Rock musician Serj Tankian and other prominent Diaspora Armenian artists on Friday urged voters in Armenia to turn out in large numbers for Sunday’s parliamentary elections which they will monitor along with local observers.
Tankian, Canadian-Armenian actress Arsinee Khanjian, her husband and filmmaker Atom Egoyan and his Armenian-American colleague Eric Nazarian arrived in the country as part of their “Justice Within Armenia” campaign.
The campaign was launched in September with a joint online petition signed by them and more than two dozen other well-known individuals, virtually all of them ethnic Armenians living in Europe and North America. They called on Armenia’s government to end widespread corruption, respect laws and hold democratic elections.
The four celebrities will be among about 300 Diaspora Armenians that will monitor the elections. They will be part of a much larger observer mission launched by a coalition of Armenian civil society groups.
Tankian said he and his colleagues want to “help create justice within Armenia.” “We are not professional monitors,” he told a joint news conference in Yerevan. “We are artists. Our job is to inspire you to turn out and vote.”
“The bones of this ancient proud nation are deep and powerful, but the muscles on these bones need to be exercised, and democracy is a muscle” Egoyan said, for his part. “Without a democratic process we fall into tyranny.”
“We can assume that this election will be tampered,” he claimed. “We have already seen proof of vote rigging and electoral corruption.”
The famous artists insisted that they are not supporting any of the Armenian election contenders. “We don’t have a dog in this fight,” said Tankian. “We are non-partisan … Whoever you vote for we will support.”
The lead singer of the American rock band System Of A Down at the same time criticized “one-party” rule in Armenia. “I don’t like any government that has one political party running the game, whether it’s the U.S. with the Republicans or here with the Republicans or anywhere with one-party system,” he said. “I think there should be a variety of voices.”
“So if you don’t know who to vote for, vote for a party that you think has the right ideas and intentions, even if you think they are not going to make the 5 or 7 percent [vote threshold for winning parliament seats,]” added Tankian.
Khanjian also stressed the need for “change” in Armenia. “If we are to bring about change in Armenia without violence … then your vote must be a vote for change,” she said.
In a November 2016 speech, President Serzh Sarkisian pledged to strengthen Armenia’s ties with its worldwide Diaspora and “seek more input from “our compatriots who have achieved global success.” He praised traditional Diaspora organizations that have rarely criticized Armenian governments’ records on democracy and human rights.
But in what may have been a reference to “Justice Within Armenia,” Sarkisian blasted other Diaspora Armenians who “do not understand our reality … but have assumed the role of judges and are slamming and reproving us at every corner.”