28 June 2007

1776) Revolution By Hrach Bayadyan

Unlike certain words that have been removed from the vocabulary of modern politics - `rebellion', `uprising' and `revolt' - `revolution' continues to be used, but with a different meaning, or in a much broader sense, sometimes even without any political tones. . . Therefore, the ways in which in a revolution is achieved are also different. Today, in Armenia's reality, new methods of political struggle and opposition have emerged in political practice, or at least new names - `Alternative', `Civil Disobedience', `Impeachment', for example. Major changes in society have forced people to find new means of political struggle and action.

Theater Square, which had become an arena of the national freedom struggle in the final years of the Soviet Union and was later renamed Freedom Square, was insultingly but successfully transformed in the early 2000s into an entertainment zone. It seems to me that the opposition political movements (particularly Impeachment) are, among other things, aiming to re-politicize the square. If that is the case, then the struggle is not confined to politics alone, but takes on a social and cultural dimension and is transformed into a struggle for specific values. Such a struggle, which is typical of the so-called new social movements, does not just unite people around a political idea (and is not even principally aimed at that) but rather seeks to make changes in the government's objectives and in cultural dimensions which seem to have become entrenched.

Thus, one can assume that the fight is also for Freedom Square, to change its significance, to give it new meaning or to restore the meaning that it used to have.

A Struggle for Meaning It is obvious that space, and particularly political space, as well as the means and ways to organize that space all have ideological and political dimensions. There are some clear examples of the connection between the organization of space and politics, starting from the architecture in totalitarian countries in the 20 th century (Moscow, Berlin) as well as the large-scale reconstruction work in Paris (where using barricades on the wide streets was no longer practically possible) and American university campuses built after lessons were learned from the concerns that students expressed in the 1960s.

In Soviet Yerevan, the areas surrounding the Opera and Lenin Square were complementary, yet at the same time opposite, poles. While Lenin Square was an expression of the state and the capital, the Opera embodied the modernization of the Armenian nation and the national heroes (Tumanyan, Spendiaryan, Komitas, Tamanayan, Saryan) who created the Armenians'rich culture (literature, music, architecture, art). This was an overt space of embodiment and inspiration for certain values and their immortalization, achieved through architecture and sculpture. The Opera, as a building and a cultural institution, and the cultural icons surrounding it were symbolic, giving the whole area a spirit of national ideology for the future (where national had been indistinguishable from Soviet).

This was the area which could serve as the epicenter of a national movement, because that movement was in harmony with that ideology for the future, with both its pathos and its illusions. In that period, Theater Square became the podium for the expression of purely political motives and the ceremonial space for the transformation of the public.

Over the past few years, I have had the opportunity on a number of occasions to write about the political landscape in Armenia, particularly the process of transforming the territory around the Opera into an entertainment zone. I have mentioned two main points. The first is about the rethinking of social space - removing all traces of selflessness and dedication from the space and using modernization and symbolic resources to exploit it for business. The second is the authorities' obvious desire to remove the political dimension of Freedom Square. Freedom Square attracted the attention of the authorities as a public space which was not only associated with national identity and an expression of collective will, but also a place linked to free speech, the possibility for consultation and political debate. It was unacceptable to leave it as a space to be claimed, allowing it to remain open before new political pretenders, who would try to gain public support and legitimacy by occupying it. Thus, from the early 2000s, a new revolution was in place - a slow and unnoticeable one which transformed it into an entertainment area. That transformation is a fact today - we live in a new society. Everything that occurs in that square and the adjacent areas - concerts, celebrations and other events - serve to further strengthen the idea of consumerism and the replication of the current social situation. Certain values have been established, which are seemingly impossible to change through demonstrations and protest marches...

In order to give a space certain values, promote new ideas or reestablish old ones, one probably has to widen the sphere of one's activities (if we assume that the space is as sensitive to similar practice as before, especially since the new values do not unite the nation, but rather divide it).

Let me now list the difficulties which, in my opinion, clash (in the form of individuals or groups) in the attempts to re-politicize Freedom Square or save the last shreds of its political meaning.

Today's society in Armenia is largely deprived of the leaning towards modern ideas and capabilities which existed in Soviet Armenians, and the youth have grown up in precisely such conditions as the ones of today. Freedom Square is no longer selfless and its previous meaning has remained largely unknown to the young generation - politics has been replaced by consumerism. The space has changed, people have changed and the principle to unite society has changed with them. People are a lot more active in their ideas of leaving the country (even if those ideas are only imagined) rather than in thinking about a unified national sense of belonging to their `homeland', as they were before. On the contrary, society is much more divided, individuals are much less active socially, because there are now clear lines that separate different sections of society from each other.

Finally, the increased reach of the electronic media is also a decisive factor. In an era of tens of television channels and widespread use of mobile phones, people are living in a society which is progressively being dominated by the media. Print has lost the power it once had and political movements which do not use electronic media cannot expect any kind of significant mass influence.

to be continued
HETQ Online

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