The death of Artur Sargsyan yesterday in a Yerevan hospital should serve as a wake-up call to voters in Armenia on the eve of the April 2 parliamentary election.
Here’s a young man, a veteran of the Artsakh War, whose only crime was to bring food to members of the Sasna Dzrer group who seized and held a Yerevan police station for two weeks last July.
Nicknamed the “bringer of bread”, Sargsyan was subsequently arrested and released, and then arrested in February of this year, allegedly for not showing up to a court hearing.
He was held in pre-trial detention and later went on hunger strike for three weeks.
Sargsyan, seen by many as a symbol of resistance to the ruling regime’s heavy-handed response to popular protests last summer, took direct action according to a set of deeply held personal principles.
Surely, Sargsyan realized that by crossing the police cordon his life would no longer be the same. His was a conscious response to developments unfolding around him.
The regime toyed with his life, bouncing him around the legal system like a ball. The police hounded him and his family members. They wouldn’t make life easy for this lone rebel.
Everyone in Armenia knows the courts, the judges and the prosecutor’s office are mere enforcement levers of the current regime. They performed their roles to a tee.
One evening, as I strolled through Yerevan’s Liberty Square, I saw thirty or so young people camped outside. They were staging a sit-down strike demanding the release of Sargsyan from pre-trial detention. Sargsyan was into his second week on hunger strike.
That seemed to be the extent of public solidarity with the “bringer of bread”.
Now, after his death, many have expressed their condolences and regrets for not mobilizing while Sargsyan was alive. It’s a broken record of missed opportunities and a shortage of human compassion.
Last night, several hundred citizens took to the streets, expressing their anger at the tragic turn of events. They called Artur a victim of the regime and demanded accountability.
A colleague at Hetq rightly pointed out that in Armenian culture bread symbolizes life, sustenance, and hospitality towards strangers. My friend says that Artur was devoured by the regime; the meat-eaters (մսակեր).
As to how Sargsyan’s victimization will affect voters on April 2 is anybody’s guess. Will voters realize that they are victims as well; daily being victimized by an illegitimate government that gives a rat’s ass for their welfare?
And what are the alternatives for voters who realize their plight and the dead-end politics of the past decade? The pickings are slim indeed. Sycophants, stooges, starry-eyed nationalists, tainted politicians, regime collaborators…take your pick.
Yes, go cast your ballot according to your conscience in the belief that you are making a difference. Defend your vote. But, please, don’t stop there. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ve done your civic duty.
Turn your crocodile tears and handwringing into something much more empowering!
Follow Artur’s example, and express your humanity, your indignation, in ways so striking and unique that others will take notice in turn.
It’s a game of personal courage and conviction.