Sunday, February 26, 2012

Diasporan Armenians, Oligarchs, Environmental Activists and Eurovision

Today I was overcome with a feeling of powerlessness. The smallness of me in the vastness of the universe. But more specifically, the smallness of me in this tiny country. Because this tiny country (barely on the map) is full of two kinds of people — those who are barely surviving and those who are thriving. And the great expansive divide between the two is what was eating at me today.

As anywhere so too in Armenia, I wouldn’t be amiss to say that those who are thriving are the ones pulling the strings. Small mom-and-pop corner stores shut down every day while large chain supermarkets sprout like mushrooms in the wild. Foreign-owned businesses that, though they offer jobs for residents and even pay taxes (though who knows in whose pockets this money goes?), are, nevertheless, foreign owned and Armenia is just one more country to do business in among many others around the world. Diasporan Armenians who come here and live better than they ever would back home, all the while feeling self-righteous and perhaps proud, believing they are doing good for the motherland, when really what they’re doing is good for themselves. And many others, just passing through, who’ve decided to volunteer or do research or an artist residency for a brief stint before going back home. A cultural excursion or an anthropological study.

And it makes me wonder about the future of a place where the wealthy Diasporans and local oligarchs control which way the tides turn, where options are limited and the majority live from month to month. And I say this as environmental and civic activists protest the construction of shops in a park in downtown Yerevan (one of the few remaining green spaces) — the same group that was able to secure recent victory with respect to saving Trchkan Waterfall. They are not tied to any political parties or groups as far as I know (which makes it all the more amazing); however, a small core group is zealously nationalist, singing Dashnak [Armenian Revolutionary Federation] songs and calling anyone perceived as the enemy “a Turk” (not to mention that one of these activists is also been known to utter homophobic remarks).

But I digress.

At the end of the day, money talks and shops will be built and this country will see more mining operations destroying the environment while lining the pockets of state officials. And coupled with the environment crisis is the emigration crisis: in one mining town, residents have confessed that their village is empyting as more and more people go to Russia to find work, but, they say, at least mining has created jobs so they can stay and support their families.

There is so much going on at any one moment in this tiny country that it’s enough to make my head burst. For example, how the news is twisted and you can never trust what you read — the latest example: headlines that shock (“Armenia will not participate in Eurovision”) but which are sensational and not completely true. In this case, the story was actually about a group of Armenian artists who issued a statement saying they refuse to participate in Eurovision when it is held in a country (Azerbaijan) that refuses to make strides in the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process by not withdrawing its snipers from the frontlines. And so when I pointed out that it is not in fact accurate to say that this statement by a group of artists means Armenia will not participate, I am told that it is a set-up, that this script has already been written — that is, an impetus was needed, was created, so that Armenia’s public broadcaster (the body responsible for deciding Armenia’s participation in the song contest) can now comfortably and easily say they are heeding the call of “these artists” and so Armenia won’t be participating in Eurovision this year. And, apparently, everyone knows this already — it’s just not official yet. But still I say, this is inaccurate and unacceptable in journalism.

It’s enough to make your head hurt.

There’s so much more to be said and so much more that took up residence in my mind today, but I’ll leave it at this for now.

1 comment:

  1. Theatre critic, journalist Nune Hakhverdyan recently published a piece comparing the authorities' machinations in both the construction of shops in Mashstots Park in central Yerevan and the story with Armenia not participating in Eurovision. So true. More here: