirmishes that have occurred since May 12. Azerbaijan is capable of acting alone. We also have an undemarcated border, so this is unfortunate, but natural.
    2) This talk of a “Russo-Turkish” cooperation is honestly bizarre. The people who say this often don’t offer real proof outside of vague statements or regular diplomatic gestures made by the two countries. I get that Russia is unfortunately trying to woo Azerbaijan back into its orbit, but that is not evidence of “Russo -Turkish” cooperation.
    3) I agree that Pashinyan and his cabinet/MPs are abrasive and disrespectful quite often, but in this case, Seyran Ohanyan, while a hero, is responsible for this outburst. The opposition is just resentment driven.
    4) The use of the term barbarians to describe our enemies. While I have come to hate respectability politics, Turks and Azeris have often deflected attention and criticism of their institutionalized hatred by referring to titles such as the one of this article. In my opinion, it will only give them more ammunition to deflect from their state sponsored hatred.

    • Calling then Barbarians might be too polite, considering that Azerbaijan’s criminal behavior could potential place them in a more grievous category, that of War Criminals, and the Perpetrators of Genocide. The following examples can suffice: [1] Azerbaijan has destroyed tens of thousands of Armenian Gravestones. [2] Azerbaijan has destroyed countless churches. [3] Azerbaijan publicly celebrated over the abuse, torture and murdering of Armenian Prisoners of War (POW). [4] Azerbaijan started a war during a worldwide pandemic (the Coronavirus Pandemic). [5] Azerbaijan is ethnically cleansing Armenia’s Artsakh Stronghold (aka Karabakh). [6] Azerbaijan has been kidnapping Armenian Civilians; those civilians find themselves prosecuted for fruadulent fake accusations. [7] Turkey provided thousands of Jihadist Terrorists whom were flown to Azerbaijan to fight against Armenia.
      * I can come up with many more things, but what has been mentioned suffices to make my point.

    • K, I wish you would had signed your name. It is awkward to write to a nameless and faceless person. I only want to reply to your last point about my use of the term barbarians. I hope you are aware that “Barbarians at the gate,” is a long time expression dating back to the Romans. It is also interesting that you are so sensitive about calling Azeris and Turks barbarians. I hope I did not offend you.

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