Saturday, August 21, 2004
August 20, 2004

Outside Eye: A non-Armenian's view of life in his adopted home

By John Hughes
ArmeniaNow Editor

Edgar Arakelyan isn't attending this week's "One Nation, One Culture" festival.

While 1,500 artists from 15 countries will celebrate Armenian spirit and unity with dance and song and theater, Arakelyan sits in prison for his role in rallying for (his idea of ) a unified Armenia. Arakelyan has become an accidental cause celebre of human rights' activists. I don't know enough to judge his character. But little insight is needed to see that he is a victim.

You may know the story. If not, here's a brief synopsis: During an Opposition-led political rally in April, police disbursed alate-night crowd by using water canons, percussion grenades and riot batons. During the melee, Arakelyan, 24, hurled a plastic water bottle that landed on a policeman.

For his action, he is now serving 18 months in jail. Just days ago, his final appeal was denied.

Now here's why we're repeating his story . . .

A month before Arakelyan's crime, another 24-year old, Hayk Aramyan, used anillegally-obtained gun to shoot and wound three men at a Yerevan nightspot. (The shooting, coincidentally, was heard by President Robert Kocharyan who was entertaining Georgia President Mikhail Saakashvili at a nearby restaurant.)

This week, Aramyan pled guilty to what amounts to attempted murder. If one man gets 18 months for throwing an empty plastic water bottle into a crowd, what do you guess is the sentence for shooting three men in a nightclub? For Hayk Aramyan? Nothing. Today he can do as he pleases because a court set him free. He might even enjoy the festival, and no doubt could make aninteresting contribution to the "One Culture" theme. Aramyan profited from the one culture in Armenia that splits asunder any notions - no matter how earnestly celebrated - of this being "One Nation".

Aramyan was given a suspended sentence with no jail time because, at the time of his crime (to which, remind you, he pled guilty) his father was amember of the Government, the Minister of Urban Development. To argue otherwise about the merits of his defense is banal rhetoric.

And speaking of his defense: He didn't have one. He didn't even hire a lawyer. That's how confident Aramyan was that being part of the power elite would produce a "Get Out of Jail Free" card.

One Nation, One Culture? Not for Edgar Arakelyan. And not, either, for Hayk Aramyan. Divisive lines are drawn between the powerful and the unprotected of Armenia and are enforced by whorish opportunists who'd rather profit from their positions than serve a people who deserve better treatment.

God bless those who come here and use their summer holidays to encourage better relations, understanding, cooperation, etc. But until Armenians of all nations pay more attention to issues that are at the heart of Armenia's double-standard justice and general disregard for human rights, feel-good festivals are little more than myopic perpetuations of a fantasy that has little in common with those here whose "One Nation" most often betrays them.

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