And Tie Up Your Own Sharval!
By Armen Kouyoumdjian
kouyvina (AT) cmet.net
December 5, 2009
If you are disappointed that this is not a report about the first round of the elections in 8 days’ time, just be patient. The next one will treat the subject a couple of days before the polls, but I have to warn you that it will be mainly structural rather than topical. The only valid electoral analysis will be the one written after the January second round, when we know for sure who the winner is and what sort of congress he has to work with.
This week therefore, I am referring to a subject that has increasingly bothered me over a long period, and which is now getting out of hand. This is the propensity not only to criticize the way other countries are run, which anyone has the right to do (as long as they get their facts right), but without being a citizen of such places, actively working for the said government to be overthrown, if necessary by violent means. This ranges from virulent media campaigns to sneaky subversion and if all else fails, unashamed military action.
I know in advance that many people will disagree, accuse me of all sorts of hidden allegiances and agendas, and God knows what else. The only allegiances I have is to Truth, Justice and the Armenian cause. To those who disagree I say, please visit a Mexican village called La Chingada, which is in a region called La Punta del Cerro, and book a room for a long stay in a hostelry called La Chucha.
The “Sharval” I am referring-to in my subtitle is a type of light trouser worn by both sexes in many parts of the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. Its characteristic is that it is held in place not by an elastic band or a belt, but by a tie-up lace. In Turkey at least, when someone speaks out of order, it is customary to tell them to “tie up your own sharval”, meaning that make sure you are behaving correctly before criticizing others.
WHAT RIGHT TO INTERVENE? Interestingly, the subject of criticism coming from the man or woman in the street, the media, politicians and business leaders always tends to be “Leftist” or “Radical” regimes. These same people sitting in judgment obviously had no such qualms when unappetizing dictatorships were in power, committing the worst atrocities. A common butt of such criticism is “Islamic” regimes, though the problem goes much beyond that.
I was at a national celebratory dinner at an elegant Viña hotel, more out of obligation than enthusiasm. It was by no means cheap, and though we were in the same room eating the same food as the other guests, our party was given miniscule paper napkins, whereas other guests had proper ones, and they initially insisting on serving only Pisco Sour (to a group including many Moslems) as aperitifs.
However, it is not yet another expensively disappointing dining experience in Chile I want to talk about (I have touched upon the problem several times in the past, and concluded that it had no solution). One of the fellow guests asked me what party was in power in Armenia. Unflinchingly, I answered “the Corruption Party”. For her, that was irrelevant. “Are they Right or Left”? she insisted (a silly question to ask about a former Soviet Republic, but the lady, despite being wealthy, had no culture- Nie Kulturny- as the Russians say. Not only she did not find anything wrong with the fact that we were treated like second class citizens by the hotel, but she had never heard of Pol Pot, or the Peter Principle).
“What do you think of Chávez?”, was her next question. I knew it was a trap, but could not care less. “I am fed up of people always criticizing him without knowing anything about the country, his predecessors, and the present reality”, I answered. “I do not like him”, she said, “he is a threat”. “In what way do you personally feel threatened by Chavez?”, I asked. “Not me personally, but others are”, was her feeble explanation.
We shall talk more about Chávez later, but in a general fashion, who has the right to decide which person or party another country’s citizens elect or support, particularly in democratic elections? Coming from people who have never even visited that country, looked at a single newspaper published there, do some background research, etc..They take their view first and foremost from their own prejudices, and lean on that country’s voluble opposition who get a more sympathetic ear at home than abroad. How did you conclude that Iranian or Saudi women are in a majority unhappy wearing the veil or the Burka? From reading Persepolis by that promiscuous drug addict author Marjane Satrapi? How would you like it if the Iranian air force or the Taliban bombarded your wedding party, because they do not like the tangas worn by your promiscuous daughters (who in Chile, according to a study financed by the French embassy, are all penetrated by the average age of 14 years and 2 months), the ugly sight of their brassiere straps, their disgusting piercings and tattoos, not to mention their big bumsand ugly bare midriffs? Who are you to decide how they are going to run their lives in the Middle East, or in Caracas, Santa Cruz or Guayaquil? Have you talked to foreign Western women accompanying their husbands on postings to the Gulf, saying they never felt as cared and respected as women in their lives as during the time they spent there?
Despite all its failings which are soon bringing it to the level of a mediocre Third World country, at least there is some decency left in Britain. The current Chilcot enquiry is leaving no stone unturned in revealing how the Blair administration, lied, cajoled, threatened and even drove officials to suicide in order to join the US attack on Iraq.
Though I myself have only been there twice (when I was 7 months old the first time, and 5 years the second time), two branches of my family lived there for some 350 years, as businessmen, company executives, landowners and senior civil servants (my father’s eldest brother was Chief Executive of the Baghdad Electricity Company, and one of his cousins the Director of Exports at the Oil Ministry). None are left there now, but we have enough collective experience of the place to know when it was well run and when it was not. At least when I write about something, I know what I am talking about, and I do not get my sources from Rupert Murdoch’s publications or the Israeli embassy cheque books.
Let us now look at two specific cases of demonisation at two opposite extremes of the world: Iran and Venezuela.
IRAN Since the creation of the Islamic Republic of Iran thirty years ago, that country has been among the favourite whipping boys of the West. “Ayatollahs in the backyard”, as The Economist headlined just before the president of Iran visited Latin America, as if only American navy vessels and Hillary Clinton were permitted to come to the area. Things in that direction reached their paroxysm with the coming to power of president Ahmadinejad, who was recently re-elected after an election deemed controversial. If anyone bothered to follow closely the last few elections in Iran, they would have noticed a diversity of policies and options on offers among the candidates which the more-of-the-same Chilean (and other) electorate would love to have. Those “oppressed” women are much more present at top jobs, both in public and private life ( a former World Bank executive told me how the chief lawyer on the Iranian side, in a loan negotiation he undertook many years ago, was not only a woman, but also Armenian, which goes to prove that minorities even Christian ones, are not excluded).
Ahmadinejad may indeed sometimes be a loose cannon in terms of what he says and does, but this is no reason to lie about him. The attacks on the president and his country became more virulent after accusations that he denied the Jewish Holocaust. In fact, if you read his exact words, he did no such thing, but just to please the ignorant masses, let us assume that he did. We Armenians find that accusation fantastic in its partiality. What about all the countries (the USA, Britain, etc..) who join Turkey, itself shamefully supported by no less than Israel, and the Anglo-Saxon Zionist gutter press (such as The Economist and the BBC to name but two). Why isn’t world public opinion being “outraged” at the killing of over half our race 95 years ago, and instead suggesting (like the Swiss) to name a “commission to look at the facts” ? Where are the demonstrations by the Yiddische restaurant owners in Copacabana against the Turkish consulate, or do they only go out against Ahmadinejad?
Now to the second accusation against Iran, that of attempting to build a nuclear arsenal. Last year, at a talk he gave in Flacso, I gently cornered Mr El-Baradei on the matter of proof. He had to admit that he had been asked by others to find it, so far with nothing concrete. This does not stop others to continue lying. Some weeks ago, the dean of an obscure German university, who is also a political scientist, gave a talk at a Viña university. He described both Chávez and Iran as threats, insisting on the latter that the IAEA had discovered “proof” (it has done nothing of the kind). One wishes that when Israel illegally started building up a nuclear arsenal now amounting to several dozen warheads, the world had been so keen to stop them (and there, contrary to Iran, we HAVE proof).
Oh yes, the parallel accusation that Iran “threatened” Israel. Wow, what a sin. It does not matter that Israel not only threatened but destroyed both the economy and social fabric of Lebanon, starves the Palestinians, threatens Iran itself, but nobody says anything, even when they elect war criminals as leaders.
HUGO CHAVEZ In February 1989, a few weeks into his second presidency, the then head of the Venezuelan state Carlos Andrés Pérez (C.A.P.) had to face massive protests from the urban shanty town dwellers against high inflation and low salaries. He sent the troops against them and even the official admission is 276 dead (though to this day there are 2,000 disappeared from whom nothing more was heard again, a figure marginally lower than in the 17 years of the Pinochet regime).
During his first mandate, C.A.P. had managed to rob half the country’s wealth and he was now going for the second half, in the most corrupt regime the country had ever seen. Nobody mentions that when criticizing Chávez, who has democratically won all but one poll he has faced. Maybe because he cared for the less favoured among the population, always a sin among the local elites (viz. Arbenz, Allende, etc..) ? As a country risk analyst, I would be the first to admit that he has made many errors on the economic side. Too many hopes on the price of oil remaining high, and an over-extended fiscal commitment, with heavy reliance on debt whilst lending to others. A public services infrastructure falling apart, and a currency policy which has miraculously survived longer than logic would expect (though no Chilean is in a position to criticize another country’s handling of the exchange rate, when its own currency is subject to the vagaries of a team of manic-depressives).
All the above be as it may, the Venezuelans have elected Chavez, and will unelect him when they feel like it. It is not a job for the USA, the SOFOFA, El Mercurio or The Economist. A recent reportage by Chilean writer Rafael Gumucio, supported by my own findings on reading an opposition Venezuelan paper every day, reflect a free press and debate which Chileans have not seen in nearly 40 years in their own country. Public talk about politics is the national hobby, and on every week-end and holiday, roads and travel agencies are clogged with travelers going to resorts at home and abroad. The real threat to stability in the region is not Chávez but Colombia’s Uribe, with the millions of Colombian refugees of whom some 400,000 have escaped to Ecuador and Venezuela. As Gumucio writes,” this is neither a Socialist country nor a bloody dictatorship. But nobody wants to know what it is”. So, let the well-run Latin American countries tie up their own sharvals and let Chavez swim or sink on his own, but you have no moral, ethical or legal right to actively undermine his regime from abroad.
OTHER LEADERS Of course. Chávez is not alone as a regional whipping boy. Every time a country elects or reelects a popular leader who wants to change things, the missiles start flying. Bolivia’s Evo Morales, who is a shoo-in for imminent re-election, is just finishing a first term during which his country had the highest growth in 30 years, and government revenue as a percentage of GDP has risen by 20 percentage points (over double the US figure).
Ecuador’s Rafael Correa may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I was quite impressed at a recent presentation their investment office gave in Santiago (less impressed by the Chilean businessman whose only worry as expressed during question time was the power of unions). His 42 % popularity is higher than Gordon Brown’s government. Paraguay is admittedly a mess, but then it has always been so. Uruguay’s second Frente Amplio government takes over a country which has managed even in 2009 to have positive growth and lower unemployment. Tie up your own sharvals.