BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
I doubt any serious person has doubts that the Republic of Armenia has serious problems. A few might not grasp that much of it stems from the system in place that is built on corruption. But, many probably do not fully grasp the intertwined and confusing causes of this corruption and problems.
I am one of those who is perhaps just starting to assemble all the pieces conceptually. By sharing some of these thoughts and realizations, many stemming from a very interesting discussion at a recent ARF meeting, I hope to develop the necessary awareness among our nation to support solutions to these devastating problems.
The first thing to realize is that the RoA’s problems are manifestations of global, regional, and local factors.
The global aspect comes from the dominant, neo-liberal, economic prescriptions freely distributed by the developed countries to everyone else. These “medications” treat money, profit, and “the economy” as paramount. Human needs are secondary. These prescriptions led to the misery we witnessed in Asia and Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s.
This brings us to the regional factors. They are the side-effects of the same prescriptions (as above) that were handed out in the post-Soviet space by “advisors” who, effectively, took advantage of unsuspecting populations’ desires for political freedom and economic well-being. Not knowing how the West’s economies/polities/societies functioned, the people of the region could not have imagined what was to befall them. In the absence of the regulations, the checks-and-balances, that had been built into western systems, those who had any kind of power during the Soviet period used it to avariciously and destructively enrich themselves, weld economic and political power, and secure it firmly in their hands.
Locally, because of two belligerent (Azerbaijan, Turkey), one untrustworthy (Georgia), and one friendly but constrained (Iran) neighbors Armenia has, everything is impacted and perceived through the prism of security, especially with the Genocide as an ever-present reminder of what is possible. That lesson has been refreshed often: property grabs during the early-Ataturk-republic period, Varlik Vergisi during WWII, looting in the 1950s, Cyprus in the 1970’s, Kurdish massacres throughout the last century, de-Armenianization of Nakhichevan, Azeribaijan’s massacres of Armenians from 1989 onward, Turkey’s support of IS/Daesh, and Azerbaijan’s ongoing adventurism along the front. The country is landlocked. Plus, the civil war between Ankara’s forces and the Kurds in Western Armenia, along with IS/Daesh in Iraq and Syria, could easily spill across the Arax River into the RoA or enter circuitously through Azerbaijan – remember the Afghan mercenaries who fought against NKR’s liberation in the early nineties.
Now, couple this with the level of civic awareness and economic destitution in the RoA. It seems to me that the mindset of a vast majority of the people in the RoA is what best might be described as that of subjects and not citizens. The exceptions are of course the exploiting oligarch class and the relatively small numbers of (mostly young) people who have taken to the streets to protest various wrongs (Electric Yerevan, mining, Trchgan, etc.). This is what enables the buying of votes by the abusers who then maintain their “elected” hold on power and perpetuate the skewed (or ignored, or “bent”) rules and laws. Of course the cycle continues with people then being forced into poverty and desperation allowing the future buying of votes. The sense of “this is mine and I won’t let some creep ruin it” does not yet exist for most people, and when it does, the need to feed their kids often overrides it.
This subjugation exists in one form or another worldwide. The massive campaign monies that flow in the U.S. maintain the hold of the money elites over power. In Saudi Arabia, oil money handed out to the people (in various forms and subsidies) buys their quiescence. In Turkey, the party in power, recently shifted from Ataturk’s to Erdoğan’s, gets all kinds of spoils, and pays off its supporters (think of all the scandals that have emerged over just the past 2-3 years involving high level government officials and even Erdoğan’s son). Moscow’s corruption needs no description. Beijing’s “controlled” capitalism come sat the cost of people’s social and political freedom.
The RoA is just like everywhere else, but with security concerns unlike almost anywhere else. This leads to a fear, an internal constraint people put upon themselves in protesting and trying to achieve changes in a flawed system, lest the country be endangered due to internal instability or strife.
So what’s to be done? We can hope for the oligarchs to attenuate their abuses out of the goodness of their hearts, or for the sake of the country, since current conditions are driving a massive exodus of young and talented people. Given that the oligarchs have probably set up nicely padded nests of stolen money internationally, most of them probably don’t care very much. This does not seem like a very promising option, unless somehow the oligarchs come to fear for their hold on power.
The other approach is activism, both in and out of country, with the aim of systemic change. If the destructive trend of driving wages to the lowest possible levels though artificially created international “competition” can be reversed and the power of money elites once again contained, then analogous changes will be much easier to implement in our homeland as well. Simultaneously, we must help our compatriots develop a strong sense of citizenship and ownership of the RoA so they can more assertively pursue the necessary reforms.
Consider this when voting in this year’s U.S. elections. Let’s start working towards a livable world for all, not just the hyper-rich.