YouTube Transparency: Army Abuse Video Angers Armenians – Prompting State Action
“The Real Face of the Army,” a video depicting disgusting abuse in the Armenian military, surfaced on YouTube on September 11, 2010. Within a week, Armenia’s Ministry of Defense identified and arrested major Sasun Galstian, of Martakert in the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, on charges of “abuse of power” – punishable with up to eight years in prison. (The victims were later identified as Garik Harutiunian and Bakur Yeghikian.) The video devastated many in a society where army is often thought of as a worst possible livelihood – unfortunate given that military service is mandatory in Armenia.
Writing on Amnesty International USA’s Human Rights Blog, I brought news of the video to an international audience:
My fellow Facebookians from ex-Soviet Armenia are sharing a disturbing YouTube video (and furious reactions) – posted today and likely recorded secretly – which shows a shirtless man aggressively and repeatedly slapping a uniformed young man, pulling his ear and seemingly instructing him to “bring water” in an (albeit hard to understand) Armenian dialect before abusing another serviceman.
Within a few hours, YouTube removed the video, posted by opposition activist Martimek2008, for its violent nature. Armenian-American Ara Manoogian, however, was sharp enough to copy the video from his computer memory and post it on his blog (and later back on YouTube). Ara, who has settled in remote Martuni (the same town where the abuser hails from!), wrote on his blog:
Do people and organizations in the Diaspora care enough to raise the issue of abuse and mismanagement in the army with the representatives of the regime in Yerevan? Would they demand the sadistic officer shown in the video to be court marshaled for humiliating those young … Armenian soldiers? After all, considering that this is happening on a very wide scale across country, this is as close to jeopardizing national security as you are ever going to get. Wake up, people! Tomorrow it might be too late.
A Diasporan himself, Ara might have underestimated the anger of fellow residents of Armenia, who kept reposting the video on their Facebook accounts (and on other YouTube accounts), prompting quick military response.
As another Armenian blogger, Unzipped, quoted in a comment on his post, Armenia’s Ministry of Defense said on September 12, 2010, that it “strongly condemns preparation and deliberate dissemination of such materials aimed at discrediting and diminishing the reputation of the armed forces of Armenia.”
The statement was unfortunate since it basically said the video shouldn’t have been posted. The military was not the only voice against publicizing the abuse. Ara Manoogian, commenting on Unzipped’s post, writes:
What is even more disturbing to me is how many people are demanding that this be covered up and not made public.
I have received threats of violence if I don’t remove the video in private messages, have been called a traitor and for the most part I am seeing the majority of the over 350 comments to be in favor of removing the video since it will scar our reputation.
I not only think we have a problem with violence in the army, but we have a bigger problem with people willing to face the realities that exist in our nation today, thus presumably an unwillingness to face them head on and deal with them.
I will also add that I have been contacted by the MoD media department, who have clearly stated their commitment to find the man in the video and have even gone so far as asking for my help to do this.
What needs more help, according to Erik Grigoryan’s Hye Diagnosis blog, is the attitude of dismissing human rights abuses in Armenia in the name of national interest:
Attitudes such as “Shush, the enemy may hear you” or “Are you a traitor, do you want the enemy to use this for propaganda?” are unfortunately dominant in Armenia these days. This is a serious obstacle hindering the democratic development of the country. Discussion of such major issues as the aforementioned, domestic violence, trafficking in human beings, sex-based discrimination and corruption are kept a taboo and there is no imminent popular pressure for transparency, condemnation, and accountability, fair investigation and prosecution. The mere public discussion of such issues is culturally seen as a hostile attitude towards the society that is believed to be healthy and functioning. Discussions are seen as “threat” to national pride, moreover threat [sic] to national security, because the “Enemy” may hear ”You” or “We are a good nation, we are insured form such shameful phenomena.”
What is shameful is the notorious abuse in Armenia’s army. According to Radio Free Europe, during one week this past summer:
Six Armenian army servicemen reportedly were shot dead … in two separate non-combat incidents highlighting lingering abuse and other serious problems within the country’s armed forces.
We can only hope that the person who taped the abuse will — at the minimum — be left alone. He is being interrogated by the military police, and, according to his family, is being pressured more than the abuser.