Serj Tankian: “I think there is an awakening happening here”

“I actually am sensing a grass-roots youth movement more so than ever in Hayastan now,” Serj Tankian, famous Armenian-American singer–songwriter, former front-man of the “System of a Dawn” rock band said in an interview to Civilitas Foundation, sharing his impressions of Armenia during a  short visit to hold a concert in Yerevan on August 12, 2010.

“They were really into their cause and what they’re doing and really working very hard to save the forest and stop the copper-mine from opening” Tankian said, referring to the environmentalists, who met the singer on the day of his arrival rallying support for their cause against a major copper mining project in Teghut, which envisages destruction of a large forest area and potentially poses other serious damage to the environment due to pollution cased by garbage waste and erosion.

Dubbed an “EcoHero” by the environmentalists in Armenia for his February 2010 statement in support of Teghut campaigners, saying “Mining is against our combined interest as a people and nation,”  Serj Tankian once again reassured his support for their cause, adding interesting perspectives of how the environmental campaign is important also in terms of democratic development of Armenia.

“I think that’s really really important, whether on environmental level, human rights level, political level. I think there is an awakening happening here,” Serj Tankian said.

The country’s leading environment protection groups and other non-governmental organizations have for years been campaigning against plans by the Armenian Copper Program (ACP) company to develop a massive copper and molybdenum deposit in the northern Lori region. The Teghut deposit is estimated to contain 1.6 million tons of copper and about 100,000 tons of molybdenum.

If implemented, the project will lead to the destruction of nearly 357 hectares of rich forest, including 128,000 trees. Critics say that would wreak further havoc on Armenia’s green areas that have already shrunk dramatically since the 1990s and result in the destruction of as much as 2000 hectares of forest.

Too much freedom?

Interestingly, there is every reason to suspect, that Serj Tankian’s concert in Yerevan, which was broadcast under the sign “Live” on Armenian public TV, wasn’t live at all. It seems, the “Live” broadcast of the concert was delayed by as much as 1 hour. This might be due to technical reasons. Still, I have vague suspicions, that this was due to fears by the management of the tightly controlled Public TV, that the Diasporan singer might use rare freedom on the air of Public TV to spread unwanted messages about democracy, freedom and environmental protection.

However, Serj Tankian managed to put in a couple of interesting messages. “There are no fu**ing walls to stop armenian people”, “Borders are not important, countries are not important – the people are”, “When the majority don’t think, its not a democracy” and various mentions of the importance of environment were some of the messages recorded by @reporter_arm and @myself on Twitter.

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4 thoughts on “Serj Tankian: “I think there is an awakening happening here”

  1. Totally agree about the grass roots youth movement as represented by the environmentalists and the campaign to stop the destruction of the Moscow Cinema Hall. Now, if something along the lines of Azerbaijani OL! youth movement were also to appear here, I’d consider that huge progress too.

    i.e. a non-politicized movement, not concerned with an unhealthy preoccupation and obsession with national “symbols” and “ideas,” but dealing only with key concepts necessary for any country’s democratic development. OL! have definitely set the precedent for that.

    That said, those other movements are very welcome indeed in Armenia. It’s also been encouraging to see them emerge. In fact, I’ve been saying for years after being disappointed in youth movements here that a true pro-democracy one might well come from an increase in environmental activism.

    As for the quotes, well I agree with one minor exception to the first. It has nothing to do with nations. It has everything to do with people. And only people. Wherever they are from and whoever they are. All that’s needed is new and independent ideas and commitment. That’s all.

  2. Azerbaijan is the last place Armenian democracy fighters should and will draw inspiration from. It’s kind of hard to imagine a real civic movement in a hereditary dictatorship that promotes Soviet-style/oriental personality cults, bans even tiny street demonstrations, lacks a single viable opposition party and sends journalists to jail.
    The Azeris can only dream about having [limited] political freedoms and pluralism that exist in Armenia. Our elections may not be exactly free and fair, but at least they are much more competitive and unpredictable than in Azerbaijan. On top of that, we are usually free to take to the streets, can read newspapers insulting the government, may even see opposition leaders on TV, and are spared the lovely experience of facing statues and billboards of the “great leader” .
    The Azeris are not even close to having the kind of youth movements that were spawned by our 2008 election, Tegut project, and foreign-language school scandal and their influence (however limited) on government policy. So if we want to increase that influence, we need to look somewhere else.

  3. Well, Taron, shows you how little you know about the youth movement in Azerbaijan then. Interestingly, there’s actually a great deal of discussion about what makes such movements stronger — more travel and education abroad and also, as we saw in the case of Iran, more authoritarian states can actually give birth to stronger pro-democracy movements. Of course, whether they will succeed or not is another question. Just to say that as an Armenian you dislike the very idea that Azerbaijan’s youth movements are the most impressive in the region, but that’s the case, and people who have taught those movements along with Hima! and those in Georgia concur.

    The only thing that makes the situation in Armenia different is that there is a stronger political opposition for youth to get involved with. It’s arguable as to which is the right approach, however, and I actually believe that a real pro-democracy movement will come from non-politicized groups such as OL! and Dalga in Azerbaijan just as it will from non-politicized groups in Armenia. This is especially relevant as the real problem is not this party or that one. It’s the entire system which all of these parties come from, and continue to be part of.

    Interestingly, Georgia’s youth movements are the least impressive so really, levels of democracy don’t actually lead us to draw the same conclusions you do. Perhaps you should actually do some research on the OL! and Dalga youth movements first. You might be surprised. Certainly, their use of new and social media surpasses that of groups in Armenia by a long shot, which is also why they have more international exposure and are expanding their networks inside Azerbaijan. Indeed, some European documentary filmmakers were in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia this year. They shot in all three, but their main focus they decided after examining the situation was to focus on OL!, AN, and Dalga.

    As Serj Tankian said, perhaps it’s time for people to start thinking out of the box. For sure, I am amazed when people comment on groups and movements they have no exposure to. Anyway, just as they hit the international headlines last year when two youth leaders, Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli, were detained and later imprisoned, I’m sure we’ll be hearing more of them over the coming months. Interestingly, and unlike many groups in the region, they still continue even with the founders in prison, and the level of engagement despite the risks remains exemplary and impressive. For anyone interested, check out their manifesto in video (English version) form:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxvgaTK4mKs

    OL!s rap anthem is also incredibly good, and nice to see contemporary music being used to change the situation in Azerbaijan:

    Rocking and rapping in Azerbaijan

    Rapping for freedom and democracy in Azerbaijan

    I also like the online video site they’ve set up with AN.

    http://antv.ws

    As well as the Free Thought University recently established in Baku:

    http://www.azadfikir.org/index.php?lang=en

    Anyway, I didn’t say the political environment in Azerbaijan is better than in Armenia. I said the youth movements were more impressive from my personal experience and of the type I’d like to see here. And I can say that as I’ve come across many of them in person regularly over the past 18 months. I can also say, to refer back to Serj Tankian, that they can and do think out the box. And that’s what we need most throughout the South Caucasus, and everywhere else in fact. In a sense it could be precisely because of the absence of a political environment of the type to be found in Armenia that youth movements have emerged in Azerbaijan.Well, Taron, shows you how little you know about the youth movement in Azerbaijan then. Interestingly, there’s actually a great deal of discussion about what makes such movements stronger — more travel and education abroad and also, as we saw in the case of Iran, more authoritarian states can actually give birth to stronger pro-democracy movements. Of course, whether they will succeed or not is another question. Just to say that as an Armenian you dislike the very idea that Azerbaijan’s youth movements are the most impressive in the region, but that’s the case, and people who have taught those movements along with Hima! and those in Georgia concur.

    The only thing that makes the situation in Armenia different is that there is a stronger political opposition for youth to get involved with. It’s arguable as to which is the right approach, however, and I actually believe that a real pro-democracy movement will come from non-politicized groups such as OL! and Dalga in Azerbaijan just as it will from non-politicized groups in Armenia. This is especially relevant as the real problem is not this party or that one. It’s the entire system which all of these parties come from, and continue to be part of.

    Interestingly, Georgia’s youth movements are the least impressive so really, levels of democracy don’t actually lead us to draw the same conclusions you do. Perhaps you should actually do some research on the OL! and Dalga youth movements first. You might be surprised. Certainly, their use of new and social media surpasses that of groups in Armenia by a long shot, which is also why they have more international exposure and are expanding their networks inside Azerbaijan. Indeed, some European documentary filmmakers were in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia this year. They shot in all three, but their main focus they decided after examining the situation was to focus on OL!, AN, and Dalga.

    As Serj Tankian said, perhaps it’s time for people to start thinking out of the box. For sure, I am amazed when people comment on groups and movements they have no exposure to. Anyway, just as they hit the international headlines last year when two youth leaders, Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli, were detained and later imprisoned, I’m sure we’ll be hearing more of them over the coming months. Interestingly, and unlike many groups in the region, they still continue even with the founders in prison, and the level of engagement despite the risks remains exemplary and impressive. For anyone interested, check out their manifesto in video (English version) form:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxvgaTK4mKs

    OL!s rap anthem is also incredibly good, and nice to see contemporary music being used to change the situation in Azerbaijan:

    Rocking and rapping in Azerbaijan

    Rapping for freedom and democracy in Azerbaijan

    I also like the online video site they’ve set up with AN.

    http://antv.ws

    As well as the Free Thought University recently established in Baku:

    http://www.azadfikir.org/index.php?lang=en

    Anyway, I didn’t say the political environment in Azerbaijan is better than in Armenia. I said the youth movements were more impressive from my personal experience and of the type I’d like to see here. And I can say that as I’ve come across many of them in person regularly over the past 18 months. I can also say, to refer back to Serj Tankian, that they can and do think out the box. And that’s what we need most throughout the South Caucasus, and everywhere else in fact. In a sense it could be precisely because of the absence of a political environment of the type to be found in Armenia that youth movements have emerged in Azerbaijan.

    I would also hope that it is the tediousness of that political environment in Armenia that might also see their emergence too…

    I would also hope that it is the tediousness of that political environment in Armenia that might also see their emergence too…

  4. Onnik, perhaps its time for you to actually visit Azerbaijan to witness first-hand what’s going on there.

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