BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
About two weeks ago, Mkhitar Hairapetyan was in the Los Angeles area and spoke at a public session held at the Armenian society of Los Angeles. He is currently chair of the Standing Committee on Science, Education, Culture, Diaspora, Youth, and Sport of the Republic of Armenia’s National Assembly and head of the Armenian delegation at Euronest Parliamentary Assembly. It is the second time I have seen him speak. Also on the podium was Consul General in Los Angeles Armen Baibourtian.
Much of the information conveyed came through the questions received from the audience. Important issues were addressed – Diaspora-Homeland relations; IT related instruction in schools; dissolution of the Diaspora Ministry; closure of schools, primarily in the countryside where there are just too few students in the villages to support a school, suggesting that perhaps teachers could cover more than one topic to solve this problem; the analogous question of Diasporan school closures; transitional justice; whether Yerevan would be creating a Diaspora governance structure – rightly, he responded with an emphatic “NO”; participation in elections of Diaspora-dwelling citizens; integrating all businesses in the country into its taxation system, even exempting small businesses from taxes to achieve this integration; that the April-May 2018 political “revolution” would now be followed by an economic “revolution”.
Some of these topics were substantive, others the natural advocacy any government, especially a newly seated one, will conduct to show it is achieving progress and benefitting its citizens.
But what struck me most about the gathering was the pathetic attendance, particularly compared to the number of people present when Hairapetyan last came to Los Angles, back in July of 2018. At that time, the main public gathering saw hundreds, possibly over 1000 people, in attendance. This time, there were fewer than 200. This is worrisome.
Is it an indication of poor organization and publicity? I hope so, because the other possible explanation would suggest a far larger problem. It might be indicative of the beginnings of disappointment in the new government. That can eventually lead to disillusion worsening into hopelessness and apathy, much like the state of the Republic of Armenia’s polity in the years preceding the 2018 Spring uprising that led to the old government’s resignation. The parallels with the late 1980s and the hope followed by despair that came about are striking and truly problematic, if this is indeed the case.
Some of this is unavoidable. Any time people get worked up, excited, and take to the streets to defend their rights, expectations start sunning sky-high. Any government that takes office afterwards is expected to produce rapid and massive change. Unfortunately, this is planet Earth, and things don’t move as quickly as people want. It becomes the responsibility of the government to manage people’s expectations, explain that they are working and that things take time to improve.
The new government is doing some of this. Conversely, there are still thrilling, rabble-rousing, speeches being made, too. Some of the damage is thus self-inflicted. But this government, the country, cannot afford another round of high hopes dashed. The burden is greater on the leadership than it was in the 1990s. They have to act far more responsibly and receptively.
We, all Armenians worldwide, must both support and simultaneously guide and temper this government’s sometimes injudicious, neo-liberal, policies to prevent a descent into yet another broken system.