Tag Archives: armenian youth

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

Armenian Youth Should Learn from Spain

I just read a compelling article on the front page of the New York Times web site, describing how the youth of Spain, sick of the bureaucratic, corrupt system of governance that doesn’t care about their plight, namely lack of employment and opportunity, are standing up for their rights. Much of what is portrayed about Spanish youth in this article directly applies to young Armenians in similar circumstances.

Below are excerpts:

Until recently, young people in Spain were dismissed as an apathetic generation, uninterested in party politics. But the outpouring of young people who have taken to the streets since May 15 — at one point about 28,000 protesters spent the night in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol square — has changed all that, forcing the country to take heed and reconsider.

The recession that has ravaged Spain, along with much of southern Europe, has had an especially hard impact on the young, with unemployment rates soaring to more than 40 percent for 20- to 24-year-olds, about twice the national average and the highest in the European Union. Many of them see limited hope of improvement unless they reshuffle the political deck and demand a new approach to creating jobs.

“Suddenly people are talking about politics everywhere,” said María Luz Morán, a sociologist at the Complutense University of Madrid. “You go to have coffee or you are standing in the subway and you hear conversations about politics. It’s been years since I heard anyone talking about politics.”

Even young people who have jobs here are often caught in a system of poorly paid, temporary contracts. The contracts were once designed to help them break into the labor force, but they have served instead to put adulthood out of reach for many. Ms. Moran said that one survey showed that about 50 percent of 30-year-olds in Spain were still living with their parents.

“We call 32- and 35-year-olds young people in Spain, because they are forced to live like children,” she said. “Thirty-year-olds should have their own homes.”

Few experts are willing to say what the protesters might achieve. But already issues that were discussed only at the margins are being taken more seriously. One major conservative daily newspaper, ABC, polled constitutional experts this week about what it would take to change the election laws, one of the principal demands of the demonstrators, who say the current system heavily favors the country’s two leading political parties.

“They have already had an impact,” said Rafael Díaz-Salazar, another sociologist at Complutense, who believes that the protesters may represent about two million voters. “They are forcing people to take a look at this impoverished generation. There will have to talk about precarious work contracts and housing in the next election. They cannot avoid it anymore.”

The moral of this story — as I’ve repeated for years — is that if people who are desperate enough really want change in their society, they can make it happen. The youth of Armenia can follow Spain’s precedent and take charge of their future, they can make a difference and have a positive impact not only on their own lives but that of future generations. Emigrating to foreign countries murmuring “the country’s not a country” shouldn’t be the answer.