1 Jun 2010
Shut up! The enemy might hear you!
A couple of weeks ago one of the most popular and respected Armenian Diaspora organisations posted a YouTube video link on its Facebook official fan page. The video showed a peaceful demonstration of an Azerbaijani opposition party in the center of Baku that was soon harshly dispersed by the police. A gloating remark on how undemocratic Azerbaijan is accompanied the link. As expected, the post has received many “likes.”
I usually refrain from commenting under Facebook fan page posts, where a lot of strange people engage in endless and useless arguments. I wouldn’t do it this time either if the remark wasn’t an “official position.” So I wrote a comment mentioning that almost all anti-governmental demonstrations in Armenia end in a similar way: the police come and disperse the protesters with the use of force, thus violating people’s right to peaceful assembly and demonstration. So I don’t see why we should be pointing out at the state of democracy in a neighboring country when we have democracy shortcomings of our own.
Soon this comment was attacked by many people (Armenians) who were criticizing me for daring to draw parallels between situation in Armenia and Azerbaijan and doing it publicly, under the scrutiny of the “enemies.” “It can’t be compared with what’s happening in Azerbaijan,” “Even if that’s the same case with Armenia, you don’t need to say it out loud. Turks and Azerbaijanis never criticize each other publicly” were the main arguments against my comment. “Instead of rebuking, you’d better keep up the nation’s pride.” I went on explaining to them that the fact that someone from a neighboring country might be watching us, didn’t mean that we should remain silent on violations in our country. Happily there were other people who supported this point. I would have never thought this was a topic worth writing about if a week later I didn’t come across a blog post made by an Azerbaijani blogger, Arzu, who has found herself in a similar situation. In her blog, Arzu shared her experience on how she was harshly criticized by her fellow Azerbaijanis during a Caucasian regional conference in Tbilisi for speaking about the two detained Azerbaijani bloggers Emin and Adnan and criticizing the Azerbaijani government for that in front of an audience where there were also Armenians.
It is not a secret for anyone that both Armenia and Azerbaijan are experiencing serious democracy problems in this period of transition. Yet representatives of the two nations would rarely confess this fact whenever they have a chance to discuss it. The reason of this “cautiousness” is the state propaganda which actively exploits the “enemy factor” and suggests that we’d better not speak about democracy drawbacks when we’re at a state of cold war with a neighbouring country. Throughout almost two decades the authorities in Armenia and Azerbaijan have been successfully using this method to distract people’s attention from serious internal problems to the enemy out there. Anti-Armenian and anti-Azerbaijani rhetoric has very often kept people silent on human rights and democracy issues at home. This practice becomes especially effective when new elections are on the horizon.
The conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh along with other things has much hindered the democratization processes in the two countries. But the new generations of Armenians and Azerbaijanis should be starting open discussions on democracy and human rights issues. We should be learning from each other, not hiding the problems that are so much the same and known to everyone in the two countries. Happily, there is an uncountable amount of online resources —YouTube videos, blogs and newspapers — that tell the truth about what is happening in Armenia and Azerbaijan. It is useless to intimidate people so that they don’t speak and discuss these issues with the other side.
So instead of hiding it, we should speak up! The “enemy” already knows everything from their own experience.