BY DR. ARA KHANJIAN
In Armenia, working with people and exhibiting genuine interest in confronting their difficulties and challenges significantly increases a candidate’s chances of being elected. It is also the best method for improving political and economic conditions in Armenia.
Recent examples come from the villages of Baghanis and Tidavan and in the city of Ijevan, all of them in the state of Davoush, in the north-eastern part of Armenia. Incumbent mayors from the country’s ruling Republican Party, despite their leverage and strength, lost elections when they faced candidates who were genuinely interested in working with the people and addressing their concerns.
On October, 23, 2012, mayoral elections in the villages of Baghanis and Tidavan – both located near the Azerbaijan border – produced two young mayors from the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, who defeated the Republican Party incumbents. Villagers elected Hogop Saripegyan in Tidavan and Nareg Sahagyan in Baghanis because of their active involvement in efforts to improve the living conditions of their villages. Nareg Sahagyan in Baghanis was able to defeat the incumbent Republican mayor by just 12 votes, receiving 184 votes while the incumbent received 172 votes. A third candidate received 120 votes. Sahagyan is a young university graduate who returned to his village and started working on the difficulties residents faced there.
Since being elected, both Sahagyan and Saripegyan have actively introduced positive changes in their villages, improving the living standards of the locals. Here are some of the improvements that both mayors have achieved since their election, in just eight months:
– Both mayors have improved the quality of village roads. Sahagayan has repaired the Baghanis’ roads partially with volunteer labor, while Saripegyan in Tidavan has been able to convince the national government to allocate funds to pave some 800 meters of road.
– Both mayors have been able to add lighting on the main streets of their villages. Saripegyan has added 28 lights, while Sahagyan in Baghanis has been able to provide lighting all along the main street with a $2,000 donation.
– Both mayors have increased the amount of irrigation water available to the villages. A main water pipe, built through the US Millennium Challenge program, passes about one kilometer from Baghanis. Through mayor Sahagyan’s efforts, the government has provided funding to lay about one kilometer (roughly .6 miles) of pipe, which will allow the village to receive additional irrigation water and increase the area of irrigated, arable farmland.
– Through Mayor Sahagyan’s efforts, Baghanis acquired 20 garbage bins, enabling proper waste collection.
– Thanks to Mayor Sahagyan’s initiative and support, on June 1, the only kindergarten in Baghanis for ages 5-6 was reopened. The kindergarten building had been damaged during the Armenian-Azeri war, rendering it unusable.
– Mayor Saripegyan subscribed to periodicals for the whole village to read.
– Recognizing the importance of patriotism, Mayor Sahagyan erected a 15-meter flagpole flying the Armenian tricolor in the yard of the public school. The village celebrated Army Day on January 28 and Artsakh Victory Day on May 9. The mayor erected a Khatchkar in memory of the martyrs of the war. Lastly, at the top of the hill in Baghanis, a large cross is erected, which is visible to nearby Azeri villages. Mayor Sahagyan installed wiring to and lights on the cross so the cross is visible at night.
You can follow mayor Sahagyan’s activities and developments in Baghanis through his Facebook page, as he continues to serve his home village.
Despite all these achievements, the villages still face many challenges. They need agricultural equipment, tractors, combine harvesters, refrigerators, milk storage and processing facilities, and more. They need to further improve the quality of their roads and water supply, especially during the hot months of June, July, and August. Mayor Saripegyan explained that at this stage, one of the Tidavan’s priorities is to clear the ditches along its main street. This must be done before heavy rains start, to prevent rainwater from overflowing the road and ruining it.
The mayoral elections of Baghanis and Tidavan show that when the villagers and voters in general see that a politically active person is genuinely trying to help the people and improve their lives, there is a high probability that such a person can earn the population’s vote. Of course this doesn’t imply that direct or indirect bribes, nepotism, and other patronage controlled by the ruling party won’t impact elections. However, the election of Sahagyan in Baghanis, Saripegyan in Tidavanm, and the mayor in Ijevan, (where a coalition of Prosperous Armenia, ARF, and others were able to oust the 13-year-incumbent Republican mayor and implement significant improvements in the city) shows it is wrong to write off all elections in Armenia as pre-determined by the bribes and leverage of the ruling party.
This gives us hope. It indicates that the best path to improve the economic circumstances of the populace is democracy. It demonstrates that the best way to struggle against the ruling party and its control of state resources is to work directly with the people at the local, neighborhood, level and gain the trust and confidence of voters. To build this kind of popular support, it is necessary to work with the people and fight to protect their interests, consistently, and over the long term. Voters do not appreciate a political party which becomes very active just a few months before elections, then vanishes from the streets, neighborhoods, and people’s courtyards. On the contrary, in order to build popular support and acquire votes, a political party must become active immediately after elections and stay on the streets continuously, until the next election.
Whoever wishes to improve the economic and political conditions of the people in Armenia should support mayors such as Sahagyan of Baghanis and Saripegyan of Tidavan or the mayoral coalition of Ijevan. I am sure that in Armenia, there are other mayors who are genuinely serving their people. When we visit Armenia, we should go to villages such as Baghanis and Tidavan and cities such as Ijevan and support them. Ijevan is about half an hour from Dilijan, while Tidavan is about 15 minutes from Ijevan and Baghanis another 15-20 minutes. These are beautiful areas with forested mountains, running rivers, green prairies, and more. One can buy goods and services and spend her/his money in the villages, thereby helping their economies. If someone has the financial capability, s/he could even invest in the villages and cities that have fair and honest mayors and executives. Let’s help them. Let’s show that their good work is appreciated. Hopefully, this will give incentive to other villages and cities to elect fair and honest mayors.
In addition to discussing the horrible actions of oligarchs in Armenia, let’s also talk about mayors who really serve their people, such as Sahagyan and Saripegyan. It will undoubtedly take a long time and lots of effort to get rid of the oligarchs. On the other hand, it is not difficult to help and support Baghanis and Tidavan or other villages and cities with honest and good mayors. Supporting them is within our financial means. In these villages, a few hundred dollars can make a difference. Hopefully, the number of such mayors and political activists, ones who are genuinely trying to improve people’s living conditions, increases and the overall economic and political conditions in Armenia improve.