Opinion: Post-war debate takes ‘lousy’ shape in Armenia

Public debate in Armenia centered around corruption and blunders in the political-administrative system and the military that purportedly led to heavy casualties in last month’s war against Azerbaijan has been gradually degrading into spiteful speculation rather than useful analysis.

While during the first days after the April 2-5 hostilities in Nagorno Karabakh civil activists on social media and in street protests were raising specific issues like Russian deliveries of deadly weapons to Azerbaijan and alleged under-armament of Armenian troops at the frontlines, in subsequent weeks the level of discussion dropped dramatically, with criticism over form clearly prevailing over subject-matter.

Still in April social media would pick on officials’ figurative language like the reckless use of the idiom “fighting till the last bullet” that sparked a “Soldiers Would Run Out of Ammo at the Frontlines” debate that Defense Ministry officials said was absolutely improper, as was improper – according to the military authorities – a  Facebook campaign to raise money for raincoats for the troops through a spell of rainy weather in early May.

The controversy of the past few days, however, has clearly gone beyond general concerns for the army and rather focused on the attitude of separate well-known public figures towards the military and the nation.

United States-based Armenian pop singer Armenchik (Armen Gondrachyan) drew wrath from many Armenians by posting on his official website a video of his handing out gifts to soldiers marshaled at a military unit in Karabakh for the singer’s arrival. Critics claimed the ceremony was humiliating for the soldiers and was used by the 35-year-old singer for promotional purposes.

Armenchik did not comment on the controversy, but one of his confidantes told a local paper that the singer meant well and simply wanted to contribute something to the armed forces, while the way he did it wasn’t his choice, but rather the way arranged by the unit’s commanders. A few days before his controversial gift-presentation ceremony Armenchik reportedly gave a concert in Moscow and used the proceeds for the soldiers’ charity.

The latest target of criticism in Armenia, however, has been Radik Martirosyan, the president of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia. The scholar found himself in hot water over a single word used in an interview with the Haykakan Zhamanak daily in which he tried to explain why Armenia’s military industry was not making headway despite the nation’s needs for modern weaponry.

“There is a cut-throat competition on the world’s armaments market and every lousy country cannot enter this market,” Martirosyan said in remarks that immediately sparked a public outcry and forced Education and Science Minister Levon Mkrtchyan into damage control.

Citing 5th-century Armenian historian Movses Khorenatsi, Mkrtchyan said that Armenia is a “small, but proud country”. And that, he implied, was probably what the academician should have said…

Given the sensitivity of all the matters connected with the army and wartime public administration in Armenia today, it is likely that this kind of debate over poor choice of words or wrong deeds by public figures will continue, with virtually no one insured against falling into disrepute for an inadvertent remark or action. But while freedom to express one’s opinion, to criticize and respond to criticism is crucial for strengthening Armenia’s state foundations in the face of a possible new aggression by Azerbaijan, those willing to engage in public discourse should ultimately make sure that they can “see the forest for the trees”.