When something significant happens in my life, I usually remember how I felt about it at the time. To me, the first four days of April 2016 felt like four long years. I would wake up with a choking feeling in my throat. I would feel uncomfortable, guilty, anxious, and everything synonymous to those words. The reason was the unexpected news that a serious escalation of violence had broken out in Nagorno Karabakh (now Artsakh). It was the first major ceasefire violation since the end of the Karabakh War of the early 1990s that later came to be known as the Four Day War.
I have so many memories of those early days in April, but one in particular is the day I went to buy groceries to send to the boys on the frontlines. I had just finished my classes where all I really did was discuss the events with my instructors, and then immediately rushed to the store to buy things according to a list I had seen on someone’s status on Facebook. It was something similar to “Here’s what the guys need: coffee, sugar, condensed milk…”
I was only a college sophomore then and was spending the pocket money I received as support from my family. I couldn’t afford much, so I went to a nearby supermarket and bought things in small amounts to round up to a few thousand drams. At the time, I wasn’t worried how these items would get to the guys - initiatives were countless for people to make donations. Almost every school across the country had started food and supply drives; students in universities were signing up to go to the frontline as volunteers; Mashtots Park in Yerevan had become one of the key locations to bring supplies for the soldiers and the Diaspora had also become involved in this process.
When I went to the store to buy the groceries, I was angry, sad and frustrated with the situation. But there was one thing that motivated me – imagining the faces of the young soldiers when they would receive these donation packages. I imagined them smiling and feeling hopeful knowing that the nation was behind them.
Unfortunately, I am now not sure if any of my donations ever made it to their destination. Maybe they became treats to feed the caged bears and tigers at General Manvel Grigoryan’s house.
Now it has also been revealed that the money donated by others to the Armenia Fund was definitely not used for what was initially announced but for more important causes, such as online gambling.
In the beginning of June 2018, the National Security Service (NSS) arrested retired General and Member of Parliament Manvel Grigoryan after finding illegal arms and ammunition in his private house. In addition to the firearms, the NSS also found boxes of medication and food meant for the young men at the border labeled: “Soldier’s Portion, Not for Sale” in his storage facility. Investigators also found several vehicles in Grigoryan’s private compound, including an SUV and ambulance meant for the defense ministry. He had also kept boxes of supplies which were donations from different schools sent back in 2016. He also shamelessly kept the letters of encouragement by schoolchildren addressed to the soldiers, sent along with the boxes.
To this day, we keep hearing stories of the Four Day War, where soldiers ran out of bullets and ended up fighting with their bare hands (and not many of them survived). We heard stories of soldiers as young as 18 starving for days because there was no food and water left to survive. Instead, what actually happened, was that people like Manvel Grigoryan collected these supplies in their summerhouses and used them to feed the animals in their personal zoos...
In more recent news, the NSS has now also arrested Ara Vardanyan, the Director of Hayastan All Armenian Fund, who has admitted to having used the Fund’s account for his personal benefit. Over the last two years, Vardanyan had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on online gambling, $29000 only over the last week. The audacity that Vardanyan would not even bother using his own account for such expenses is mindblowing to me. I am sure the young Armenians in the Diaspora who were collecting money penny by penny to donate to the Fund’s annual telethon dedicated to different development programs in Armenia and Artsakh did not imagine them going for such atrocious misuse.
When the whole nation came together during the war, we believed that it would be a turning point and would change the way the regime governed, that the guilt they must be feeling would be the change the country so desperately needed. But it turned out that these criminals showed that there can never be a limit to human greed and hunger to steal when one is in power. They proved again that to them, the lives of their citizens mean absolutely nothing.
Manvel Grigoryan and the Republican Party had taken away our ability to dream of a better country, our ability to trust, to feel valued as citizens, as Armenians, as young people, and to count on our government in everyday life and especially in times of crisis.
They destroyed the lives of the soldiers who spent part of their youth in a warzone, and they ruined the lives of the parents who lost their sons and were ignored when they demanded answers. The former ruling party has caused pain, grief and now enjoys the complete disgust of their own people.
Even when we tried to still believe in the small positive changes they were making through organizations like the Hayastan Fund, they did not miss the chance to betray us again.
I have tried my hardest to stay in the limits of logical thinking, trying to understand the reasoning behind these horrific acts, but I have failed. I don’t think there is anything remotely logical or comprehensible about these incidents. In 2016, we lost about 800 hectares of land and more tragically over 100 soldiers, many of whom had not even entered their 20s.
Along with many deeply painful emotions and regret I feel for the lives we have lost, I am finally proud to witness a time in Armenia’s post independence history, where justice is prevailing over thieves like Grigoryan, Vardanyan and so many others.
Before the Velvet Revolution, I had faced injustice in many steps of my life and many of them had affected my own goals and aspirations. It baffles me how we had allowed these thieves to laugh at our faces for all these years, and how we let our country be ruled by these sick individuals. But those days are over, and the young people are done forgiving, forgetting and tolerating corruption in this country.
We have now seen the power of the people. We know the sweet taste of victory. And with the new government in charge, and citizens demanding real change, I hope that we are finally done failing the younger generation. And more so, hope that we are finally done failing ourselves.