Artists in diaspora demand justice in Armenia

Many Armenian artists and intellectuals living in diaspora came together under a platform called “Justice Within Armenia” and launched a campaign for criticizing the anti-democratic practices in Armenia. So far, more than 2,600 people have supported the campaign.

For many years, Armenian Diaspora was thinking that “Armenian government is our government in spite of everything, we shouldn't criticize it. Our real enemy is our neighbors.” Now, this attitude has started to changed. In the recent years, with the popular protests in Armenia, intellectuals and artists in Armenian Diaspora started to criticize the Armenian government more and more. 

On September 21, Armenian Republic celebrated the 25th anniversary of its independence. During these symbolic days, many prominent figures from diaspora came together and launched a campaign called “Justice Within Armenia” in Initiators of this campaign include famous rock band System of a Down member Serj Tankian, artist writer Vahe Berberian, Canadian director Atom Egoyan, actress Arsinee Khanjian, director Eric Nazarian, musician Ara Dinkjian, Armenian citizen soprano Hasmik Papian, actor Hrant Tokhatyan, Canadian cinematographer, photographer Norayr Kasper and many other prominent journalists, artists, writers and historians.

Demanding change in terms of human rights and democracy in Armenia, the statement of the campaign, which has been supported by many in social media, is as the following:

"We, as Armenians, residing in Armenia and throughout the diaspora, are collectively committed to immediate change and justice in Armenia. In the wake of yearly protests and recent upheavals during the spring and summer of 2016 that resulted in gross violations of human and civic rights,

We say
NO to systematic corruption, monopolies, judicial inequality, police brutality, partisan politics, unequal rights, national depopulation, and elections tainted by fraud, all of which have contributed to the ongoing unrest.

We say
YES to the equality of all people, the fundamental preservation and protection of human rights, direct engagement in fair and transparent elections, respect for the rule of law, fair wages, separation of powers, a free press and advocacy for the disenfranchised. We say yes to tangible, democratic change through civic engagement with the citizenry of Armenia.

As a global community of Armenians, we would like Armenia's political leaders to embody integrity, accountability, wisdom, intelligence, diplomacy, compassion, effectiveness and visionary thinking in addressing the pressing needs of the people of Armenia, thereby securing an egalitarian, just and constructive path towards real democracy where every voice matters.

Justice Within Armenia is a coalition of concerned Armenians around the world who believe in standing in solidarity with the people of Armenia and being present as eyewitnesses and monitoring free and fair elections while actively engaging with the Armenian populace in contributing to the present and future of our nation. We need to visualize an egalitarian state worthy of the resilience of our people and achieve it. Given our unique values and character, Armenia can and should become a country of opportunity, creativity, democracy and hope in a region rife with turmoil. The alternative is unthinkable."

"This step is not related to politics"

Initiators of the campaign demand a fair and transparent election on April 2017. Some of the supporters stated that they will go to Armenia and observe the election on April.

Speaking to, Armenian branch of Free European Radio, Atom Egoyan said that the campaign supporters don't side with any political party and they just want democratization in Armenia: “I am not a member of any political party. And this initiative is not related to politics. Only thing we want is democratization in Armenia. Armenian citizens will vote; we are not voters. However, we will be monitoring whether their right to vote is violated or not. As representatives of the diaspora, we demand fair elections and want to see Armenian citizens' approval of this election.” He also added that this is not a radical step and it doesn't violate the constitutional law.

On September 22, Chair of Unity Party and former Minister of Interior Vartan Oskanian and Heritage Party Chair Raffi Hovannisian also joined the campaign. The initiators of the campaign note that they feel a need to launch such a campaign after the incidents took place in July. On July, protests started in Armenia, after a police station in Erebuni was raided. During the detentions started right after the raid, campaign supporter Arsinee Khanjian was held in custody for 3 hours. She said, "After I was taken into custody, I started to question everything. I am a part of a people and what was happening to me was directly affecting my people."

Arsinee Khanjian will monitor the election. Atom Egoyan also stated that he will try to be there. Serj Tankian also said that he wants to be in Armenia during the election. 

"You don't know know whether you actually won the majority of votes”

"Justice Within Armenia" is not the first initiative that criticizes Armenian government. World famous rock singer Serj Tankian had criticized the current political situation in his open letters addressed to President Serzh Sargsyan.

In his letter written after the presidential election on February 2013, Tankian wrote: “Victory means getting the most votes, of course, in a democracy. Based on the overwhelming reported fraud from many NGOs, irrespective of the OSCE report, it seems like it would be scientifically impossible for even you, Mr. President, to know whether you actually won the majority of votes. That’s quite funny isn’t it? That you, the President of Armenia are not really sure, deep inside, whether you are the true chosen leader of your people or not. That would really bother me personally. If I wanted to lead my people, I would really want them to make that decision for themselves, because I respect my people and that is their decision to make."

President Sargsyan responded to Tankian's letter: "You asked me if I was really sure, deep inside, whether I was the true chosen leader of our people or not. I respond to it that I have always been sure in whatever I have done be that battle command or organization of elections. One needs to feel Armenia, Serj, and it is not possible to feel it siting in an expensive office in downtown Yerevan, even if one sits there for too long. Armenia can be felt standing on the rocky land of a hamlet that struggles to continue its eternal path. Armenia can be felt of the green of flowers planted at a cemetery of our freedom fighters. Armenia spoke up, Serj, believe me."

However, Tankian wasn't pleased by this response and wrote another letter: "You have not answered any of my questions nor addressed any of the issues I brought up in my letter directly. I think you have done a great job at securing Armenia's borders and dealing with the extremely sensitive and difficult situation presented by the realities after the Karabakh war. If you remember, I told you that in person and commended your efforts in that regard. That said, security cannot be the scapegoat to diffuse attention from the inequities and injustices in our homeland. Republicans in the U.S. have done that for too many elections and no one seems to buy it anymore." Serj Tankian had criticized Armenian government many times in concerts and social media.

Tankian's critical letters had been discussed and supported in Armenia. The recent campaign also gave way to debates. Armenians are talking about whether this step of diaspora will create a change in the election.  


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Varduhi Balyan