Tag Archives: armenian apathy

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

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.

Armenia’s History Continues to be Destroyed

The Mashdots market
The Mashdots market

Yesterday I learned that the market at the end of Mashdots Street, which is a historical landmark, was slated to be demolished. But today on News.am, I saw a photo of the rear of the building completely destroyed. The photo and story were published late Monday morning (on Independence day of the First Republic). Hetq reported that Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian said the recent work undergone was not authorized.

Two weeks ago while walking by the building I noticed that a steel fence had been erected around the entrance of the building. I thought that meant it was going to be restored since there are renovation projects of building exteriors citywide. Turns out that the building was sold to the oligarch and Republican member of parliament, Samvel Alexanyan who is infamous for controlling a monopoly on sugar and flour imports, gouging consumers, and selling inferior vodka as genuine at high prices in his City Yerevan supermarkets, which are popping up all over the place. He wants to convert the market into yet another gigantic supermarket and destroy it in the process (he says otherwise). People are already starting to protest the demolition but it will take a lot of mobilization to stop him from completely taking the market down, although the Ministry of Culture insists that somehow the architecture will be preserved. Sounds a bit empty considering that half the building is gone.

Questions begged to be asked: Who approved the sale of a historical landmark and who was consulted before the building was sold? Did the transaction occur in secret? If not, was there any movement to stop the sale in the first place? Why weren’t concerned citizens investigating the reason for the market’s closure, especially the sellers? Who else knew about what was planned for the market, and why wasn’t it discussed beforehand? Why didn’t the press break the news sooner, long before the building was damaged beyond repair?

All sorts of unique architecture across Yerevan are being dismantled without warning. Several years ago the Youth Sports complex and guest house that was situated at the top of Abovyan Street on the hill there was dismantled to construct a luxury hotel, which was never built because the developer went bust apparently. About two years ago a new hotel project was announced by the Armenian government with the backing of a Japanese investment firm on the same site. Although the area has been cleared, nothing is being built on the location. About 95 percent of Old Yerevan in the city center has already been wiped off the face of the earth and there’s no telling when the remaining buildings — all architectural masterpieces — will be raised.

In Armenia, there is no system of checks and balances, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone with any ethical standards working in government. Even when citizens do catch word about something about to go drastically wrong, they don’t talk about it until it’s too late. Then these same people complain that the country is not a country, the laws don’t work, etc. There needs to be accountability. No one, no matter how wealthy or “powerful” they are, should be allowed to touch any historical landmark without the public being informed beforehand. In this case, since the Ministry of Culture is making promises about the market’s final transformation not being as bad as it seems, Minister Hasmik Poghosyan, a Republican, is complicit in letting the sale go through (so is Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian, yet another Republican for that matter).

Petty carelessness, whimsical power wielding, and defeatism are bringing the downfall upon the Republic of Armenia. This is applicable to virtually all large-scale business projects sponsored by the government or those with close ties to it. If those in power continue to do whatever they wish without being held accountable for their actions, Armenian citizens will have no one to blame but themselves.

What happened on election day?

results?

While walking my dog this evening I finally got to thinking about what went down on Sunday. Without having to do a lengthy, exhaustive analysis, I put what I know to use.

  1. Most people are discontent with the authorities in Armenia and are too spineless, lazy or clueless to do anything about it. This observation I gathered from my interactions with citizens over the last 10 years. So based on the logic that most people hate the authorities (unless they’re making money from their connection with them somehow, the number of those people being miniscule), there is no friggin’ way that 663,000 voters cast a ballot for the Republicans. Even if the entire Armenian army were forced to vote Republican, and every single public servant and state employee including teachers, doctors, etc. voted the same way, that would only amount to 100,000 at my guesstimate. Where’s the rest coming from–from those same morons who keep whining to me there’s no country and there’s no justice? Oh, I almost forgot about the guys crying about there being no laws. So what–they voted for the same people they loathe, the same people causing untold angst and psychological torment? Perhaps since there does seem to be a latent sadomasochistic element in the Armenian persona, but that’s a debate for another day. Back to proving my point.
  2. All the people I know voted for either the Heritage/Free Democrats alliance, ARF-Dashnaktsutyun or the Armenian National Congress. No one I know supports the authorities. Okay, I am mindful of the fact that I do not know over a half-million people in this country, but I am going to make an educated guess and say that there are many others that are like-minded as my family, friends and acquaintances.
  3. If indeed 663,000 ballots were not cast in the Republicans favor, not to mention the fact that there is no way you can actually falsify so many ballots to make it seem like the Republicans legitimately won, the only logical conclusion is that the numbers released by the Central Electoral Commission were invented, cleverly on a dynamic, rolling basis in “real time” all night long (there are many talented mathematicians in this great land and I’m sure they came up with a fantastic algorithm). We have yet to see the actual results because they are with the Commission under lock and key.

When do we get to see the actual results? Good question. Most of that depends on what deals have been brokered today. We still have tonight, too, to work out the important details of who gets what position or what’s in it for them. But if Prosperous Armenia Party is indeed serious about getting all democratic in this country as Oskanian keeps claiming, and the Armenian National Congress people still know how to say “fugget about it” tomorrow morning, not to mention the ARF and Heritage/Free Democrats being the bad asses they are born to be, we could have some protests and, dare I say, a movement to reverse what just happened. We might just see an Armenian public rising up, standing tall, demanding that the real election results be released, thereby putting the government at the mercy of the people for a change.

Eh, maybe not.

A Defeatist Nation

This article originally appeared on the Armenian Weekly web site.

With the Armenian National Assembly elections right around the corner slated for May 6, I am obliged to reflect upon the political situation of the last four years and contemplate where Armenia is headed. These elections will be the most important in this republic’s brief history as a test for the functioning of democracy, yet most people don’t realize it.

Whenever I meet someone for the first time here in Armenia a minute doesn’t pass before politics comes up in conversation. For the last seven or eight years I have heard countless people express their disgust in the Armenian government and authorities, that the country is not a country, there is no justice, the oligarchs do whatever they want and take advantage, and so forth. Indeed, not once have I met anyone who has told me that they approve of the regime in power — either backed (in Robert Kocharian’s case) or fully controlled by the Republican Party (along with its coalition partner parties). Nearly everyone has told me the same thing — the laws don’t work or there are no laws, and the judicial system is corrupted. They are desperate, hopeless and dwell in a self-imposed realm of defeatism, each playing the role of the eternal victim. They expect governmental reform without having to work for it, as if the authorities will magically one day realize that they shouldn’t lie to and cheat their citizens any longer. They want justice and good governance, but no one can agree on how it will be achieved and who will lead that reform movement. Meanwhile, the Armenian Diaspora remains silent, continuing to turn a blind eye to the lack of democracy and governmental irresponsibility.

Given the negative mindset in the motherland, one should come to the logical conclusion that the Republican Party will win less votes than it has in the past–despite election fraud that is bound to occur–making way for a new National Assembly controlled by a union of parties, albeit fragile, that have been in opposition. This ideal union would likely comprise the Armenian National Congress, ARF-Dashnaktsutyun, the Heritage Party and Free Democrats alliance, and the Prosperous Armenia Party, which has been keen to distance itself from the authorities in recent weeks although it refuses to officially break away from the pro-government coalition. This fresh National Assembly will also signal a new era in government, one where the demands of the people will conceivably be met and, as Raffi Hovannisian put it in my interview with him [link to http://hetq.am/eng/multimedia/videos/62/], emigration is reversed so that a wave of immigration displaces it. Nevertheless, the Republican Party’s notorious pre-election terror campaign of intimidation and harassment that has already been unleashed is bound to coerce many voters to cast ballots in their favor. The authorities are also counting on disenchanted citizens to sell them their votes for twenty bucks apiece.

The issues plaguing Armenia are too numerous to list. But the most relevant points to tackle in random order are the following: a reformed, competent and properly trained police force; an independent judicial system; a substantial increase in funding for social services including doubling the minimum wage and pensions (which all contending opposition parties are pushing); the renovation of schools and hospitals nationwide starting with the most remote areas first; the reconstruction of roads and infrastructure again with the most remote villages a priority; the encouragement for civil society to flourish; the break up of the trade monopolies, especially on staple foodstuffs to promote competition in the marketplace; incentives for small and medium-sized business ventures to start up; a four-fold increase in efforts to encourage foreign investment in the thriving Armenian IT sector; additional investments in the tourism industry; and the immediate cancellation of long-term environmentally devastating mining projects that would only benefit foreign investors (the local economy would not be positively affected by any means). The list can go on and on, but tacking the aforementioned issues is a good start to getting things on track in Armenia and reversing the trends of narcissism and greed that have been strangling this country for far too long.

Some argue that it will take decades and several generations to pass before the aforementioned issues even begin to be properly addressed. Unfortunately, we don’t have that long to wait. It’s been nearly twenty-one years since Armenia declared independence, and most citizens are no better off than they were then. Unofficial population estimates in Armenia are between 2-2.5 million. Entire villages have picked up and moved to remote parts of Russia where they have been provided housing and employment as part of a rural colonization scheme. The talented, technology savvy youth are leaving for the US, Canada and elsewhere–I personally know five software engineers that have emigrated during the last three years. Artsakh is continuously being emptied of its populace–only around 2,700 people are left in Shushi alone.

The new wealth and economic growth that is noticeable to foreigners and Armenians from the Diaspora is concentrated in central Yerevan–it is a mirage, actually a smokescreen obscuring what things are really like here. The sooner the Diaspora comprehends this and puts pressure on the Armenian government to get its act together, the more secure and yes, entrepreneurial Armenian citizens will be. But that reshaping cannot happen on its own, it needs stimulus; it requires motivation and dedicated hard work. It is dependent upon foresight and ingenuity. And it has to start right now.