Serj Tankian Essay

This essay

was written by Serj two days after the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. It caused a lot of controversy, particularly because many readers seemed to miss the message. Please understand, this essay is not attempting to justify the 9/11 attacks. When it was published, many mistook Serj's intentions and consequently denounced him, but if you pay attention to this small excerpt, it is impossible to say that Serj tried to justify the 9/11 attacks: belief is that the terror will multiply if concrete steps are not taken to sponsor peace in the middle east, NOW. This does not mean that we should not find the guilty party(s), Bin Laden, or whoever they may be, and not try them. Put simply, as long as a major injustice remains, violence precipitates to the surface of life.

Keep an open mind when reading. This essay is an attempt at analyzing both side of the conflict and advocating universal peace; in no way is it saying Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, or any other terrorist organization or regime had reason to commit such horrific, intolerable acts of blatant murder.

This essay was originally published on, but was promptly removed by Sony.

Understanding Oil
By Serj Tankian



The brutal attacks/bombings this week in New York, and Washington D.C., along with threats of attacks there and elsewhere in the country have changed our times forever. While the mass media concentrates on the details of the destruction, and the blanketed words of politicians, I will attempt to understand and explain the events from the fence. BOMBING AND BEING BOMBED ARE THE SAME THINGS ON DIFFERENT SIDES OF THE FENCE.

Terror is not a spontaneous human action without credence. People just dont hijack planes and commit harikari (suicide) without any weight of thought to the action. No one in the media seems to ask WHY DID THESE PEOPLE DO THIS HORRIFIC ACT OF VIOLENCE AND DESTRUCTION?

To be able to understand the answer to this, we must first look at our U.S. Mideast Policy. During most of the 20th century, U.S. businesses have worked on attaining oil rights and concessions from countries in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. After WWI, secret back door deals by our State Dept. yielded oil rights from then defeated Turkey to fields in what is now Iraq and Saudi Arabia, in return for looking the other way at a crime against humanity, the Genocide of the Armenians by the Turks. Oil profits have been the motivating factors behind many attempts at counterinsurgency of democratic regimes by the CIA and the U.S in the Middle East (such as Iran in the 1950s, where the Shah replaced the Prime Minister who refused to give up oil rights to the U.S., and since the people couldnt deal with the Shah, an extremist government headed by the Ayatollah Khomeini ultimately prevailed). During the Iran-Iraq war, America supplied both sides with weapons and advice. These are not the actions of a rich superpower wanting peace. Lets not forget that Saddam Hussein, before being Americas vision of the Anti-Christ, was a close ally of the U.S., and the CIA. So what was the firm belief system of consecutive American administrations that caused all this to occur ? PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST WILL LEAD TO HIGHER OIL AND GASOLINE PRICES. Lets not also forget the power of the Arms industry, disguised as defense, that still sells billions of dollars of weapons to the area. Therefore it has not been in the short-term economic interest of the U.S. to foster Peace in the Middle East. Using the above reasoning, the U.S. has encouraged extremist governments, toppled democracies, as in the case of Iran to replace it with a monarchy, rigged elections, and many more unspeakable political crimes for U.S. businesses abroad. Lets not also forget the Red Scare. During the war between the then Soviet Union and Afghanistan, the U.S. armed and supported the Taliban, a fundamentalist Muslim organization, and allowed them to export opium and heroin out of their country to pay for those weapons. Therefore the Taliban rose to power and control with the help of the U.S.A. Today, the bombing of Iraq still continues, no longer covered by the media, the economic embargo still remains, killing millions of children, and recently, while the world and the U.N. General Assembly have cried out to bring in peacekeeping forces into Israel and Palestine, to end the escalated war and recent assassinations, the U.S. has vetoed the rest of the Security Council and has halted the possibility of peace, there, in the most volatile place in the world.

People in Serbia, Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan, and Afghanistan to name a few have seen bombs fall, not always at military targets and kill innocent civilians, as the scene in New York city yesterday. The wars waged by our government in our names has landed smack in the middle of our living room. The half hour of destruction closed down all world financial markets, struck the central headquarters of our military, and had our leaders running into bunkers, and our citizens into fear and frenzy. What scares me more than what has occurred is what our reactions to the occurrences may cause. President Bush belongs to a long generation of Republican Presidents who love war economies. The media has only concentrated on the bombings, if you will, and what type of retaliations are looming for the perpetrators. What everyone fails to realize is that the bombings are a reaction to existing injustices around the world, generally unseen to most Americans. To react to a reaction would be to further sponsor the reaction. In other words, my belief is that the terror will multiply if concrete steps are not taken to sponsor peace in the middle east, NOW. This does not mean that we should not find the guilty party(s), Bin Laden, or whoever they may be, and not try them. Put simply, as long as a major injustice remains, violence precipitates to the surface of life.

Native American folklore, the Bible, Nostradamus, and many other major religious beliefs point to this era with the visuals of yesterdays disasters, and conditions of ecological disasters we experience daily in our lives today. War, rumors of war, famine, long burning fires, etc., are at our doorstep. We can prevail over this possible vision with the power of the human spirit, understanding, compassion, and peace. ITS TIME TO PUT OUR NEEDS FOR SECURITY AND SURVIVAL, ACHIEVED ONLY THROUGH PEACE, ABOVE AND BEYOND PROFITS, ESPECIALLY IN THESE TIMES.


The U.S. should stop sidestepping the U.N. Security Council, and allow U.N. Peacekeeping troops and missions to the Middle East. Stop the violence first.

Stop the bombing and patrol of Iraq.

With todays gains in the use of alternative fuels, develop them to full usage with autos and other utilities, to make the country less dependant on an already depleting natural reserve, oil.

By initiating peace, we would have already shaken the foundations of support for Bin Laden, and/or all those that sponsor activities like those we saw yesterday, and break the stronghold of extremists on the world of Islam. On the other hand, if we carry out bombings on Afghanistan or elsewhere to appease public demand, and very likely kill innocent civilians along the way, wed be creating many more martyrs going to their deaths in retaliation against the retaliation. As shown from yesterdays events, you cannot stop a person whos ready to die.




NEW YORK (Billboard) - A few days before the fifth anniversary of the Iraq War, rock musician Serj Tankian is sitting in an Austin hotel room and ruminating on the costs of the endless battle. But Tankian isn’t talking about dead soldiers or civilians; he’s talking about the cost to the Middle East’s environment, an issue that few people have raised.

“The topsoil there has been destroyed,” he says, “and who knows what kind of damage all those bombs have caused to the ecosystems in the Middle East?”

Many bands these days are claiming the “green” label, but their concern often starts at the merchandise table and ends at the recycling bin. Not so for the System of a Down frontman-turned-solo artist, who sees beyond silos and realizes that issues like electoral reform, recognition of the Armenian genocide, poverty and the environment are all related.

As South by Southwest, the four-day music industry conference and party, rages below him, Tankian is serious but not humorless; clad in jeans and a T-shirt, he fiddles with his iPhone and shows off pictures of his dog before settling in to ponder weightier issues. Later that night, he brings the seething, schmoozing Stubb’s crowd to a halt when he plays three haunting acoustic tracks at a show to celebrate the release of the “Body of War” documentary.

For Tankian, preaching about taking action is not enough. Rather than paying lip service to green issues, he founded a Web site,, to connect his fans to environmental and social justice organizations.

He also founded a nonprofit organization, Axis of Justice, with former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello.

“The organization has grown and morphed, and we really see the environment as being tied to social justice and human rights causes,” Morello says. “We both realize that while people can do things on a person-by-person basis to make the world more green, massive levers need to be thrown to cause any real change.”

Tankian is spreading his green message on the road and working with environmental nonprofit Reverb to make sure that his current tour leaves as small a carbon footprint as possible. With the organization, he ensures that all the food served backstage is organic and locally grown, that recycling bins are available throughout the venues and that fans can buy energy credits to offset their travel to the show. Still, Tankian recognizes that it’s not enough.

“This is all great,” he says, “but it’s not going to stop the destruction. Right now the Earth has a fever, and based on the accelerated rate of population growth, the way we live now is completely unsustainable.”

Q: Many artists are becoming more active in promoting green issues, but you seem to be one of the few who actually go a step beyond and connect environmental issues to issues of poverty and war. How do you see the relationships between these causes?

Serj Tankian: For me, it all stems from the need to promote justice. I called my organization Axis of Justice because I didn’t want to focus on only one issue. The connections can be drawn because they are present in so many places; for instance, poor urban neighborhoods have higher asthma rates. When a city wants to build a dump or get rid of radioactive waste, they don’t put it in the nice part of town. Even materials that are supposed to be environmentally friendly can be harmful to poor communities. Biodiesel, for example, uses up farmland that could otherwise be used to grow food for starving people.

Q: How did you first get involved in green issues?

Tankian: I’ve been a supporter of Greenpeace and the Sierra Club for years. I have a place in New Zealand, and I was really impressed with a Greenpeace action that took place down there recently. Greenpeace folks boarded a Japanese whaling ship to try to shut it down, and in the midst of the conflict, both ships ran out of fuel. When a rescue ship came, the Greenpeace people tried to disconnect the fuel lines to the whaling ship, even though it meant they’d be stuck as well. It was kind of crazy, but sometimes you have to be ballsy and put yourself out.

Q: This is all great, but I’m wondering how you justify being part of an industry that produces so much waste. You’ve sold more than 10 million CDs, and many of those were in plastic containers that had to be shipped to stores.

Tankian: Basically, we’re all hypocrites unless we go out and live off the land. That way of living is a model for me, because I think those people are clued in about climate change and the way we’re going to have to alter our lives. I spend a lot of the record talking about the end of civilization, and I don’t mean an apocalypse. I think that we are going to have to come to terms with the fact that the way we live now will not exist in 50 years, period.

Q: Along those same lines, you have been touring for this record, and while you have carbon offset programs in place, you are still using a lot of resources and putting a lot of goods out there. How do you reconcile that with your belief system?

Tankian: Again, I realize I am a hypocrite by going on the road and doing this. I’ve had an idea for a long time, which might sound a little crazy, but I really want to look into holographic touring. I think we could reduce our need to travel if we could project ourselves into meetings and concerts. We have the technology, and we’re not using it right now.

For instance, I have a studio next to my house and a live performance room in the studio. I could broadcast a show in real time and could interact with the audience as if we were in the same room. After all, it’s not like the audience can touch me, anyway. (laughs) It would open up a whole new world for touring — shows wouldn’t have to be limited to bars or clubs. There would be no travel costs, so bands with very little money could play shows, and tickets would cost less.

Q: Well, even though that is still in the future, at least bands right now are starting to become more conscious. Do you worry, though, that being green might just be another trend for musicians and will be forgotten in a few years? After all, how many people do you hear still talking about Tibet?

Tankian: I’m not a big trend follower, so I don’t know if this is just another blip. I think that with the ice caps melting and everything changing, bands and everyone else on the planet won’t have much of a choice about becoming green. I look at a place like New Zealand, which is ecologically one of the most progressive places on Earth. People down there are unconsciously conscious — they don’t get self-congratulatory when they recycle, they just do it as a way of life. I think we need more education to get us to that place.

Q: While bands are also becoming greener, they seem to be less interested in other issues, like electoral politics. Would you agree with that?

Tankian: I think a lot of bands are coming out for this election, many more than the previous few. Howard Dean had some good support and momentum in 2004, but it collapsed quickly. I’m an Obama fan, but I have to say I was disappointed when I found out he wanted to expand the defense budget. Still, he has done a good job getting younger people invested in the process and teaching them about the way party politics work.

Q: You’ve used your position as a popular musician to spread the word about a number of causes. Have you gotten any backlash or flack from your fans?

Tankian: I wrote an essay called “Understanding Oil” after 9/11 that led to me being called a traitor and stations dropping our songs. The sad thing is, now that the war has been on for five years, people are coming up to me and telling me I was right.

Q: You just performed at a concert for the antiwar movie “Body of War” and have a song on the soundtrack. What other musical plans do you have for the near future?

Tankian: I’m going to continue touring behind the new record, and I’m also working on some music for film. I might be working on a score for a theatrical production, too. My next record will be a jazz orchestral record; I want it to have a whole different vibe than the last one. I want to be able to play Carnegie Hall with the new one. I’m planning on releasing it in 2009. I never studied music; I ran a software company before I did any of this. I’ve been lucky that I’ve done so well and been able to make the music I want to make.


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