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Armenia: Army forced to act after hazing video circulates online

A video depicting what appears to be evidence of bullying in the military stationed in Nagorno Karabakh, a disputed breakaway territory situated within Azerbaijan predominantly populated by ethnic Armenians, continues to circulate online. The footage on YouTube was later taken down before it was uploaded again as well as to other video sharing sites such as Daily Motion.

Although hazing and non-combat related deaths in the army are nothing new in Armenia, the video came at a particularly sensitive time given a spate of deaths earlier this summer. Unzipped commented on its appearance online, raising concerns and calling for an urgent and immediate investigation.

This video was put on YouTube today and started circulating on Facebook. It titled (AM) Բանակի իրական դեմքը (‘The real face of the army’) and allegedly shows bullying and physical violence in the Armenian army. No description for the video is provided, and it’s not known when and where this video was taken. I can only assume it was taken via mobile phone.

At first, Armenia's Ministry of Defense tried to downplay the video, even suggesting that it had been fabricated. Moreover, there were some, especially among ethnic Armenians living abroad, who instead declared the video to be against the country's national interests. Martuni or Bust, however, not only uploaded copies of the video, but also strongly disagreed.

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.

However, on Unzipped, Ara Manoogian, the blogger behind Martuni or Bust, reported that rather than be commended for the move, threats against his life had been made instead. He did, however, also say that the Armenian Ministry of Defense promised to find those responsible for the incident. Nevertheless, as Unzipped implies in a second post, genuine concern was arguably not shown until spread of the video proved impossible to stop.

When we first exposed the video, they said it was ‘fabricated’ without even preliminary investigation. In an initial statement by MoD there were even threats to those who made and disseminate the video with partly successful but inevitably unsuccessful attempts to erase the video from the Internet.

Speaking before the parliament, Minister of Defence Seyran Ohanyan called the video a “disinformation”. “It’s a disinformation about our army, and I do not believe what was captured on that video has really taken place”, he said. Some pseudo-patriotic circles immediately pointed fingers towards the ‘enemy side’.

However… Only hours after the Minister’s statement, sadistic officer was identified and detained, and we received an official confirmation of the authenticity of the video.

As Unzipped updated its readers, an officer has now been arrested and is under investigation.

While current developments may be considered as a victory for online activists who exposed and distributed the video in the first place, this will only become a real victory for all of us, including MoD, if Armenian officials face up the widespread problems of corruption and abuse in the army and initiate radical reforms to ensure that similar displays of sadism as well as “suicides” and non combat deaths are prevented and dealt with. In the world of Internet, cover up is an outdated concept.

Martuni or Bust continues updating its readers on developments at http://aramanoogian.blogspot.com.

Photo: Graffiti in Yerevan, Armenia, by Garik Engibaryan and Edgar Amroyan protesting suicides, non-combat deaths and hazing in the army via Unzipped.

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