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Hrant Gadarigian

Wall Street v Opera Square – Mobilizing the Masses in Armenia

Against the backdrop of the growing “Occupy Wall Street” grassroots protest that started in New York and have now spread to other American cities and towns worldwide, the state of ‘people power’ in Armenia can be described as comatose.

The non-stop sit-ins at Opera Square launched by the HAK (Armenian National Congress) have managed to attract a mere hundred or so supporters sleeping out in the 30 or so tents set up under the Tumanyan and Spendiaryan Statutes.

At times, the placid scene reminds me more of a static assembly of individuals than those ostensibly calling for the overthrow of the present government in Armenia.

I am not for a minute knocking the dedication of those camping out nightly at the Square but would like to see just a bit more spontaneous engagement.

The Wall Street protest began as a leaderless movement of people expressing their rage over corporate greed, the collusion of the government with financial institutions, bailouts of the banks and investment companies at the expense of taxpayers.

In a word, these protestors are saying enough is enough. The long held maxim of “profits over people” that has driven Wall Street for so long and which was a contributing, if not main, factor for the 2008 economic crisis, needs to be altered.

The other day I visited Opera Square at around 3pm. HAK had announced that a series of ‘public forums’ were to be held on a number of socio-economic, political and cultural challenges now facing Armenia.

I wanted to see what it was all about.

I headed for a group about to discuss the issue of ‘creating a civil discourse/public space’ in Armenia – a true public forum where activists and disgruntled average Armenians could participate in true democratic debate and dialog.

The group was being lead by Nikol Pashinyan from HAK, Ashot Manoucharyan, a veteran political activist and former member of the Karabakh Movement, and Jirayr Sefilyan, a representative of the Sardarapat Movement.

I was pleasantly surprised as well as disheartened by what I witnessed.

On the positive side, I can say it was one of the rare occasions that I actually saw people engaged in heated debate on a wide range of issues – how to advance the overall opposition movement in Armenia, issues of leadership and organization, tactics, etc.

Sadly, as so often occurs, the discussion ultimately devolved into a shouting match as to who were the true ‘revolutionaries’ and ‘leaders’. Few were ready to hear any objective critique of their own positions.

But it’s a beginning. For this is democracy in action, with all its spurts and stops, warts and all.

As I follow what’s going down on Wall Street, I am struck by the fact that the movement has no visible leaders. You’ll see senior citizens, students, anti-war activists, doctors, environmentalists, gays and lesbians, all converging under an amorphous banner of democratic dissent against ‘business as usual’.

Why has such a convergence of the dispossessed and dissatisfied masses in Armenia, those who are ready at the drop of a hat to express their anger and opposition to the way Armenia is being misgoverned and the folks responsible, not yet manifested itself?

I guess this remains the proverbial riddle to be analyzed and solved.

After the forum broke up, the HAK general “meeting” got started.

True to form, speakers approached the platform and gave speeches.

During the official presentations, a group of about 100 HAK supporters entered the. They had walked to Yerevan because public transportation to the capital had been shut down by the authorities.

It took them several days to walk from outlying towns like Talin, Gyumri and smaller communities hundreds of kilometres distant.

One of them should have been afforded the opportunity to address the crowd; a minute just to say ‘hello, we made it.’ It didn’t happen.

Nikol exhorted the few thousand present to continue the struggle, not to give in. He was preaching to the converted.

It was then the turn of HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosyan to address the crowd.

He launched into a rambling and academic discourse on the demographic challenges facing Armenia starting from the hoary antecedents of the Armenian people. I guess Ter-Petrosyan figured he was lecturing at a general introductory history course in some college.

I, along with many others, left Opera Square.

People had come to make history, not to listen to a lesson on history.

Hopefully, those leading the political opposition in Armenia will learn a few lessons from Wall Street and the Arab Spring regarding democratic engagement and mobilization of the masses.

With any luck, what I saw that day at that forum in Opera Square will signal the start of real civil engagement and democratic discourse.

The new ‘leaders’ of the opposition in Armenia will surface from the midst of this nascent movement for democratic discourse that is courageous enough to encompass all those seeking fundamental and systematic change in Armenia.

As the unfolding events on Wall Street clearly prove, leaders come and go...The people hold the real reins of power.

Comments (2)

Hrant, Your points are proper and correct as well
Mr. Gatarigyan, with all due respect to you, Hayastan is not U.S. Hayastantsis have a lot less (If any) experience in demonstrations .or cicil disobedience This subject I know, because I have, with many thousands, have participated against the war in Vietnam, Iraq, for free speech, human rights, animal rights and environmental issues. Please be more understanding where and how these mostly poor people are coming to these demonstrations. Part of the problem in Hayastan is the same as the problematic better off liberal intellectuals in United States, who sit on the sidelines and criticise rather than act on their beliefs.

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