Thursday, June 16, 2005

Dissidents & Expectations

Tim over at Democracy Guy recounts his time working in Armenia for the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and his various encounters with the prominent Soviet dissident, Paryur Hayrikian.

Paryur Hayrikian spent 17 years in the gulag. I met him when I worked with NDI in Armenia. At first, I was just in awe. Here I was, some American kid in a suit sitting across from a goateed, eloquent, genuine hero for his country. His political party at the time, the Self-Determination Union (SDU), was one of our close training partners. They were a middle to small sized party, gaining around 10-15% of the vote as a rule.


But it got worse. On election night, while I observed a notorious vote count featuring, among other things, 354 stuffed ballots in one precinct, Hayrikian signed his name to a letter from the opposition candidates condemning the result of the first round. Two days later, he issued a statement removing his name from the letter. It was a stunning reversal, particularly for a man who’d spent his entire life building the credibility that his name brought to such a letter. He’d been bought off by Kocharian with a meaningless job that would put him in a new suit, a Volga with a driver, and an office, at the cost of shutting his mouth, and the integrity he earned suffering in a gulag.

I interviewed Hairikian in June 1998 when I was visiting Armenia for the London-based Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) to research the Yezidi minority in the republic. Despite his position as presidential advisor on human rights, Hairikian seemed more interested in evading my specific questions and talking about constitutional reform and pushing his own book of poetry.

I also remember that people in Yerevan didn't have much respect for what they said was his silence when LTP sent the tanks out onto the streets in 1996.

Anyway, Tim's full account can be read online here.

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