BY RAZMIG SHIRINIAN
In a recent summit of Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), Armenia’s Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian advised the member countries not to politicize the organization by discussing the Karabakh war as leverage in economic relations. In the midst of poverty, two sons of Armenia’s Finance Minister bought an $11 million mansion in Westwood, CA. These and similar diplomatic and economic incidents would provide an opportunity to reflect on the current Armenian political predicament.
As political scientist Levon Shirinyan, in a recent interview with Lradvakan.am, has stated, “Armenia does not have a vision” and that “we need a national strategy” for survival. He makes a pointed remark on the dilemma of our political thinking. His remarks are clear indication that the political thinking and the political establishment in Armenia have yet to come to a coherent understanding of an endogenous politics of development. A hasty post-Soviet liberalization and open market economy created the political elites that continue to monopolize the structure in a top-down order. After 25 years, the predicament of the ordinary people remains waning. The Armenian people have yet to make a clear transition to a political system of representative governance closely connected to public oriented policies. Democratic institutionalization in the midst of flawed neoliberal policies proved difficult. External pressure of interference and war notwithstanding, Armenia today faces the challenges of internal transformation and politics of development.
A general reflection on current events would indeed suggest that our politics is not about BSEC negotiations, it is not about what Nalbandian announces at an international summit, it is not about Sarkissian-Aliev meetings, it is not what Putin discusses with Erdogan. Apart from these diplomatic efforts, our politics is all about roads, bathrooms, rest areas, livable wages, adequate houses, labor and production in the country. Politics, in other words, is about the infrastructural elements of development. The violence erupted early in April in Karabakh has indicated that people will not leave the country because of war, but will emigrate primarily because of underdeveloped conditions of the key infrastructural fundamentals.
About 100 years ago we lost Kars, Gaghzuan and other Armenian territories not because the enemy was stronger, but because we failed to build our infrastructure and did not stand firm on our politics and on the developmental needs of the country.
Today, Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora, despite the deep rooted variations in their political socialization, have yet to cohere as a strong, institutionalized, and developing national and state entity. Notably, this has been largely due to the role played by the oligarchic powers that have manipulated the political orientation of the liberalized national system in favor of their own vested interests.
As a number of investigative reporters have pointed out (read hetq.am, for example), oligarchic control has been maintained and has shown no inclination to internal reform and political socialization. In spite of many transformations, the country remains far from being able to crystallize into an internally dynamic and cohesive entity, or stand as a politically institutionalized and developing country.
What Armenia’s independence has taught us is that development of the country would be the founding political discourse that will allow the country to establish its identity as a state and sustain itself. The perennial developmental concepts, such as participation, transportation, communication, production, and equitable distribution of the wealth have often sparked some political discourse and activism, however, setting the foundation for political institutionalization and infrastructural development have largely been neglected.
Like many developing countries, Armenia’s economic growth has not been matched by development of its infrastructure or by institutional competence of its governance structure. Armenia’s growth story has yet to translate into a functioning democracy, often envisioned and expressed by the country’s large number of NGOs and civil society groups. This certainly has caused great social and political stress that Armenia has to contend with, even more now (after the early April clashed with Azerbaijan) than the 25 years of independence. What seems to be a primary concern for the people at the present juncture is the increased prospect of development, or governance in which the state, more than civil society groups and activists, will have to play a decisive role in the politics of development informed by common values and not vested oligarchic interests.
Moreover, like other developing countries Armenia’s stability also seems to be largely influenced by its socio-economic development. This would require major structural reforms to use the benefits derived from economic growth to eliminate poverty, improve educational, social, and health services and reverse the trend of the country’s diminishing population.
Notably, Armenia has a long tradition of excellence in education, scientific and technical development. The country has established various types of science and technology (S&T) institutions reminiscent to developing economies. However, these institutions are also struggling with inadequate financial resources and with little evidence of impact they are making on reduction of unemployment as well as on promotion of human rights and democracy. The academic institutions and the S&T tradition in Armenia have yet to correlate education with important national objectives such as poverty reduction, social services, public exploitation of the natural resources, and the country’s development strategy in general.
For a small and landlocked country like Armenia, public and development policies seem to be highly contingent upon an inward-looking strategy to be built on infrastructural elements of development. Armenia has no significant influence in diplomatic relations, but it has leverage in internal reform and political development. A well-designed development strategy can create limitless opportunities.