on the silk road


Is civil society taking shape in Armenia?
April 30, 2008, 9:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Armenian society, or some segment of it at least, is becoming more active and less apathetic to the situation in the country, which can be summarized simply as one where the people are disrespected and ignored on a daily basis by their leaders. This leads me to speculate as to whether the political crisis brought about by the presidential elections and the turmoil that followed, might have inadvertently sowed the seeds for a bona fide civil society to grow in the country.

     Since February 19, the Armenian Blogosphere has quadrupled, become a source for news in Armenia and served to organize on the grassroots level.

Below I have included a a few blog links that I hastily gathered to show what I’m talking about…

http://hnazarian.blogspot.com/2008/04/fyi.html
http://unzipped.blogspot.com/2008/04/council-of-europe-commissioner-human.html
http://unzipped.blogspot.com/2008/04/28-convicts-and-1-police-chief-demand.html
http://unzipped.blogspot.com/2008/04/killing-environmental-rally-in-yerevan.html
http://azat.wordpress.com/2008/04/10/serzh-sargssyan%e2%80%99s-%e2%80%9cinauguration%e2%80%9d/
http://ditord.wordpress.com/2008/04/30/the-armenian-people-and-the-dialogue-between-authorities-and-dialogue/
http://khirimian.wordpress.com/2008/03/29/the-right-wrong-path-toward-reform/http:/http://blog.oneworld.am/2008/04/21/opposition-womens-group-stages-rally/
http://www.ArmeniaNow.com 

I am rather impressed with the amount of online activism in Armenia that blogs have spurred since the election. This type of activism should not be underestimated, I need only to point to the Armenian National Committee of America’s successful Click and Call for Justice Campaigns, which effectively mobilized thousands across the nation to call their representatives on Armenian issues. This in America, where we are not, on a daily basis, faced with even a fraction of the difficulty and challenges that people in Armenia face every day.

 More people are blogging, and even more are engaging in virtual dialogue through email and comment posts on these blogs. I myself have somehow been added to a number of email threads, which have evolved into a daily conversation between more than a dozen people of different political beliefs on a number of issues. Through these email threads, Armenian’s are share news and opinion articles and discussing opposing positions on current events in Armenia.

      Whether dialogue like this is productive remains to be seen. But I think there is potential. The question also of where this nascent “movement” is going and who will lead it, is still up in the air. It’s possible that it might end up being led by Heritage or the HHSh or one man (maybe LTP, although I dont think LTP cares much for a democratic movement as he has already accomplished his goal of humiliating, alienating, and weakening those who removed him).

      But one sad reality is certain, if things don’t change, come next parliamentary elections, the people will come out in support of whoever leads this “movement,” as was the case in Pakistan with Benizir Bhutto. Chances are the authorities will once again interfere in the elections and then we will be facing some very serious and real problems–that is if  Azeri President Ilham Aliyev doesn’t decide to attack Karabakh anytime soon.

      I would like to see the Armenian Revolutionary Federation at the front lines of a grassroots democratic movement in Armenia–this is where they belong, I believe. Unfortunately they did not move into opposition after the elections and are currently part of the governing coalition.

      I followed the Armenian Presidential Elections very attentively. ARF presidential candidate Vahan Hovannesian’s criticism of the current system and leadership for failing its people resonated with me—as did his political platform. His resignation as deputy speaker after Sarkisian won the election was, I believe, the principled step to take. It was admirable and just. But the ARF shouldn’t have stopped there as it had promised to take to the streets if the elections were rigged–which they were. Hovannesian’s move should have been followed by the party positioning itself in the opposition. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen–for various reasons (some understandable, some unacceptable).

      It is my belief that If the ARF had dropped out of the coalition and become opposition, there would be an opportunity for the organization and its supporters to, through their actions, organize a grass roots movement out of the chaos that was March 1. If this scenario played out, I have no doubt they would have stood at the helm of the potential movement I am writing about. This is not far-fetched speculation, as anyone who knows the recent history of the Republic of Armenia, recognizes the romanticism attached to the ARF by the people of Armenia, especially during the 60s when Armenian nationalism experienced a re-awakening in the Soviet Republic and during the late 80s when thousands of Armenians rushed to Artsakh to protect and liberate their historic homeland.

      Unfortunately that romanticism fades a bit more with every election year.

This year too, the ARF didn’t do as I, and many others would have liked, and this saddens me at the moment because Armenia is–in my opinion–facing an existential crisis right now for reasons we all know, yet sometimes ignore. A renewed war begun by a much stronger Azerbaijan is possible and very likely and with the government discredited and the people demoralized, I do not foresee the same number of Armenians rushing to the front lines to protect their homeland. Armenia does not have a sustainable economy and is ill equipped to deal with the economic pandemic that is spreading throughout the global economy. Armenia is also not immune to the world food and oil crisis either, which is spreading with increasing speed and threatening to topple governments much like Armenia’s. In terms of environmental disaster, Armenia is well on its way to becoming a desert within our lifetimes.

      So now the question on my mind is, where is Armenia going? Is it moving forward like president Sarkisian assures us it is? Or is Armenia’s population becoming more disillusioned, disappointed and, dare I say it, radicalized? If it is being radicalized, is this good or bad for the country? 

In any case, we will see how this all plays out.

ԱՅՕ՝ ԱՅԴՊԵՍ ԸՍԻ

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4 Comments so far
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Civil society is always active around the time of elections and in the immediate aftermath of such votes. The same was true in 2003, for example, and continued until April 2004 with street protests and a few clashes (5 April as well as 12/13 April). However, it’s true that this time round, the leadership is different. In 2003-4, Demirchian, Geghamian and Sargsyan were not the same as Ter-Petrossian, Sargsyan and Pashinian. This has led to a more spirited opposition although in my opinion, the numbers are roughly the same in terms of street protests. Moreover, unlike 2003-4, there were no deaths which forced the international community to keep a closer eye on the country. The Sksela-Hima movement also first visibly emerged in April 2003 and while their number is not large it is larger and was also active for the 2007 parliamentary election.

As for the ARF-D, while it can be understood why they might consider to be part of the coalition, I think it’s correct to say that it was both a disappointment and a mistake. Instead, it should have probably become a constructive opposition inside parliament and outside of government. Some people I know how voted for ARF-D feel the same although that does not mean they no longer support the party. Unless things noticeably change, however, I think it is not unfair to expect the ARF-D to reconsider their position once the initial aftershock of the presidential election dissipates.

Comment by Onnik Krikorian

The Sksela-Hima movement also first visibly emerged in April 2003

Sorry, I meant April 2004.

Comment by Onnik Krikorian

[…] ԱՅՕ՝ ԱՅԴՊԵՍ ԸՍԻ wonders whether the recent presidential election in Armenia hasn’t kick-started the development of a more effective civil society in the country. In particular it says that the amount of online activism that has emerged through blogs is unprecedented and says that it hopes a real pro-democracy movement will emerge by the time of the next parliamentary election in Armenia. Armenian society (or some segment of it at least) is becoming more active and less apathetic to the situation in the country, which can be summarized simply as one where the people are disrespected and ignored on a daily basis by their leaders. This leads me to speculate as to whether all of former president Levon Ter-Petrosian’s malicious statements and actions as well as the March 1 events, might have inadvertently sowed the seeds for a bona fide civil society to grow in the country. […]

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