A Year After the Velvet Revolution: Criticisms From a Supporter

Armenian-velvet-revolution-2018a
A scene from the massive protests last year that led to the toppling of the Serzh Sarkisian regime

A scene from the massive protests last year that led to the toppling of the Serzh Sarkisian regime

BY DAVID ARAKELYAN

It has been a year since the Velvet Revolution headed by Nikol Pashinyan swept Serzh Sarkisian’s regime. As a result of the Revolution, the people of Armenia received an opportunity to choose their representatives in a free and fair election for the first time in more than two decades. They ultimately chose Mr. Pashinyan and his party, the Civil Contract, to lead the country for the next five years. I have been a staunch supporter of Mr. Pashinyan since before the Revolution, and believe that even if he does nothing else, dismantling the criminal regime and giving the Armenian people the ability to choose their leaders is already something for which Mr. Pashinyan will be remembered in Armenian history books.

However, that legacy will be greatly enhanced if the Prime Minister can also resolve some of the key issues facing Armenia and try to justify at least some of the (sky-high) expectations of the populace. While I am convinced that the Velvet Revolution was a necessary and positive step for Armenia’s development, I also believe that there are several areas where Mr. Pashinyan and his team must make improvements in order to increase the likelihood that this government will ultimately be a successful one. Constructive criticism is important for any government, and this article is my modest attempt to provide such criticism to Mr. Pashinyan and his team.

Doing that is necessary since most of the ‘criticism’ directed against the government is neither objective nor intended to help it correct its mistakes. Rather, it is mostly hateful propaganda sponsored by the affiliates of the former regime. Thus, it is incumbent upon those of us, who do not have a political agenda to stay vigilant and clearly assess both the strengths and the flaws of this government. Though I could write a long essay on the positive changes brought by this government during the course of the past year, today I will focus on some of its shortcomings.

1. Constitution. From the non-dismantlement of speed cameras to the ‘non-diminishment’ of the powers of the Prime Minister, there are several promises made by Nikol Pashinyan that have not been fulfilled. Not everything can be done in a year, of course, but something as important as changing the ARF-inspired, Serzh-sponsored Constitution passed in a referendum tainted by vote buying and voter intimidation should have been a priority. As a member of Parliament, Mr. Pashinyan (correctly) criticized that document for creating a position of a ‘super-Prime Minister’ and for not doing enough to effectively balance the distribution of powers between different branches of the government. Thus, it was logical for him to take concrete steps to address that problem upon assuming office. That has not been done. Hopefully, Mr. Pashinyan will turn his attention to this matter in the near future and not end up reversing himself, as he has done with regards to traffic cameras, for example.

2. Artsakh. It does not seem like this government is making sufficient effort aimed at preparing the Armenian public for a potential (and likely) war with Azerbaijan. Instead, there is too much talk of peace with the regime in Baku, if not by the Prime Minister himself, then at least by his surrogates. Peace is a pipe dream. If Mr. Pashinyan does not want his tenure to end in a calamity, he needs to end these premature conversations about peace and prepare for a war. Our history of interactions with the Turco-Tatars teaches us a very clear lesson: the more prepared Armenia is to defend itself, the less likely our enemies are to attack.

Of course, this does not mean ending diplomatic efforts and purely focusing on military buildup. Armenia needs to win time to rebuild after the criminal regime brought the country to the brink of disaster, and diplomacy can help there. In that sense, Mr. Pashinyan’s attempt to bring Artsakh, left by Kocharian and Sarkisian out of the negotiations process, back to the table is commendable. However, as long as there are no monumental shifts in the mindset of the Azeri populace, diplomatic efforts will not yield peace. The best they can do is help Armenia win time, and that is precisely what needs to be done, so the country can improve its economic and military capabilities before the next wave of aggression by Azerbaijan.

3. Tone/Style of Leadership. Mr. Pashinyan’s style of talking to people is worrisome. The widely-publicized incident with the flag at the customs office was not the Prime Minister’s finest hour, though his anger may have been justified. Mr. Pashinyan is emotional and people like him for that (and his sincerity), but that gives the apologists of the criminal regime an opportunity to focus on his temper and try to delegitimize what he is actually saying or trying to accomplish. Mr. Pashinyan cannot let that happen. Instead of talking about the Prime Minister’s irritability, those individuals should be forced to address the rampant corruption, the rigged elections and other crimes, which have taken place during Serzh Sarkisian’s and Robert Kocharian’s years and which they are busy trying to deny or diminish. As for Mr. Pashinyan’s temper, he should follow his own message of ‘love and tolerance’ and avoid public outbursts that give ammunition to his opponents.

4. Appointments. Mr. Pashinyan seems to have a lack of desire (or maybe lack of cadres) to surround himself with more professional individuals. He has relied mainly on his teammates from the Civil Contract for the past year, and though they are viewed as honest and not prone to corruption, the youth and inexperience of many ministers/MP’s is concerning. There are several people appointed/elected to positions who are clearly not qualified for the jobs they hold. At the same time, there is significant untapped potential of competent professionals, both in Armenia and in the Diaspora, who could be engaged in the nation-building process. Loyalty and membership in a certain political party cannot be the main categories for appointing people to important positions in the government, especially when the country is facing monumental challenges. The Prime Minister should look into making his government more diverse and more professional in order to be able to solve the many problems facing Armenia.

5. Information War. Mr. Pashinyan needs to address these issues in a situation when a full-scale information war is being waged against his government. His predecessors, Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian along with their former coalition partners continue to control large TV channels (Kentron, H2) and other media outlets (newspapers and online sources such as Tert.am, News.am, Slaq.am, etc.) that are used to sabotage and attack the Prime Minister and his family. The government should look into the sources of funding for these ‘news outlets’ devoted to anti-government propaganda and develop a better PR strategy to neutralize their impact. Maybe in the process of investigating the funding sources of these ‘news outlets’ affiliated with Kocharian and Sarkisian, the authorities will also finally come across the many business ventures, offshore accounts, and hidden properties that the public widely believes are owned by the two former Presidents. And maybe then there will be enough evidence to hold them accountable for those and many other crimes committed during their years in office.

The Armenian people have very high hopes and expectations of Nikol Pashinyan’s government. For the first time in more than two decades, the government enjoys public support and the legitimacy necessary to consolidate the Armenian society and provide solutions to the problems facing our nation. That chance cannot be wasted. Mr. Pashinyan must be more deliberate in his decisions and in his behavior in order to be able to withstand both the internal and external pressures and address the socio-economic and geopolitical challenges facing Armenia. And we, as Armenians, must resist the temptation to fall prey to false propaganda disseminated by the former (criminal) regime and help this government succeed. History has not always given us an opportunity like the one we have today to build the Armenia of our dreams. It is incumbent upon all of us, and particularly, our country’s new leadership, not to miss this historic chance.

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18 Comments

  1. State of Emergency said:

    What could possibly go wrong with meetings conducted behind “closed doors” with Putin and Lavrov? Beside, the PM is merely a controlled opposition figure. The real shot callers are up north.

    • David Arakelyan said:

      I do not know who the PM is controlled by, but we can probably agree that he is legitimate, which is more than we can say about his predecessors. All of the shots were called up north precisely because the country lacked a legitimate government. Now, we can strive to build Armenia back and gradually become more independent.

  2. Sebouh Tashjian said:

    Dear Mr Arakelyan: I read your article to Prime Minister Pashinyan. It is a realistic and balanced critique that I am sure will capture.Mr Pashinyan’s immediate attention. In 1991 on the first day of Armenia’s second Independence, at the invitation of President Ter Petrossian, I moved from Los Angeles to Yrrevan to become State Minister of Armenia. I served for 5 years in Armenia. At the time I really thought that in 5-7 years Armenia will develop to a fully democratic country with all the required laws and financial institutions. I could have ot been much wrong. 27 plus years later, and ensuing several corrupt governments the improvements are minimal. Still 50% poverty; 40% unemployment; and 10 families control 80% of the wealth of the country. Democracy is still an ilusive dream. I learned quicky, as State Minister, that it is very difficult to build democracy on the reminents of the former Soviet Union. Easier to dismantle and begin from new. This was not an option.
    Mr Pashinyan has been at the helm of the Government for a little over a year. He keeps fighting against corruption and lawlessness. Who would have ever thought a former Armenian Preaident will be behind bars for breaking the law?
    Your points in your article are important and timely. Time is needed to develop and bring about meaningful and lasting changes. Specially in the mind set of the former Soviet Union that still is prevalent in Armenia. We are only one generation moved from the last Independence.
    MR Pashinian, I think, knows and understands the awsom responsibility thst rests on his shoulders and also equally the expectations of the people. He may be viewed as new and inexperienced by some but he is not tinted and greedy like the previous Prime Ministers/Presidents. I am sure within a year we will see more positive results from him.

    • David Arakelyan said:

      Thank You for your comments, and I do hope that this piece will reach someone in the government. There are many other issues that could have been incorporated here, but I wanted to keep the article on point and relatively brief. Otherwise, we are in agreement on most issues. Appreciate your work and the feedback.

    • State of Emergency said:

      Your optimism back in 1991 was probably clouded by your enthusiasm. Many people back then believed Armenia could be the next Switzerland. However, they neglected not only to realize the ingrained Soviet mentality but also that of the general eastern mentality. Armenia has a Eurasian culture and thus inherently backwards. We might inspire to be like western Europe because of our shared Christian faith, but at the end of the day we are who we are. There is no denying our eastern heritage. You say it will take time, but how much more time? It’s abundantly clear that we’ve been afforded all the time we need and this was the best we were able to produce. Our corrupt and myopic outlook will always daunt our country and society.

      • David Arakelyan said:

        What is ‘Eurasian culture’ and where is the evidence that we have that? Japan and Singapore are part of Eurasia, so presumably, their culture is also ‘Eurasian,’ and yet those are among the most developed countries in the world. So even if your contention is true (and I’m pretty sure it is not), being ‘Eurasian’ does not automatically imply being corrupt or backward.

        Similarly, which part of our heritage is ‘eastern’? We have been Christian and Western-oriented as long as (if not longer) than anything else, so presumably that has been ingrained in us more than anything else.

        And how have you decided that ‘our’ (whoever that is) corrupt outlook will daunt us ‘forever?’ So if there is no hope, why are we even trying to do anything?

        • State of Emergency said:

          How is it that Japan and Singapore are part of Eurasia? Eurasia is not a continent, it a geographical description much like the Middle East. Eurasian culture is a convergence of Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths and customs. Being Christian does not automatically make one Western-oriented. We would like to think we’re part of the occidental world because of our faith, but in reality we have all the traits and disposition of the orient minus the Muslim faith. Do you also consider the Christians of India, Ethiopia, or Mozambique Western-oriented?

          You, me, we and everyone in between has had ample time to prove ourselves. After so many lost opportunities, this was the best we came up with. Darwin’s theory on full display. Just because we’re trying doesn’t prove anything. If anything, we should reflect back and examine why we’re at this stage. What have we done wrong to end up back to square one. What is the cause and effect of our misery. Without first diagnosing the underlying disease, nothing will improve any time soon.

    • Sato der sarkissian said:

      Sato der sarkissian. Email satozaroubi@yahoo.com.

      I agree with your comment on President Pashinyan. But, he has other difficult challenges coming from north,south, east and west, including other countries.

  3. Vahakn said:

    This is a very fine article: constructive and intelligent. Exactly what it should be.

    Pashinyan, as the article says, needs more time.

    He is under constant siege by the old regime and by Russia.

    He must institute reform while fending off forces who wish him only the very, very worst.

    This is not an easy task.

    • David Arakelyan said:

      Thank You for your input and for taking the time to read it.

  4. HAGOP said:

    ARMENIANS ARE THERE OWN WORST ENEMIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ONCE THE OLD GENERATION SOVIET MENTALITY DIE, NEW YOUNG GENERATION WILL TAKE OVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! PASHINYAN NEEDS TO FIGHT CORRUPTION AND PUT CROOKS IN JAIL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! CLEAN UP ARMENIA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ARMENIA DOES NOT NEED MORE ENEMIES – CORRUPT GREED ARMENIANS!!!!!! ARMENIA CAN BE STRONG RICH AND HIGH TECHNOLOGY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. Արմենակ Եղիայեան said:

    Փայլուն եւ շինիչ յօդուած է՝ գրուած մէկուն կողմէ, որ կ’ուզէ թերիները սրբագրուած տեսնել եւ ոչ թէ կը միտի թերացողը քննադատել ու կործանել:
    Դրական ու սրտցաւ քննադատութեան իսկական տիպար մը:

    • David Arakelyan said:

      Շնորհակալ եմ ջերմ խոսքերի համար: Հուսանք, որ քննադատությունը կհասնի հասցեատիրոջը:

  6. Chris said:

    I am inclined to agree with the first two points – however the 3rd point is unspeakably wrong. Instead of attempting to censor/undermine critical outlets – the government should focus on amplifying it’s own message – as just one example, it already does via Facebook to form a direct connection with the people.

    Now more than ever there needs to be a healthy opposition – Let is not forget that we have gone from one absolute majority one-party rule to yet another absolute majority one-party rule.

    • David Arakelyan said:

      Thank You for your input. To be clear, we are not advocating censorship. However, when media outlets are solely devoted to spreading lies and misinformation about the government, it is important to see who is funding them. There is a concerted campaign against the government, and we should know who is organizing it. What happens after that does not have to amount to censorship. If the sources of funding are legitimate, the government can take the media outlets to court and force them to apologize for/refute the misinformation they spread. If the money comes from sources that are dubious, then there are potential corruption/money laundering schemes that could be discovered. Either way, spreading lies is not news-making, and going after those who spread them is definitely not censorship.

  7. berj said:

    Too many expectations on Pahinian. Has this man got a plan ? ( apart from selling Artsakh-appearances to the contrary-)What is his plan ? Fight corruption ? . During the so called “velvet circus” the people in the streets were enthusiastic and hopeful because this man was going to “treble the incomes”. Have the incomes of the citizens improved ? Pashinian is a former journalist turned into a smart politician. That is all what he is ; a politician.

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