The statement on the utterances of a number of Armenian politicians and several publications in the press on the murder of Armenian officer Gurgen Margarian in Budapest (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 5-11, 2004), signed by three my colleagues and myself, had much feedback in Armenian press. I also wish to correct the technical mistake in the YPC Newsletter: the statement was authored by the leaders of four non-governmental organizations, including Yerevan Press Club, personally but not by the organizations as such. The statement presents our civil position and today, after a number of response articles and interviews, there is apparently a need to re-address the issue and take a broader view of it – this time not collectively, but individually, considering one by one the grudges that were presented to us by our opponents.
Thus, we were reproached for not having earlier expressed our condolence to the family of Gurgen Margarian. Is one to assume that the reproach holds for everyone that did not either personally or in public address the tragically bereft family of the young man, that is, the vast majority of our compatriots? Do the authors of the reproach presume that there is an Armenian or simply a normal human being who did not shudder at learning about the Budapest incident and did not share the grief of the parents in his heart? How moral is it to voice such grudges for no particular reason other than the wish to give a painful kick to the newly chosen victims of killer journalism?
There are even attempts to appeal to our conscience: instead of moralizing to your politicians and media, you’d better lay bare the blatant anti-Armenian propaganda of Azerbaijanis. These people are apparently calling to follow their own example, as they roll a ball after a ball on their own field into the empty gates of the missing rival and exultant because by absentee goals they reciprocate the equally absentee goals of the dashing peer shooters from Baku. With due apologies – we do not need such football. We prefer to express our thoughts and evaluations looking into the opponent’s face, and we create conditions for dialogues to ourselves and anyone interested. We address Azerbaijanis on live air from a studio of Baku TV company and going out into the crowded streets of their city. Or in Baku conference rooms with the cautious and a priori confronting audience. This is the “Tolstoyism” we profess – slapping ourselves and putting our cheeks forth to the others! And at home, in Yerevan, we first of all react to what is alarming in our inner affairs and we think it in no way useful to console ourselves with the worst situations of the other countries.
We are not forgiven for putting an equality sign between the anti-Armenian hysteria in Azerbaijan and several “harmless” expressions of our politicians and media who only called spade a spade. Thus we, as it turn out, give a wrong perception of Armenia to the international community and weaken its position in Karabagh negotiations. Firstly, proceeding from the numerous comparative studies of press and public opinion in the two countries, conducted during the past years by Yerevan Press Club, I can assume the responsibility to state: yes, until recently the Armenian media were positively distinguished from the neighbors by the reticence, a more constructive approach to the problems. But during the recent months the quality gap between us started to narrow rapidly, and the response of the press and politicians to the Budapest tragedy only highlighted the problem. Even if one omits the unacceptable characterizations of the neighboring nation, related in this or other way to the murder of Gurgen Margarian (let them be explained by a strong emotional background), the frequency of publications on Azerbaijan and Turkey that cannot be qualified otherwise than absurd and shameful has to be affirmed. It is they and not the statement of the four NGO leaders that put the equality sign between “there” and “here”.
The xenophobia virus that seemed to fall asleep together with Soviet journalism reopened its eyes. The mind of some Suslov-like ideologist apparently was haunted by an unfresh idea: by the demonization of the surrounding world one can instill the “proper” patriotism and “proper” sense of citizenship.
As to the distortion of Armenia’s image in the eyes of international community, it, certainly, may be present. But this, again, is not the fault of the statement authors, but of those, who decided to distinguish themselves by a strong wording to the address of the “foe”. We live among our compatriots, sense their sentiments and we can reinstate: the ideas with racist tinge are alien to them. And no one entitled the people who call themselves popular delegates to discredit all of us. However, the feedback of the foreign public, contrary to the conjectures made by a number of newspapers, worries me as a signatory to the statement much less than the prospects of dissemination of the above-mentioned virus among public at large. We often complain that it is increasingly harder for the words of politicians and journalist to find a way to the minds of our compatriots. But this is the case when the immunity to the publicly expressed ideas is to the benefit.
To the same extent that it is proper to discuss the aggressiveness of Azerbaijani media not with our own sympathizing audience but with Azerbaijani colleagues themselves, the formation of international context that would favor Armenia in Karabagh issue must be lobbied primarily in the forums, where various viewpoint and positions are presented. However the fervent champions of national interests, known to us by appearance on their own field, very often find themselves “naked” on such forums. Being unable to build up the argumentation, to give a competent reply to the attacks of the other party, they willingly and with gratitude concede the first roles to the compatriots whom they are used to condemning for the lack of patriotism at home.
Another interesting detail. The most notoriously xenophobic pieces of our newspapers are, as a rule, present only in the print versions but not online. Thus, they are sometimes uncomfortable themselves. And all this is written not for debating with the “rival” or the attraction of attention among the international community to its own vices, but primarily to brainwash the citizens of our own country. The information support to the national interests is therefore rather peculiar!
The critics of the “statement of four” did not miss the opportunity to use their main weapon which is always at hand when one is eager to sting the NGOs: “Grant-eaters! They are working off the western money! The statement was ordered by ill-wishers of Armenia!" One could of course remind our accusers that our Government as well as the Parliament and political parties dream of getting foreign funding. That both the state officials and the deputies have been carried away by establishing adjacent public organizations long ago, hoping to get and quietly utilize the same grants. But the eyesore are for some reason the very organizations that, regardless of what part of their activity is funded and of whether it is funded at all, are truly active in public life, are always in sight, feel responsible for the mission they shoulder, strongly respond – as in the case of the “statement of four” – when they sense something wrong. One could also remind that one of our accusers was “nurtured” on grants that none of the statement signatories can even dream of, and she did so with pleasure and for quite a long time. That the bigger part of the content of newspapers that pounced upon us – are a direct political, financially ensured order. And this order is much more morally vulnerable than even the most questionable grant, because neither its source, nor its amounts or purpose are declared.
I am not quoting names and titles because – unlike the opponents – I do not consider I have a right to accuse. Fighting back the ungrounded charges in performing missions from abroad was always a senseless occupation: both during the 30s of the previous century and in the first decade of the third millennium. One only has to thank for not being arrested on a newspaper tip-off nowadays and for not having the dropouts provoked to siege offices, as it happened in Baku (again at a newspaper prompt). At least so far…
The saddest thing in this all is the sincere disbelief that somebody can do something contrary to the petty consideration of the moment unselfishly and because of principles. It is considered proper to throw dirt on Azerbaijanis without being choosey with the words – and these for some reasons speak against it! Why should they? They are following somebody’s ill will! It is the hand, or rather, the pinnacles of the West! Grafted! Any reasons are suitable, even if the accuser himself does not believe in them. But the disbelief is even stronger in the simplest explanation – this people really think so, they are really motivated by concern. During the years that passed after the Karabagh war a deed has become almost completely devalued in our society, even such a simple not conforming action as a public statement that goes out of the general course arises suspicion. May be this is the reason why we are not very successful – because for a real move ahead somebody must make a non-standard effort?
Some newspapers rushed to defend the Chairman of the Parliament Committee of Foreign Affairs Armen Rustamian and the head of the faction of Republican Party Galust Sahakian, named in the statement. I am ready to assume that they are far from being the main “hawks” among the representatives of our political elite, and the authors of the statement did not aim at discrediting them. But it is the words they uttered in the context of their positions that deserved the strictest assessment. The figures of this rank must commensurate the political dividends that they seemingly acquire from anti-Azerbaijani rhetoric with the consequences of their statements for the society and the country.
With all the negativism that poured from the newspaper pages, I am inclined to consider the opinion exchange (even if confined to labeling) on the problem to be crucially important for the political and moral climate of the past months. Also, in the assessments of our opponents valuable thoughts were voiced. Even the fact that the discussion centered on the terms “racism” and “chauvinism”, used in the statement, mean the issue is urgent. The concepts learned by the textbooks of historical materialism and history of Communist Party of USSR (if “racism”, then “Ku-Klux-Klan”, if “chauvinism”, then “Great Russian”) in reality need a modern reconsideration, adequate to international political terminology. Parallelly, a similar discussion evolved in Azerbaijani press. The appeals in Baku to make an official condolence to the family of Gurgen Margarian, counteract to the heroization of his murderer, Ramil Safarov, show that even in this situation, most unfavorable for the relations of the two countries, dialogue and attempts to find common ground are possible.
President of Yerevan Press Club