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A Case Study in “Armenian Justice”?

By Dr. Audrey Selian 

Nothing could have made more a mockery of the Armenian “justice” system than the recent arrest of Nareg Harutunian in Yerevan this past week.

Indeed, it would be difficult to render the words “Armenian justice” more oxymoronic, as in essence Nareg is the 'perfect guy' to charge with counts of ‘money laundering’ and/or ‘tax evasion’. The unadulterated, pure irony of Nareg’s arrest will serve as a powerful tool in undermining the status quo of the system of governance in today’s Armenia. This irony is not lost on those of us who know him and his work, and who will do everything in our power to communicate our knowledge.

As someone whose personal track record in the venerable Motherland is so overtly philanthropic and well-meaning, the very notion that this particular man is capable of involvement in an illicit pursuit of cash is outrageous.

 Could a more patriotic and devoted individual have been wrongly accused? On the other side of the equation, could the counterparties be more unsavory and shady? This simply begs the question whether those in the justice industry actually conduct real investigations before they arrest, indict and sentence people? Or are those acting in the name of justice rather simply following the orders of the corrupt Mafioso ‘du jour’? Since the former is unlikely, the latter appears to be the more depressingly realistic possibility. It appears this ‘investigation’ has been on-going since earlier this year. Commissioners, could you really not figure out who was at the bottom of this problem all these months? Or is the real guilty party making that harder to see, somehow. That's an intentionally rhetorical question.

As a long-time fan and supporter of Naregatsi Art Institute,years ago I attempted in various ways to help the organization fundraise. Much of the financial burden of the organization in both Yerevan and Shushi was carried by the Harutunian family, with the help of a small number of sponsors and donors from within their network of friends and family. Much as I would try to suggest alternative and more commercial routes to fundraising, Nareg would be adamantly against commercializing his work; he has never intended to squeeze a penny out of the distribution of any of the artists or performers whose work he has tirelessly supported and disseminated. Even when the burdens of running multiple projects in both Armenia and Karabagh got heavier, even when I would ask questions about how on earth one handles the kinds of challenges of operating in Armenia – he told me, “you have to care for the Motherland as you would care for your sick child whom you are helping to make better”. This attitude assuaged my concerns. Until now.

To be sure, with corruption rankings from multiple international institutions that paint a bleak picture, and with rumours of rampant impropriety in the vast majority of Diasporan-related investments (whether for-profit or not), the Armenian government might want to consider taking a more pro-active hand in managing the unfriendly image projected to the international philanthro-investment community. Whether the issue is in attracting investors or grant-makers, we can be sure that stories like this, in tandem with the fiasco faced by the likes of George and Carolann Najarian from Boston, Ma., or even my own experience with deeply questionable local partners in the case of MER DOON NGO at its inception – all of these present a real and present danger for the nature of Armenian relations with its Diaspora.

This is in effect what some could term the beginning of a serious crisis of public diplomacy – not at high political levels – but rather at the levels of seemingly trite, colloquial exchange. But these are also the levels at which ordinary people talk to each other. And thus on a viral basis, we as a collective just might think twice before opening our checkbooks next time to support projects in Armenia without deep, comprehensive due diligence. If that due diligence is not happening on an organization we support, it better be happening on the local partner we have chosen. To date, every penny that has been usurped, misallocated, intentionally subverted or outright stolen from the coffers of private philanthropists, corporate investors or donor agencies working in Armenia is the responsibility of those who have made the choice to give, send or invest it. That’s a LOT OF PENNIES. That’s right; the corruption of Armenia is as much the responsibility of us lazy Diasporans and one-eyed development finance institutions as it is that of the unsavoury local few who abuse rank and role.

Naturally, the case of Nareg Harutunian’s arrest has taken all of this issue of corruption in aid, charity and investment to the next level. The one error many might agree was committed by Nareg in all of this was one based on trust; to have had too much faith in the nature of those he may have called ‘friends’ or ‘brothers’, and not enough foresight to imagine the consequences in the event of fall-out or disgruntlement. The moral of the story appears to be something along the lines of: never extend ‘power of attorney’ to a local Armenian partner. Is this really the image we want to live with moving forward? Is this really what is going to help the people of Armenia?

Once again, the very nature of the illegal activity with which Nareg is being charged is antithetical to his very person, and this is what will galvanize us most effectively within the borders of Armenia as well as in Diaspora to stand up and fight this ridiculous injustice.

Had those who executed upon their orders to arrest Nareg conducted even the lightest proper due diligence in scratching the surface of his character and of this case, they would have foreseen the international tsunami of dissent that was about to hit them.

Comments (2)

Concerned Armenian
Thank you for your honesty and objectivity Audrey; it's very un-Armenian of you! lol Btw, Narek has been freed! PS: I think you are very cute
Just because elite mega-corporations like Halliburton don't pay their fare share of the taxes, don't expect the IRS to allow us the people to do the same. Nareg seems like a wonderful humanbeing who got caught up with bad business partners and it suffering as a result. If his business was clean, I am sure he will be out soon. I don't want to see stuff like this impacting Armenia-diasporan relations. There are many Armos living in the hayrenik without any problems. Like anywhere else in the world, when in Armenia, be careful of who you associate with. Most disporans treat Armenia as if its an extension of their communities. No, Armenia is a - nation.

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