Monthly Archives: December 2012

Wishes for Armenia in 2013

Happy New Year!At the end of every year I tend to be more pensive than usual, reviewing the events of the past twelve months, its successes and failures, and what I aspire to do or see change forthcoming. Below are a few wishes for Armenia in 2013.

1. I would like to see Armenians come together and collectively agree upon something that they value, whether it is justice, fair elections, environmental protection, competitive trade or anything else, and work towards achieving that. The citizenry has never been so fragmentized. Take the upcoming presidential elections. The three main opposition parties–ARF-Dashnaktsutyun, Armenian National Congress, and Prosperous Armenia–have refused to field their own candidates and will not rally around a single contender. They refuse to put aside their political differences and tone down their arrogance, citing an anticipated falsification of the vote as the reason to bow out. These are the same parties that complained about governmental corruption and regularly called for regime change. Their decision is a noble act of defeatism, nothing more. There is nothing honorable in refusing to take part in the democratic process. They are simply letting their people down. Unity in thought, actions and deeds is imperative.

2. Armenians need to be kinder to one another and respectful of personal space. I hear too much boisterous bickering, usually about nothing, through my closed windows. Whenever I walk down the street or roam in a market I often see two or more people carrying on about something, usually hollering at the top of their lungs. Some are intentionally antagonizing. There always seems to be a need to defend one’s honor or a matter of principle to uphold (I’ve fallen into this egocentric trap myself). Then you read about people harassing each other, even brutal beatings that unfortunately sometimes result in death as we saw earlier this year when an army doctor died at the hands of brainless thugs. Maybe it’s human nature, or the personality trait of the Armenian that can’t be undone. Regardless of the excuse, it’s time to cool down. It’s time for empathy.

3. To become more compassionate, Armenians need to have a better attitude about life, their surroundings and themselves. People have become too miserable and cynical. The “country’s not a country,” “there’s no justice” and “nothing to do but leave” slogans are sounding very stale; they’ve become meaningless when the people who repeat these words do nothing to reverse or prevent what they complain about. Perceptions about society must improve, people need to feel good about themselves and each other for society to thrive. Instead of pitying, they should be producing. The chronic negativism has to stop. I don’t want my son to grow up in a spiteful society, and I’m not alone.

Happy New Year. May 2013 bring you continued health, happiness and peace.

Graphic by Billy Alexander

Aren’t the Armenian presidential elections approaching?

who knowsThe 2013 Armenian presidential elections are two months away but no one seems to be talking about them. There is no single candidate from a united opposition because none of the parties can seem to agree on a five-year agenda.

ARF-Dashnaktsutyun brings forth commendable proposals–separate big business from government, keep an independent judiciary and have a so-called “parliamentary republic,” stripping the president of certain powers for the National Assembly to rule on. None of the other parties agree, but regardless, the ARF doesn’t have a candidate and their PR tactics have traditionally been abysmal.

No one is discussing how to combat emigration and the never-ending brain drain, an aggravating issue that should be at the top of anyone’s to-do list. The other day the Minister of Education Armen Ashotyan, a Republican, publically stated that young scientists are better off leaving Armenia because it’s better for the nation to have them working abroad, the logic of that mindset has yet to dawn on me. A minister is justifying emigration as being a necessary occurrence–anyone else find that odd? I haven’t read or heard a rebuttal from the opposition.

No one talks about how to accelerate the expansion of Armenia’s IT sector, which should be the prime concern of anyone following global trends of high economic activity. I know at least six bright young software developers who left Armenia out of sheer boredom to work for companies in the States like eHarmony, Microsoft and WMware, knowing all too well that there was little opportunity for career growth. Armenia certainly has the talent, but chances for applying ingenuity and innovation are few and far between. The needed investment in the IT industry is simply not there, and this government is clearly not doing enough to attract more. Mining and polluting the hell out of the country seem to be top priority.

Raffi Hovhannisian hinted at making a formal announcement of his candidacy, but he has a bad habit of changing his mind. It’s getting harder to understand his aim, particularly after the ugly divorce from the Free Democrats about who should give up their parliamentary seats (what?). Many people I’ve spoken to don’t know what to make of him, although he’s a “nice guy who means well.” He certainly does.

Meanwhile, the announcement of a former arm wrestler’s candidacy is being anticipated. An uneducated, clueless former arm wrestler turned influential oligarch, to be more precise.

What the hell is going on? Is that really the alternative? What about the youth, don’t they have anything to say? What about these boisterous environmental demonstrators, who won a small victory by preventing a neglected park from becoming an open-air shopping mall, but have yet to take a stand on anything politically related? Not a word. They post a lot of nice photos of themselves on Facebook though.

Youth groups have made huge strides in Armenian civil society since the last elections in 2008. They are not only waking people up to ecological dangers but have opened up discussion on taboo topics like domestic violence, oppression of citizens by those close to the government, homosexuality and gender inequality. I and surely countless thousands of others were anticipating something explosive from these activists, nonconformists, whatever you want to call them, a solid message about how to turn things around in Armenia’s social, economical and environmental spheres and who they would consider backing as a likely candidate. In other words, generate public debate. But I keep discerning cynicism and a lackadaisical, “yeah, whatever” attitude to politics from them.

I was hoping young people now living in the Armenian diaspora would offer insight, those who have earned degrees in higher education and have presumably seen firsthand what good governance entails and how a voting majority shapes a democratic nation. But we can’t hear anything. Might I just reiterate that the presidential elections are just two months away.

In my interview with Former Foreign Minister Alexander Arzoumanian, who offers great insight on Armenian politics and is a true gentleman to boot, he told me that Armenian citizens traditionally don’t take the parliamentary elections seriously, as it has always been the presidential race that mattered. Fair enough. But I wonder how many people actually remember that to be true this time around because by the look of things, apathy reigns supreme in the conundrum that is the Armenian republic.

Image by Svilen Milev