BY DR. ARA KHANJIAN
“By actively working with civic initiatives, the ARF return to its agenda issues of interest to the public, such as environmental protection, citizen’s freedom, defense of women’s and children’s rights,” ARF 32nd World Congress, 2015
During the first 30 years of its history, the ARF worked closely with the Armenian people. After the establishment of the Soviet Union, the ARF continued to work at the grass roots level in Middle Eastern countries such as Iran, Syria, Lebanon and elesewhere.
Some people say that in the Republic of Armenia working with the people or masses doesn’t generate political results. According to these people, in order to address an issue that is important to the people, political parties should operate at the governmental level or with leading political figures. They also think that working with the people or organizing them in order to solve their problems is a waste of time. Based on this logic, allocating organizational and financial resources to organize the people at the neighborhood or city level and working with them directly is not productive. According to this reasoning, in order to satisfy the needs of the people and solve their problems, instead of working directly with them, it is necessary to work with members of the parliament, ministers or the the president.
Because of this type of reasoning, having active decentralized organizational structures at the neighborhood or city level, in other words working within the people, becomes irrelevant and the power of the organization becomes concentrated at the highest organizational levels. The logical follow up of this argument is that in Armenia the practical method of serving the people is to work within the parliament and the government.
Because of this mode of operation, in Armenia there is a large gap between the decisions taken by the government and the existing public opinion about these issues. In many cases, the parliament in Armenia adopted legislation without the knowledge of the voters or without formation of a public opinion. For example, approximately four-five years ago, the parliament adopted an extreme model of a pension system, based on a 100 percent private pension accounts with very little public discussion. Only about eighteen months ago, when the date of the implementation of this new extreme pension model arrived, the heated public debate began.
During the last four-five years this type of reasoning has started to be questioned. The new generation, who was born and raised during the past 25 years believe that they are the true proprietors of the country. They believe in democracy and justice. They are willing to struggle at the grass roots level in order to introduce improvements in the lives of the people. During the last few years they achieved some successes, such as the conservation of the Trchkan waterfall and the Mashdots park; preventing the rise of the bus fares from 100 Dram to 150 Dram; preventing, at least partially, the extreme privatization of the pension system. All of these proved that it is possible, through popular, grass roots and social movements, to impose meaningful pressure on the government and the leaders of the country.
Finally during the last three weeks, the fact that the struggle at the street level, by a large number of young people against the hike of electricity prices, achieved some positive results, the new generation showed that today in order to influence the decisions of the government it is not necessary to deal with a minister, an oligarch or the president and urge them to find a solution. This new generation was able to show that in the Republic of Armenia, it is possible to have an impact on the political, economic and social decisions of the state by struggling directly with the people and through a mass movement. By struggling at the street level this young generation was able to prevent the government from directly raising the price of electricity that the public is paying and obliged the government to open an investigation on police brutality against the journalists.
In this way, Armenia’s new generation achieved a major leap in the establishment of democracy and rule of law. Armenia’s activist youth emphasized that their struggle isn’t just about the prevention of the hike of electricity prices. Their struggle is about the creation of transparent and accountable state institutions. From now on, it would be more difficult for ministers, state commissions, city or neighborhood councils, to make arbitrary decisions or decisions based on political directives from “above.” This new, young, conscious, responsible and true citizens will demand explanations.
These young activists generated hope that through grass root and democratic struggle, it is possible to impose the will of the people and to break the grip of the powerful oligarchs on Armenia’s politics.
The significance of state executive and legislative bodies will increase. For example, under the scrutiny of this young citizens, the state regulatory commissions, such as the Public Services Regulatory Commission, will be more transparent and accountable. The political pressures on these commissions will diminish, which will increase their significance and responsibilities.
This amazing young generation, after confronting police brutality and water cannons on Bagramian Boulevard, during elections they will not sell their votes for 5000 Dram. They will give their votes to the political parties that at the neighborhood level or at the city level work with the people, in order to address their immediate needs. Obviously, within time, the number and the political influence of the young people born in our independent country will increase.
Because of these changes this new young generation could have significant influence on the operations and nature of the political parties.
This inspiring young generation, act like true and responsible citizens. Unlike the oligarchs, they consider themselves as the true owners of Armenia. The political parties, who realize this new political landscape and start working with the people continuously, instead of just few months before elections, will not be marginalized. Instead these political parties will be able to gain the trust of this amazing young generation and the public in general. These parties will be able to provide platform to this new generation and hopefully some of young leaders of the new generation will be able to lead these parties and through them the country.
The ARF, based on its history of the first three decades and later on in the Middle East, based on its tradition of closely working with the people at the grass root level, and finally based on the resolutions of its latest world congress, such as “to work actively with social initiatives…” could provide platform and a home to this inspiring new generation.
Dr. Ara Khanjian is a Professor of Economics at Ventura College. He is also member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Western US Central Committee.