Democracy Dies in Darkness Silencing a community voice is a shameful act! BY Z. S. ANDREW DEMIRDJIAN, PH.D.
Posted on February. 9. 2019
In 2019, on Armenian Blessed Christmas Day, I read an alarming news in the USA Armenian Life
Magazine (Issue Dec. 28-Jan. 3, 2019), stating a death threat against Mr. Appo Jabarian, the
Executive Publisher and Managing Editor of the above-mentioned publication, for his editorial
about Catholicos Karakin II and Primate Hovnan Derderian. Out of a sense of being a member of
the Armenian community, I would like to express my own perspective on this event surrounding the
attempt to silence Mr. Jabarian by some of the followers of these two clergymen.
As a disclaimer, let me state that I am neither for nor against the two celergymen mentioned
above for I have not investigated the allegations of their misconduct. However, I would like to
unequivocably state that the death threat against Mr. Jabarian to silence him flies squarly against the
tenets of democracy and of civil society. More specifically, it goes against the freedom of the press.
Since I write and publish community oriented articles, I have come to know Mr. Jabarian quite
well. He has been a consiencsious publisher and a writer to bring to our attention the world events
pertaining to Armenia and its larger Diaspora for many years. For example, without his publication I
would not have learned about what is going on in Azerbaijan’s current scandal pertaining to
Aliyev’s daughters buying a house in London for $75M.
To silence the press, or create a press blackout, would leave us in the dark. Democracies do not
function in the darkness. The press is the beakon to help us navigate through society’s challenges
and opportuities, good news and bad news, local or international events, and so on an so forth. I bet
those against Jabarian were indignant when they had heard about the beastual silencing of the
journalists such as Hrant Dink, Jamal Khashoggi and others in a grusome way.
Rather than be premitive and use the sword to disagree with the press, use the mighty pen to
correct the press in a cilvilized fashion. Shooting the messenger, metaphorically speaking, is a long-
established practice among dictators and insecure politicians the world over. This type of practice is
medieval and it should be eradicated from a civil society of Armenia and its vast Diaspora.
When the U.S. Founding Fathers are mentioned, most of us probably think of George
Washington, Thomas Jefferson and, these days, Alexander Hamilton. There is another founder
whose legacy is not widely publicized nor was a monument, a memorial or a Broadway musical
produced in his honor. Yes, no monument for James Madison, but one of his legacies is freedom
of the press. Madison is credited as one of the Founding Fathers who had put newspaper
protection in the First Amendment. Madison also has left behind words that protect U.S. citizens
in the Bill of Rights.
To refresh our memory of James Madison, Jr. (March 16, 1751 – June 28, 1836), let me
briefly mention that he was an American statesman and Founding Father who served as the
fourth president of the United States from 1809 to 1817. He is also hailed as one of the Fathers of
the Constitution for his pivotal role in drafting and promoting the United States Constitution and
the Bill of Rights.
Actually, even before Madison’s time, American laws had begun to change. In 1735, a New
York newspaper publisher had been found not guilty of libel because what he had printed about
that colony’s governor at that time was true. This event probably gave rise to the idea of the
freedom of the press. When something published is true, then the newspaper cannot be charged
with any sort of misdemeanor or a social crime known as tort or libel.
Media and Press blackout refer to the censorship of news related to a certain topic, particularly in mass media. For example, Turkey forbids the use of the word Armenian Genocide for any reason (Penal Code 301). A media blackout may be voluntary, or may in some countries, like Turkey, be enforced by a dictatorial and oppressive government or state. The latter case is controversial in peacetime, as the civilized world regards it as a human rights violation and repression of free speech. “Public discussion is a political duty,” the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1964. That discussion must be “uninhibited, robust, and wide-open,” and “may well include vehement, caustic and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.” In 2018, some of the most damaging attacks are coming from President Donald Trump and his government officials. Criticizing the news media for underplaying or overplaying stories, for stating something wrong about a place, person or an event is entirely right. News reporters and editors are human, and make mistakes. Correcting them is our responsibility, even core to our job as concerned citizens. But like President Donald Trump insisting that truths you do not like are “fake news” or a slander is dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy. Moreover, calling journalists the “enemy of the people” is farfetched, inappropriate, if not dangerous. These attacks on the press are particularly threatening to journalists in nations with a less secure rule of law such is the case in Saudi Arabia and to smaller publications in the United States, already buffeted by the industry’s economic crisis. Yet, the journalists at those papers continue to do the hard work of asking questions and telling the stories that you otherwise would not hear. Consider USA Armenian Life Magazine which last year wrote about Catholicos Karakin II’s secrete Swiss bank account of one million dollars. Without the press, we would not have been informed in a timely manner. In the Western world, one of the cornerstones of our democracy is a free and independent press. It holds our government, spiritual leaders, teachers, and others accountable and allows us to actively participate in our democracy. We must protect the press as an institution from attacks by public officials and other misguided, uninformed citizens such as Karakin II’s irrationally offensive followers. Even though some of the members of the press have ghost writers, they work hard to bring us the news. If you were to appreciate the postman for bringing you the mail, you should likewise be grateful to the press for getting you the news day in day out. They say news travels fast. It is because of the press. As you may know, there are two ways for the news to reach us: either fast and fairly accurate through the press or slow and usually distorted through interpersonal communications (i.e., rumor). In the Western society, we depend on the press to bring us the news. Therefore, it is a crying shame, if not a barbarism, to threaten the press for doing a fairly thankless job to keep us abreast of what is happening in our world. Common cause believes the press must be protected as an institution from attacks by public officials and other disgruntled citizens. Unfortunately, the free press has been recently under constant attack by the Trump Administration. This situation makes the present a critical time to educate the public about the importance of an independent press that can report on issues without bias and with full transparency. Armenians have to do the same thing in order to educate those who are still cave dwellers. That a democracy cannot function without a free press is a truism. I am sure that Catholocos Karakin II’s followers are nice people as they are free to be loyal to him and to protect his image. Likewise, Mr. Jabarian has the unalienable right to report the news about him or even criticize him. Without the news we the people would be igrnorant of events and issues; witout constructive criticism, we would ultimately regress; without the press we would be in the dark. Not too many of us have the time and the talent to do what the likes of Mr. Jabarian who contributes to our community almost everyday. Armenians everywhere need more like Mr. Jabarian
and his fellow publishers and editors for they give their community back more than they take from
them. This kind of quality of character we should breed into our new generations to come if we
want Armenia to suvive and thrive. To try to silence a community voice is a shameful act —by any
standards or an unacceptable behavior no matter from which angle you look at it.
Again, I appreciate those who are protecting our clergymen’s persona, but to try to silence
the press by threats of physical violence is primitive, misguided outlook, to say the least. Mr.
Jabarian has been the eyes, the ears and the voice of our community for so many years. His
publication has been Armenian nation’s mirror. Among many of his professions, he is also a
consumate journalist who believes firmly in activism. Without Appo Jabarian, Dr. Dikran
Abrahamian, Jerry Tutunjian, Garen Yegparian, and Harut Sassounian to cite a few of our
community publishers and journalists, we would be in the dark vis a vis our nation’s status, fellow
Armenians, friends, aquaintences including our enemies. Join the fight to defend the freedom of the
press and Mr. Jabarian for he has been dedicated to the Armenian nation’s progress and the
Armenian Cause for so long by not letting democracy die in darkness!