Last month, a handful of military doctors walked into the extravagant Harsnakar restaurant located in the outskirts of the Armenian capital of Yerevan and never managed to walk out.
A violent fight over dress codes, allegedly with the restaurant's security guards, put all of them into the hospital with severe injuries. On June 29, Maj. Vahe Avetyan died after the beating, and an uproar across the country broke out.
The security guards, along with the restaurant, belonged to Ruben Hayrapetyan, member of Parliament and president of the Football Federation of Armenia. Hayrapetyan, who also owns several major businesses in Armenia, is notoriously known as being part of a small group of men who control wealth and power in the country.
Hayrapetyan has a sordid reputation and has been known to publicly threaten to beat and “punish” those who speak out against him, demonstrating disregard for the rule of law, according to local media reports and a petition on Change.org, which calls for his resignation as head of the Football Federation.
In the last few days, Hayrapetyan has resigned from Parliament instead, writing that he felt “morally obliged to relinquish my parliamentary mandate” and asking for forgiveness in his resignation letter.
For activists, however, this just isn't enough. They've organized online petitions and called on the rejection of any visa applications by Hayrapetyan by foreign embassies in Armenia in order to prevent him from fleeing the country. They’ve staged public demonstrations — using the slogan “I am Vahe Avetyan” — to drive the message home while juxtaposing a smiling portrait of the doctor next to a photo of him bandaged and bloodied in the hospital.
Avetyan's case is chipping away at the overarching complacency in the country, reawakening the desire to not only bring the rule of law to Armenia, but to punish those who have avoided it for so long.
This civic action, as the News-Press reported last week, has even spread thousands of miles to the Armenian Diaspora stronghold of Glendale, where demonstrators assembled in front of the Armenian general consulate demanding justice for the death.
Attention to issues like this that go beyond that of genocide recognition and directly impact the lives of Armenian citizens is much needed outside Armenia, as some diaspora perceptions of the landlocked South Caucasus country have been limited to it as a sort of summer playground — a place to be seen on vacation with tour groups, but not one whose residents still struggle with the socioeconomic impacts of the fall of the Soviet Union and the sort of corruption Hayrapetyan is accused of.
As comments on various News-Press articles reveal, these demonstrations are usually looked at from the outside with much confusion. The vocalization on issues concerning countries outside the U.S. by people within it is can be seen as contradictory, but they don't have to be.
For those who left their homes behind for opportunities in America, the countries they descend from still resonate within them, just the same way the U.S. does when one tends to go abroad. And there isn't much wrong with that, especially when it concerns issues like oligarchies that need immediate addressing.
But there's also a responsibility we have to the cities and states we've adopted as our own and now live in. Diverting a portion of our attention to the problems we face in our own backyards will not only bring about integration but put a dent in discrimination while establishing a sense of community and understanding.
Whether it's in Glendale or Armenia, collaboration often spurs positive changes, and we could all use more of that.
LIANA AGHAJANIAN is a Los Angeles-based journalist whose work has appeared in L.A. Weekly, Paste magazine, New America Media, Eurasianet and The Atlantic. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.