Specific Action Required to Address Armenia’s Challenges

Protesters demonstrating in Yerevan against an electricity price hike instigated by the Armenian government, June 2015 (Photo: Al Jazeera)
Protesters demonstrating in Yerevan against an electricity price hike instigated by the Armenian government, June 2015 (Photo: Al Jazeera)

Protesters demonstrating in Yerevan against an electricity price hike instigated by the Armenian government, June 2015 (Photo: Al Jazeera)

BY SASSOON GRIGORIAN

The unfortunate political upheaval with the seizure of Erebuni police station in July 2016 has led to at least one notable development: increased civic activism among Armenians.

The protests in Armenia surrounding the public transport hikes in 2013, and Electric Yerevan in 2015, symbolized Armenian citizens rightly being more demanding.

In recent times this activism has extended to the diaspora, which included a petition launched on Change.org by System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian, calling for action for positive civic changes and reforms in Armenia.

This month, on the occasion of the 110th anniversary celebrations of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) in New York, a joint letter was issued by prominent Armenians calling “for the Armenian world to pivot toward a future of prosperity, to transform the post-Soviet Armenian Republic into a vibrant, modern, secure, peaceful and progressive homeland for a global nation.”

These developments are positive, but the time has come that specifics be demanded and implemented.

Arsinee Khanjian, actor and activist has put forward a practical suggestion. That for the upcoming elections in Armenia, volunteers come forward and help with the voter process to make it be more free, fair, and transparent. To combat electoral fraud.

Another area ripe for reform is increased transparency and competition in the Armenian media, particularly in the medium of television. For example funding a public broadcaster, similar to the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the United States, which could undertake investigative journalism within Armenia and its government.

Other areas for governance reform could include a single online site that would publish pecuniary interests, gifts hospitality received, and non-sensitive external meetings by the President be published on a quarterly basis. (It should be noted the UK Prime Minister and US President publish their diaries online).

That a Special Court be established to specifically deal with instances of alleged corruption.

That the State Commission for the Protection of Economic Competition and Public Services Regulatory Commission that regulate monopolies be given more teeth for enforcement, and that informers of monopolistic behavior be able to report it anonymously without retribution.

The Parliamentary elections in Armenia next year is an opportunity to campaign for specific reforms such as these and many others.

Armenia needs to leverage its most prized asset, its intellectual capability, which needs to be harnessed – particularly in the technology sector.

For meaningful change to occur, specifics need to be developed and demanded; otherwise all that would be said are nice words.

Sassoon Grigorian is author of Smart Nation: A Blueprint for Modern Armenia, a book which provides specific public policy recommendations in technology, foreign affairs, culture, governance and corruption, regional growth, the diaspora, and Nagorno-Karabakh.

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2 Comments

  1. Justme said:

    Finally an article which goes beyond the usual justification of what is going on in Armenia. I think it is high time for Armenians in diaspora to make it clear to the government that the support they receive from diaspora is not unconditional. And when I say support I don’t mean the monetary support but the political support they receive in many countries as a result of active Armenian communities. It is about time for them to realize that if it wasn’t for a strong Armenian presence in US, the US policy in the region, more specifically towards Armenia, would have been completely different. I think it is time for us to move from building a road or a school to building institutions that will accelerate the process of democratization. A school or a road will change the lives of a few thousand people which is great, but democracy will change the lives of every single citizen. Tankian’s initiative to organize a monitoring group is good but we can do much more than that. Before every single election, I find myself baffled by the fact that there is not even one single organization in Armenia that can conduct unbiased polls. The public TV which is directly controlled by the president cites their own polls which make people think they are talking about a parallel universe. We need to establish a fund for the advancement of democracy, to educate people in rural areas and small towns that selling their votes eventually hurts their pockets, to support impartial NGOs which can fight corruption, and yes to conduct at least weekly polls starting a few weeks before major elections. These are some basics that we can easily do and it really doesn’t need that much resources.

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