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.

Leave a Comment

What are your thoughts on the subject?


Anahit Shirinyan

28 Jan 2011

Thanks for the comment, Nigar. Indeed, there's a distorted vision of patriotism in our countries. And it should be challenged.

Nigar Goksel

28 Jan 2011

Thank you Anahit for your thoughtful piece. For what its worth, the positive developments in Turkey are driven largely by brave intellectuals and activists who care about a cause enough to 'embarrass' the country. This is also the case regarding Turkish liberal intellectuals challenging official narratives of history - but I do not necessarily have this example in mind. For their cause to be taken seriously and their demands to be addressed, feminist activists had to make state neglect of domestic violence known to the world, animal rights activists had to release videos of brutality in municipality shelters - over and over again for years, environmental activists had to carry their protests to the world arena etc etc So perhaps we need to set alternative paradigms: real patriots don't shy away from setting higher standards for their own country. It will only work in the region though if more of us dare.

Onnik Krikorian

12 Jun 2010

Anahit, totally agree... unfortunately.

Anahit Shirinyan

11 Jun 2010

Edgar and Onnik, thanks for your valuable feedbacks. Edgar, I completely share your concerns. It is so easy to make traitors of people, isn't it?! Onnik, you're touching upon a very sensitive side of the issue. Indeed, the Karabakh conflict has always been subject to speculations and abuse. Just like Ter-Petrosyan was forced to resign in 1998, the scenario could be repeated any time soon whenever there's a possibility of a deal on Karabakh.

Onnik Krikorian

10 Jun 2010

Totally agree with your post although I would have to add that I am also not happy with how the opposition try to exploit the conflict for their own expedient motives and despite Ter-Petrossian's past position on a negotiated settlement. Seems like this issue alone prevents everyone from facing reality. Tragically, Karabakh has become a playing card used, abused and exploited by both government and opposition alike and while it remains unresolved I don't see much hope for democratization. Ironically, given the subject of this post, the opposition in Armenia now say they WON'T pressure the government because of NK. Go figure...

Edgar Khachatryan

6 Jun 2010

Dear Anahit, thank you for your post. I really liked your approach in your article, and it is very close to my way of thinking. Our Armenian colleagues might remember that just a few months ago we had a lot of discussions in our society and in RA Parliament on exactly the same topic. When one of RA delegates to PACE started to discuss the PACE Monitoring Committee's recommendations on the issues related with the March 1 events in Armenia, do you remember the hysteria that started here when everybody started to blame Zaruhi Postanjian, who was involved with Turkish and Azerbaijani members in discussion of the issue? To tell the truth, unfortunately, for me personally, under pressure she said that they came to her to discuss signing on to start the discussions. I don’t even know if it was for self-protection, but a situation like this brings the next great danger that now in Armenian Parliament they are discussing the proposal from Prosperous Armenia’s Naira Zohrabyan, who thinks that we need a commission to approve whatever is to be stated about developments in Armenia to the outside world. Her worry is that thousands of Armenians are presenting their vision on Armenian developments, which may not be in fitting with the “official position of Armenia.” Her explanation is “why do we want to make our 'enemies' happy with our internal problems? We all have to present the same presentation to the outside world.” So, it is nice that even in our small community we are starting to protest against it. Thanks!

Anahit Shirinyan

3 Jun 2010

Thank you, Ulya. I appreciate your feedback.


2 Jun 2010

I commend you and Arzu for speaking out - always important. On a different note, I want to mention another story. I took part as a semi-facilitator in an Armenian-Azeri dialogue ("semi" because I was only helping out the real facilitators). I faced a situation where I had to call out an Azeri guy (I am Azeri myself) for an inappropriate remark to an Armenian participant. I was very nervous thinking that I would lose all trust from the Azeri side and would essentially be singled out. The opposite happened - I gained more trust from the Azeri side for being impartial and of course the Armenian side was touched as well to see that I was not motivated by nationalism / favoritism. To make a long story short - it was one of the scariest and most difficult decisions I faced during that dialogue but the outcome couldn't have been better. Both participants became my good friends and we all learned something valuable from this experience. The truth is that the new generation in both countries is different - they want to hear about the other side's experience, good or bad. Thanks for sharing.