April 24
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Plenty of unfortunate things have long become commonplace in Armenia. Things that used to be shocking in the past, or were deemed unacceptable, or would have incited a revolt, have grown into norms in our time. While one would assume it's no longer possible to cause greater distress to Armenian society, which has already become accustomed to the widespread decline of values, such distress still occurs from time to time, when another red line is being crossed.

A similar shock rattled the society on the early morning of July 29 when news of the arrest of Sergey Smbatyan, the Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Armenian State Symphony Orchestra, became known. This revelation was particularly distressing for cultural workers and those familiar with Smbatyan's artistic contributions.

The arrestant and then the detainee was a world-renowned Armenian conductor: a man, who, together with his orchestra, had presented the Armenian culture gloriously on prestigious stages in Vienna, Berlin, New York, Salzburg, London, Prague, Stuttgart, Munich, Moscow, Hamburg, Dubai and elsewhere; a man, who had conducted the symphony and philharmonic orchestras of Berlin, Warsaw, Jerusalem, Prague, Dresden, among others, and who was the Chief Conductor of the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra. It is through his art, that many foreigners have discovered Armenia for themselves. Smbatyan has founded and successfully runs the Armenian Composing Art Festival, the Khachatryan International Festival, the "Armenia" International Festival, and the Penderetsky Contemporary Music Festival, which annually host great virtuosos of global renown in Armenia. Honored Artist of Armenia, Sergey Smbatyan is also Chevalier of the “Order of Arts and Letters” of France, as well as a UNICEF National Ambassador.

It wasn't without reason that the information about Smbatyan's detention resonated far beyond Armenia as well. His arrest was condemned not only by prominent figures from various sectors within Armenia, but also by internationally renowned, who made public appeals to the Armenian leadership urging for his immediate release.

Now, let's take a look at what we were told with regard to the case itself, which led to Maestro Smbatyan's arrest. It happened to be an eleven-year-old criminal case revolving around the expropriation of a 300 m² piece of land. This case has been under investigation for several years now, yet its connection with Sergey Smbatyan was and remains unclear to this day. Meanwhile, we witnessed the assertions of the Prosecutor's Office that all accusations were well-founded and legitimate, and that the arrest of the conductor was an undisputed necessity. Subsequently, we saw the replacement of Sergey Smbatyan detention conditions, transitioning from house arrest to bail.

On September 14, for the first time since his arrest, Sergey Smbatyan had an opportunity to return to the stage in Yerevan and received the warmest reception from the audience. The concert on October 9, featuring the Berlin Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maestro Smbatyan at the Berlin Philharmonie concert hall, was equally exhilarating.

On October 30, another shocking development emerged as the investigation revealed Sergey Smbatyan's innocence, dispelling the accusations against him. This information brought a mix of emotions, being simultaneously encouraging and deeply troubling. It appeared as an alarming signal to the Armenian society, showing that we live in a country where one of the most recognized and reputable figures of the world of art can face unwarranted defamation without any substantial evidence, be kept in detention or under house arrest for months, deprived of the opportunity to create art and to promote Armenia's name worldwide, and later be declared innocent.

Sergey Smbatyan ultimately maintained his good reputation, indeed, whereas Armenia's law enforcement system once again discredited itself, casting a dark shadow over all claims of progress in democracy. After all, Smbatyan holds an internationally renowned reputation, so his case was spotlighted internationally; therefore this disturbing signal reached the international community, too.

Let's set Smbatyan's personality and merits aside for a moment. How can the society and the global esteem of the state be treated so carelessly? Isn't it time for those who bear ultimate responsibility, to realize that with every action of this nature, the foundation of the state is being shaken? Isn't it time to recognize that there are certain actions that, to put it mildly, cannot be taken as one pleases?

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