BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
I can’t be the only who has been torn, internally, by the developments of the last two-three weeks in Armenia. Even writing about it is difficult because conditions are so fluid that anything valid this moment may become utterly irrelevant an hour later.
So far, I think it’s inarguable that things have gone reasonably well. Without significant bloodshed (just some bruises, bloody noses, etc.), a fairly universally disliked person, a former president, has been forced to resign from the prime ministership. But with Serzh Sarkissian gone, the real hard work has begun.
The next step is for parliament, the National Assembly (NA), to elect a new Prime Minister (PM). Certainly, Nigol Pashinian, the prime organizer of the street movement that led to Sarkissian’s resignation is a prime candidate. Yet his caucus in parliament is very small, far from having the requisite number of votes. Hence the ARF’s call for all four parliamentary caucuses (Republican, Prosperous Armenia, ARF, and Exit- Pashinian’s) to consult and come up with a person who enjoys the support of the people. This could easily not happen. The Republican Party of Armenia (RPA, Sarkissian’s) has a clear majority and could simply elect one of its own. This would be very unwise and undoubtedly lead to more street actions.
But if parliament fails to choose a new PM, then the constitution requires that new parliamentary elections be held a month later. To my mind, and judging by comments from Yerevan, this is something that should happen in short order regardless of who (if anyone) becomes the new PM.
But all of this begs the question of legality. Why should a majority of parliament accede to the wishes of a minority? That’s effectively what Pashinian and his supporters are demanding. This is where the question of legitimacy comes in. To those demonstrating and backing Pashinian (probably along with many others including myself), this parliament lacks in legitimacy. Remember that while the election a year ago that seated this group of deputies in the NA was probably the cleanest in the third Armenian republic’s history from a vote-rigging/ballot stuffing/other election fraud techniques. Conversely, it was the dirtiest, by all accounts, from the perspective of vote-buying. Primarily the Republican Party of Armenia, followed by the Prosperous Armenia Party, spent huge sums of money to outright pay for citizens’ votes.
So, what now? Demonstrations will continue until the PM issue is resolved, one way or the other.
But there is another perspective that is tearing at me, the one which comes from my being an ARF member. We have always been the party of Armenian rights, justice, liberation, etc. Yet, since we were in a parliamentary coalition with the Republicans (until a few days ago), countless people have been hurling shame in our direction. This is completely understandable. But I ask every to consider a few attenuating circumstances. Since the re-independence of Armenia, we have consistently striven to establish a country of laws. We have focused our efforts on the governmental/electoral-political arena. I think we should have expended more effort on local (neighborhood/village/town) level organizing and education (in the basics of participatory democracy) to develop and elicit much greater participation and a sense of “ownership” of people’s rights by themselves rather than the habits held over from the Soviet era of expecting solutions to come from “above” – where- or whom-ever that might be. This, after a quarter century, might well have prevented the current parliamentary configuration from ever coming to be. Along the way, the level of corruption would have also been lessened, thus reducing the (now) extreme frustration rightly felt by citizens trying to live a normal life.
We (ARF) are also criticized for being in a coalition with the Republicans. But given our governmental focus, this may have been unavoidable. The idea was that given who is in power, let’s create an avenue for our party to advocate and achieve reforms, little by little, nibbling away at the edges of the problems deforming Armenian society. Clearly, not enough was achieved for people to be satisfied leading to the current outpouring of anti-ARF sentiments.
Consider two other factors that shape people’s opinion of the ARF in Armenia. Opinion surveys have shown that we are seen in a positive light when it comes to national security issues, but, we don’t do well when it comes to bread-and-butter issues. Couple this with leftover anti-ARF sentiment developed by seven decades of Soviet propaganda vilifying the ARF. People still believe that the first republic’s (ARF) leaders absconded with the country’s gold. They believe the ARF did things against the people. Our work to establish a constitutional order in the Ottoman Empire so Armenians could become equal citizens is held against us. It goes on and on. So it’s easy to couple this so-called “history” with a negative characterization of our current actions.
Similarly, in the context of the ARF-RPA parliamentary coalition, people understandably criticize us. But the criticism sometimes gone from legitimate to what might best be described as incomplete or inconsistent. We are cursed for supporting Serzh Sarkissian’s bid to become PM. But this disregards our (at that time) being in a coalition. Why would anyone, any political force, wish to cooperate with the ARF if the ARF did not honor its commitments? So while it’s legitimate to hurl whatever calumny a citizen sees fit at the ARF for the coalition, it’s unjust to criticize the Sarkissian support. Things should be kept in context.
This has been tearing at me for years, and has finally come to a head. I hope that through our efforts in the Diaspora and homeland (not just the latter), all Armenians can help to transform the current crisis into an opportunity to make this a turning point towards a better system of governance and economics in the Republic of Armenia.