Open Discussion: How to Put an End to the Armenian Oligarchy

P1040126I want to open a discussion about what it will take to get rid of the oligarchic system that has long taken control of Armenia.

For years I have heard nothing but complaints about the various clan leaders who enjoy immunity from prosecution and use their power positions in government to essentially do whatever they want, like terrorizing Armenian citizens and even having them killed as in the case of Vahe Avetyan. There is a video of Ruben Hayrapetyan on YouTube boasting about how he’s harassed and “punished” people, even some at gunpoint, so that he gets his way. But not all peer powerheads are so brazen as to admit committing such acts.

Some of these men rarely do some kind of benevolent work so people won’t think very badly of them. Gagik Tsarukyan has done quite a bit to shed his bad guy image with his philanthropy, helping people mostly living throughout the Kotayk region–his wife has even opened a maternity clinic helping women having difficulty becoming pregnant. And his Prosperous Armenia Party is trying to distance himself from pro-government forces, whatever his intentions may be for doing so.

But by and large, the “oligarchs,” which could include government ministers and even the president himself, depending on your definition of the term and its scope, can manipulate the system whenever and however they want because they know most citizens are too scared, lazy, or apathetic to challenge them. They invest very little in the country; they don’t use their wealth to develop Armenia’s industrial and production capabilities for instance, and they pay employees running their numerous businesses low salaries, at or below the minimum wage in most cases. Only those in their inner circles including family members seem to be living the privileged life. Thanks to their exclusive distribution of wealth, narcissism in Armenian society is endemic.

The questions are: why do Armenian citizens continue to permit the oligarchic system to thrive, and what steps can they take to stop them? Leave your answers in the comments section below. No defeatist answers, please.

18 thoughts on “Open Discussion: How to Put an End to the Armenian Oligarchy

  1. Your question can be rephrased as why don’t the Armenian citizens engage in revolution against oligarchs. The answer is that revolution is hard.

    The oligarchs have financial, political, and physical resources available to them. They live in lives shielded from the public so the public can only guess at how wealthy they truly are. All the while the public is mostly trying to survive; often with the brightest youth leaving the country for jobs.

    There are only a few ways to get rid of the oligarchs. The Council of Europe way is to slowly develop state capacity and popular expectations. You can see this by comparing the 2008 with the 2012 elections. The dominant parties knew they couldn’t be as brazen in their illegality as during the 2008 elections so they had to act more secretly this time. The problem with this way is that it is very slow and, as shown in the elections, doesn’t change who is in power. Another way is full-scale violent revolution that is very unlikely to happen. A third way is to turn oligarchs against oligarchs. This doesn’t mean violence, but forcing oligarchs to compete with each other. A way to do this is to strip oligarchs of their monopolies by increasing imports, forcing oligarchs to fight for less and less profit. Or, to reward certain oligarchs that promote the public while punishing those that don’t (such as with boycotts).

    Unfortunately, with weak courts and a national assembly dominated by oligarchs, there is no easy political solution and instead the people must organize and push back against the oligarchs themselves.

  2. They don’t do anything, because they’re cowards and they just don’t care. Most Armenians are dreaming to immigrate to Europe or the U.S., do you really think they care about the future of Armenia? They are just trying to find ways to escape…

  3. it is a complicated subject but can someone look at Turkey or Georgia and tell us how they don;t have oligarchy or how they got rid of it?

  4. As an Armenian from the United States I know how futile protest seems. When the Occupy Wall Street protests occurred there was an air of hope in New York that someone in the United States government will listen. When the protest against the second invasion of Iraq occurred in New York and all over the world there was hope that people in power would hear a democratic cry for peace or at least restraint. During the protests against fraudulent ballots in the election of President Sargsyan’s to his second term, there was an air of hope that international monitors would get the word out and that people would be held accountable for their actions.

    It seems that in our post-post-modern-absurdist democracies around the world there is little hope for real revolution. Everyone gets their information from different sources and through different media. Everyone does not experience the same need for revolution. Some are not rich but comfortable, hence they have no need to revolt or rebel agains their government. Desperation and unfairness exists mainly for those who have little or are impoverished. Real revolution can only happen when most of the people are experiencing the need for change and have a way to communicate and organize with one or few media sources as information outlets.

    Look, for example, at the Arab Spring of last year which has been labeled by some as the “Facebook Revolution.” This form of rebellion and governmental change had the perfect balance of a social necessity for change and a focused informational outlet that resulted in the successful toppling of several Arab governments.

    Until all Armenians, within and without Armenia, feel the abject desperation of an oppressive governmental and oligarchic marriage and Armenians communicate through few and focused informational sources, there can be no revolution, in fact, there will be no revolution.

    Oligarchs have money and money can buy others’ integrity, plain and simple.

  5. Until a majority of Armenians stop buying into and colluding with the oligarch system in Armenia little will change. Organized protest is great but it really comes down to a question of personal priorities and responsibility. Armenians the world over seem content and willing to play a game of self-deception when it comes to resolving the problems and issues they point to as paramount. Armenians in the diaspora go begging hand in mouth to this or that western power on the genocide issue, while Armenians in the RA naively believe that Van Rompuy or other reps of European institutions give a damn about domestic issues plaguing Armenia. Armenians can no longer afford to pass the buck to others and sit back comfortably waiting for things to change. These civic initiatives in Armenia are a step in the right direction. The diaspora must find ways to assist and support them. Everyone complains that Armenia is going to hell in a hand-basket but only a few hundred protesters at best show up. What does this tell us?

  6. Armenia is not an independant country, thats where the problem starts. It has to free itself from Russia without completely closing ties. Unfortunately, that’s not gonna happen. Nevertheless here is a(n) (im)possible solution:

    1. Boycotting the government by the people and opposition parties without compromise.Its the only peaceful way to start a revolution.
    2. Revolution: In the streets, online, everywhere, with the help of the diaspora: Demanding the resignation of all parlamentarians and state officials appointed by the governing parties
    3. Electing a constitutional convention consisting of opposition leaders
    4. Reforming the constitution: Creating seperation of power & checks and balances, accountability of the government, independence of the state courts
    5. Taking over the State Police: Very Important
    6. Getting rid of all corrupt leaders with high positions and replacing them with officials on a temporary basis until new ones are appointed
    7. New Elections
    8. Re-nationalization of state property stolen by oligarchs
    9. Punishing former corrupt politicians including the President for state robbery and mass-murder by demanding an International Criminal Tribunal for Armenia
    10. Freezing all businesses owned by oligarchs and taking control of their financial resources
    (Wishful thinking)

    The precondition of change in Armenia is the change of Armenian mentality.

  7. First off the poor and hungry and rise up against the ruling elite that have Armenia in a chock hold right now. The reason for that is because revolutions are not started and won by the poor and hungry but the educated middle class. Armenia has such a huge gap between the poor and the rich that the middle class in Armenia is very small. One way of actually fixing the problem of the oligarchy in Armenia is first fixing the corruption within the police force. If a police office is scared of arresting someone who has political power even if they saw them violating the law that police officer cant really do his job. At this point in time Armenia is stuck with corrupted government and police force. There is not enough middle class educated people to rise up against the ruling elite. It will be very hard to see change very fast in Armenia.

  8. First of all I’d say that it is a myth that only the educated middle classes can start a revolutionary movement. Just look at the revolutionary movements in Central and South America launched by landless peasants and other disenfranchised communities. The middle classes are more interested in reforming governments, not overthrowing them, unless they are up against authoritarian rulers like Mubarak in Egypt. Anyway, there are enough “middle-class” Armenians in Yerevan to spearhead movements for social and political change but they must be inclusive and focus on the poor and hungry masses. The problem in Armenia is that the ruling regime/oligarchs have co-opted the disenfranchised elements in society to the extent that they see their salvation not in fighting against the system but entering into a master/servant relationship with it, in the shortsighted expectation that they will be offered a few crumbs from time to time by their benevolent overseers. Armenia needs full-time professional community organizers and activists within the ranks of the urban and rural poor. Organizations should be putting out the call to the diaspora in order to recruit people with such experience,

  9. I agree with Mr/Ms X totally, but replacing the existing govt officials with new officiales would be a waste of time, they would most probably be corrupt anyway as the majority of people here think it’s normal. My suggestion would be to bring in wealthy diasprans and morally minded armenians who really want to see the country develop and are beyond the temptation of corruption to run the country – brining with them the best of western minded ideas and practices, Armenia would certainly develop then as a country and a nation. There are decent people in Armenia but unfortunately, they are not in a position to run a country. I would also get rid of the families and hangers on of these dispicable savages who think Armenia is their own private fiefdom and bank.

  10. Bringing in the wealthy diaspora is the same as replacing government officials with new ones. The difference being only that one is capitalist reform and the other feudalist reform respectively, which is the lesser evil?

    I wouldn’t for a second assume that wealthy diasporan Armenians would abstain from taking advantage of an inflated exchange rate in order to somehow continue their proud legacy by buying and developing their tertiary concept of what and Armenia should look like. It’s a traumatized culture from the country’s citizens to the diasporans. Everyone is out for survival. Everyone is out to make it big. Everyone must preserve their cultural identity, owing to the entire people’s near extinction of a century ago. Coupled with Soviet rule, loss of a contiguous homeland and an entire population feeling like citizens of nowhere you get a fine mixture of an entire culture of sycophants and prostitues ready to pimp out their integrity for another placard with their name, or a building dedicated to their father or the purchasing or sale of a presidential seat, ready to pass it on to their children.

    You can’t really DO anything except try and live free from as many influences as possible and continue. Being aware of the situation is the best possible solution. I guess the best bet is to know who you are dealing with:

    WikiLeaks revealed classified cables of the U.S. Embassy to Armenia. They include a letter dated 2003-12-09 which is an informal guide to who owns what in Armenia.

    The following is our informal guide to who owns what in Armenia, with the caveat that some of the information is based on rumor and speculation.

    MULTI GROUP

    The Multi Group is headed by Gagik Tsaroukian (Dodi Gago), MP elected in 2003. A former sportsman (arm wrestling), Tsaroukian is believed to have close ties with the Kocharian family, especially the late Valeriy Kocharian, the President’s brother. Multi Group is a holding company consisting of a number of major enterprises in different industries:

    —Kotayk Bxrewery: a joint venture with Castel Beer
    —Manana Grain: one of Armenia’s major wheat importers
    —Aviaservice: the GOAM sold the right to service aircrafts (catering, etc.) in November 2003. According to Embassy sources, the President’s late brother Valeriy Kocharian’s family has a stake in this business
    —Armenian International Airways (AIA): Tsaroukian is believed to have already cashed out
    —Ararat winery
    —Multi Group Dairy: his mother is in charge of this branch of the business
    —Multi Stone: travertine export to Europe. The plant is equipped with modern state of the art Italian stone cutting machines.
    —Casino Club Cleopatra, along with a new casino (Pyramid) under construction
    —Gyumri Textile plant: silent co-owner
    —Farm projects: including most of the vegetables sold to the Armenian Military forces
    —Furniture Salon network: the largest importer of European furniture in the country
    —Gas stations and natural gas stations: Multi Leon chain
    —Two major retail markets: GUM and MASHTOTS AVE

    SIL GROUP

    The SIL Group is run by Khachatur Sukiassian (Grzo), MP elected in 1999 and again in 2003. Sukiassian is the oldest son of Grzo-the-father, and has taken control of the SIL Group. He is related by marriage to Vano Siradeghian, the notoriously corrupt and powerful former Minister of Internal Affairs (currently in hiding outside Armenia). It is widely believed that the Siradeghian is one of the major shareholders of SIL Group. He is the only businessman who both maintains and admits his ties with ANM and is still a successful businessman. SIL Group is one of the oldest conglomerates, engaged in many industries, particularly:
    —Restaurant chains Pizza di Roma, Queen burger, Chalet
    —SIL Hotel and SIL Plaza department store
    —Official distributor of Phillip Morris
    —Real Estate in downtown Yerevan
    —Golden Wood International: hardwood lumber, flooring strip and finger-joint panel manufacturer

  11. List of oligarch’s ownership continued:

    —Yerevan Furniture Plant panel manufacturer
    —Armeconombank: a leading commercial bank
    —Bjni mineral water plant
    —Yerevan Polyplast OJSC: manufacturer of various plastic household items, pipes, sanitation piping units, polyethylene film and bags, linoleum and artificial leather
    —Zovq Factory OJSC: Zovq natural juices factory
    —Construction business (wood and panel)
    —Star Valley Co. (Dubai): SIL Group’s representative in UAE
    —Masis Gofrotara: cardboard and napkin production
    —Sevan Grain Milling Company.

    MIKA LTD

    MIKA Ltd. is managed by Mikhael Bagdasarov, who is believed to have earned his primary capital in Russia. Bagdasarov is the classmate, best friend and business partner to Defense Minister Serzh Sargsyan. His businesses include:
    —ArmSavings Bank, privatized in 2001
    —Viktoria Trade: a major wheat importer
    —Mika Trading: oil products imports and distribution (including 40 percent of gasoline imports)
    —Armavia: chartered flights to major Russian cities
    —Hrazdan Cement Plant, renamed to Mika Cement
    —Gas station chains (called MIKA)
    —Mineral water bottling in Dilijan (Dilijan Frolova)
    —Other major businesses in Russia and Europe

    GRAND GROUP

    The GRAND Group is run by Hrant Vardanian, a businessman with Russian capital and under the President’s protection. Although he is not an MP, his son, Mikhael Vardanian was elected as MP (2003) on the Dashnak party proportional list. Vardanian enjoys strong popularity within the general public as a successful industrialist and director who reopened several major Soviet-era plants. His businesses include:
    —Grand Candy: major Armenian producer of chocolates, sweets, ice creams, etc.
    —Grand Tobacco: partner with Ruben Hairapetian (Nemets Rubo) and International Masis Tabak (there has been some conflict between the two major cigarette producers)
    —Grand Sun: production of bulbs and lamps on the basis of the privatized Lamp factory. Built a similar factory in Iran.
    —Alcohol production
    —Several Company stores and cafe chains

  12. Continued list of oligarch’s ownership, and the list still continues…:

    HAYRAPETIAN FAMILY

    The Hayrapetian family owns the ‘Hayrapetian Brothers’ Company. Close to the President’s office, especially to advisor Alexan Harutiunian. The younger brother died in a car accident earlier this year. Current business activities:
    —’Hayastan’ Department store
    —Hotel Ararat
    —BMW dealer
    —Erebuni Textile production plant
    —Hotel on Lake Sevan shore
    —Other additional minor businesses

  13. “Smash the system”, “Get rid of the oligarchs”, “Change the servile Armenian mentality”…Does anyone have any practical suggestions?

  14. Who can we call upon to organize? I believe that was your practical suggestion. The find diasporan organizers to help citizens of Armenian out of their master/servant relationship, correct?

    In my humble opinion, the most practical advice I can give is to do nothing. There are higher influences than any on this blog can pull. So, do nothing, because that is all you can do. You can choose to be aware of what is causing oligarchy and do nothing. Or you can choose to be aware of nothing and do nothing. Either way, you’re screwed and can really do nothing but observe and continue.

  15. Evidently some people are not aware of the history of community organizing the world over, It presents a rich history of what common folk are capable of on a grassroots level. Read the bio of Saul Alinsky, Doris Day, César Chávez, Lois Gibbs, Ella Baker, Huey P. Newton, Mary Harris “Mother” Jones. etc. Read about church-based grassroots organizing movements in the States and Latin America. Holding up your hands and saying that nothing can be done is a form of co-optation. “Do nothing” is just another catchphrase for letting others screw you. That may be the guiding principle of some Armenians but hopefully not all.

  16. I’m glad there is a long list of others who have written about community organizing. I am thankful you’ve written the list of different authors out so people can read their great works. Your writing is helping to spread awareness about what causes oligarchies and plutocracies which is the first step to doing something. When I write the phrase “do nothing” I am only seeing the reality. The reality of the matter is that if you decide to do something your government sees as being illegal, whether moral or not, you will be arrested. I’d like to quote Mr. G.I. Gurdjieff, “LIBERATION LEADS TO LIBERATION. These are the first words of truth — not truth in quotation marks but truth in the real meaning of the word; truth which is not merely theoretical, not simply a word, but truth that can be realized in practice. The meaning behind these words may be explained as follows:
By liberation is meant the liberation which is the aim of all schools, all religions, at all times.
This liberation can indeed be very great. All men desire it and strive after it. But it cannot be attained without the first liberation, a lesser liberation. The great liberation is liberation from influences outside us. The lesser liberation is liberation from influences within us.
At first, for beginners, this lesser liberation appears to be very great, for a beginner depends very little on external influences. Only a man who has already become free of inner influences falls under external influences.
Inner influences prevent a man from falling under external influences. Maybe it is for the best. Inner influences and inner slavery come from many varied sources and many independent factors — independent in that sometimes it is one thing and sometimes another, for we have many enemies.
There are so many of these enemies that life would not be long enough to struggle with each of them and free ourselves from each one separately. So we must find a method, a line of work, which will enable us simultaneously to destroy the greatest possible number of enemies within us from which these influences come.
I said that we have many independent enemies, but the chief and most active are vanity and self-love. One teaching even calls them representatives and messengers of the devil himself.
For some reason they are also called Mrs. Vanity and Mr. Self-Love.
As I have said, there are many enemies. I have mentioned only these two as the most fundamental. At the moment it is hard to enumerate them all. It would be difficult to work on each of them directly and specifically, and it would take too much time since there are so many. So we have to deal with them indirectly in order to free ourselves from several at once.
These representatives of the devil stand unceasingly at the threshold which separates us from the outside, and prevent not only good but also bad external influences from entering. Thus they have a good side as well as a bad side.
For a man who wishes to discriminate among the influences he receives, it is an advantage to have these watchmen. But if a man wishes all influences to enter, no matter what they may be — for it is impossible to select only the good ones — he must liberate himself as much as possible, and finally altogether, from these watchmen, whom some considerable undesirable.
For this there are many methods, and a great number of means. Personally I would advise you to try freeing yourselves and to do so without unnecessary theorizing, by simple reasoning, active reasoning, within yourselves.”

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