To #Maidan or not to #Maidan

To #Maidan or not to #Maidan: This is the question that the #ElectricYerevan activists are being unwillingly forced to answer.

Over the last 2 weeks, public discontent over a shady decision to yet-again raise the price of electricity, this time by a whopping 20% upon the request of the Kremlin-owned company, Inter RAO, has culminated into 6 days of round-the-clock popular protests attracting as many as 20 000 people, including a sit in on Baghramyan St, one of the city’s main arteries.

The protesters, identified by the trending Twitter hasthag #ElectricYerevan, were angry over the increasingly obvious lack of sovereignty over the country’s energy distribution networks, the majority of which have overwhelmingly been sold to state-run companies in Russia. The claim that the price increase was to cover a $50million deficit supposedly caused by the depreciated Dram further raised eyebrows, as people asked how it was possible for an energy distribution monopoly to run a deficit.

Though this protest is largely understood in Armenia to be the result of a deep-rooted anger at the State for failing to produce the right socio-economic circumstances for growth, while doing little to tackle corruption, the fact that the protesters have accused both their own government as well as Russian involvement by association (electricity distribution being in the hands of a Russian state-owned firm) has lead to a swift condemnation of the movement by the Russian Duma, which wasted no time in branding it an “Armenian Maidan” which needed to be suppressed at all costs.

Putin_Armenia_fascism

“How to make Armenia look Fascist”

This call was further echoed by Russian state-owned media that was present on the scene, who stipulated that US, or western NGOs are responsible for the unrest; implying that the protesters formed a sort of 5th column in a new front of a revived cold-war existing only in the minds of Kremlin strategists. The association with Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution was also debated by Ukrainian and Western news outlets.

As the protesters woke up to hear Russian media accusing them of “orchestrating another Maidan”, they were naturally incensed, producing an even greater backlash against Russian news outlets for portraying their struggle against corruption in the energy sector as part of a western-sponsored anti-Russian conspiracy. This anger, of course, was seen as a validation by the same Russian Press which had made the initial accusation.

In this video; a protester explains to the Russian Journalist why they are truly protesting, and why their coverage is misleading. She was reportedly fired after this video aired.

Over the past 3 days, as the protest’s growing momentum has continued to attract international media attention, the Armenian people’s struggle is increasingly being debated far way from the country’s borders. The protesters themselves are finding their struggle for accountability in energy distribution unwillingly dragged into a wider geopolitical conflict; which many of them care little about. Already, #ElectricYerevan has been joined by hashtags such as #ArmenianMaidan and #ElectroMaidan on social media sites; despite the fact that neither of the two are ever used by the activists themselves.

Russian Journalist being schooled on journalism ethics

Russian Journalist being schooled on journalism ethics

This fear of being swallowed into a larger conflict is understandable. With the recent events in Ukraine still looming over everyone’s heads, the protesters have gone through great lengths to convince the Kremlin that this isn’t a Maidan, that this is protest’s goals are unique.

Obvious similarities:

One point voiced by the protesters on Baghramyan Street was that, unlike the Ukrainian Maidan Revolution, which was fought over the country’s geopolitical direction, and resulted in hundreds of deaths; this protest, by contrast, was apolitical, non-violent, aimed at fighting rampant corruption and the lack of accountability in the country; but with one demand: to stop the electricity price hike.

Incidentally, most of the protesters interviewed on Kyiv’s Maidan Square, stated the exact same reasons for their own struggle: a dissatisfaction with the rampant corruption of the Yanukovych regime, Illegitimacy, and the lack of rule of law. Just like in Yerevan, the Maidan protesters had initially peacefully assembled, and, just like #electricyerevan, had only 1 demand: resume economic talks with the EU. It’s only when the world woke up in the morning to the shocking news that the government had sent in the Berkut to violently clear out the protestors, that people of all political convictions, regardless of views on the West or Russia joined in to protest government repression. Successive violent attempts against the protestors and well documented Kremlin  involvement helped turn public opinion against the government, and Russia’s foreign policy, and only then, were the first calls for revolution being made.

President Sargsyan was well aware of this the morning when public outcry over his brutal dispersion of the Baghramyan protestors reached his ears, and is hopefully doing everything in his power to ensure that, like in Ukraine, government overreaction doesn’t lead to a Maidan repeat. The Maidan protesters, and the #ElectricYerevan protesters have both created unique countercultures which should be observed in their own right. The common denominator, however, has been the Kremlin’s reaction. Thus, one could argue that Armenia’s and Ukraine’s struggles are similar insofar as any nation’s struggle against corruption would invariably develop along similar lines.

Not exactly the same though:

This isn’t to say, however, that #ElectricYerevan doesn’t genuinely have its differences. To begin with, the very idea of lumping all forms of public discontent together (be it as a CIA conspiracy, or as a seemingly trending call for liberal-democracy), is very dangerous because it tends to gloss over the very real domestic tensions and concerns that motivate the protesters in favor of citing regional trends which may or may not be there, as well removing from the unique character of both protests. #ElectricYerevan, unlike the Maidan, hasn’t seen a rise in leadership of any particular individual, or political party; extremist parties have been denied centre stage, and unlike in Kyiv, the protest lacks a clear geopolitical direction (with some EU-flag weaving members of the “Honourable Fatherland” faction having been shoved out) 

Armenians’ desire to distance themselves from the Maidan movement brings to mind an important question: should the Armenian protesters really reject the Maidan association?  By going too far in distancing themselves from the Maidan protests, the #ElectricYerevan activists risk banalising their own movement for 4 reasons:

1- Implicitly endorsing the Kremlin view on the events of 2014-15 in Ukraine as a violent, Russophobic coup-d’etat:

The only reason why #ElectricMaidan activists feel the necessity for distancing themselves from any association with the #Maidan Revolution of 2014 is because of a decade-long Kremlin-supported witch hunt for “Colour Revolutions”. In the wake of the Ukrainian Revolution, the Kremlin’s propagandists have done such a thorough job of of permeating the notion of the Maidan as a bloody fascist coup to its television audience, that even one of the older protesters on Baghramyan street was suspicious about a rumoured Prague-based “Maidan exporting cell”, which she claimed was planning to hijack the #ElectricYerevan movement. By negating any association, protesters essentially accept the Kremlin-towed line that this view is a correct one. 

2- Implying that the protesters somehow have to justify themselves to the Kremlin:

In trying to convince the Kremlin’s media apparatus that what is happening on the streets of Armenia’s major cities is not another Maidan, the protesters are essentially trying to appease potentially vengeful Russian authorities. Seeing as how these protests are happening in the sovereign, and independent Republic of Armenia; it is idiotic to have to give any explanation to the leaders of a foreign country, for what is essentially a domestic struggle.

3- the more they deny resemblance, the more it is forced upon them:

Ukrainian Maidan participants found themselves assaulted with accusations, speculations and insinuations by the Kremlin’s propaganda machine that they are, or at the very least were motivated by fascist ideals. This in turn helped shift the focus from the real issues on the ground, to debates nebulous fascist influences. Similarly, the more Armenian protesters try to deny any resemblance with the Maidan revolution; the attention is drawn to this view. Furthermore, depending on how local authorities, or the Kremlin react, any counter reaction by the demonstrators will inevitably resonate with Maidan-watchers. 

4- It sets a predetermined path and fate for this movement

Accepting or rejecting similarities with the Maidan essentially sets the 2014 Maidan revolution as the standard for any form of civil unrest in any post-soviet country. Protesters now have to choose between two camps pre-determined camps; which limits the creativity, and demands of their respective movements. Protests, revolutions, or any other sort of civil-society movements need to be analyzed individually.

The short answer to the question “Is #ElectricYerevan another #Maidan?” is NO: #ElectricYerevan is a completely homegrown Armenian popular movement, born out of a real feeling of disenfranchisement, and with a specific set of demands unique to Armenia’s situation. This, however, doesn’t mean that there aren’t any similarities between the two movements (and indeed most movements). The long answer, however, depends on how the Armenian authorities, and how the Kremlin react to these protesters. Ultimately, the real answer is: It doesn’t matter.  Armenians do not, and should not, owe any explanation for their protest movement to the Kremlin, or any outside parties.

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What Zaruhi Postandjyan SHOULD have asked…

photocredit: www.pastinfo.am

Zaruhi Postandjyan

Though we have already commented on the absurdity of the Postandjyan-Sargsyan exchange which took place on the floor of PACE earlier this week, the event, and the ensuing scandal continues to divide Armenian society.

Many in the opposition Heritage Party, as well as various people on social networks have praised her actions as a brave challenge to President Sargsyan, while representatives of the ruling Republican Party have slammed her comments as treason, going so far as to call her a Turk or an Azeri. With member of the HHK faction in the National Assembly, Arakel Movsisian (apparently unaware that his own expression of disgust at an inappropriate comment was way more offensive on its own) said: “She went to bed with a Turk,”.

The question at hand was the following: “Have you been to a European casino lately, and — since you are known to the public as a gambler — did you lose 70 million euros ($95 million) there and who paid for your loss?” – Many defended the question as they say it unveiled the president as a target of ridicule, while Postandjyan herself commented to RFE/RL that she tried to ask as many questions as possible in 30 seconds that the Armenian people wanted to ask, but when asked about the origin of the question relating to Sargsyan’s alleged gambling debts, she admitted that it was based on rumours that everyone knew about (in other words, there is no substance).

Assuming, of course, that Postandjyan should have asked any question at all, here is a list of questions we suggest which would have been more effective to her cause, while preserving her diplomatic credibility:

  1. “Mr President, in your speech, you mentioned that under your presidency, civil society in Armenia has become vibrant, where citizens are well aware of their rights. However, over the last month 9 peaceful civil rights activists have been viciously attacked by government-connected thugs, and, despite promises by the Police, no serious investigation has taken place. Can you comment on the development of the Human Rights situation in Armenia?”
  2. “Mr President, you mentioned in your speech that your decision to join the Customs Union was not one forced by Moscow, but a sovereign decision on your part. Since you also mentioned that you proudly believe that you represent the voice of the Armenian people, can you comment on your decision to act unilaterally in that regard (despite constitutional restraints), without consulting the National Assembly or the Armenian People?”
  3. “Mr President, you mentioned that over 4 years of negotiations with the European Union under the framework of the Eastern Partnership Programme, that the government of Armenia has made great strides in modernising the Armenian state to European Standards; a belief that is shared by virtually no one else. Can you please explain to the European Delegates and the Armenian people why Armenia’s fight against corruption, Transparent modernisation and economic liberalisation has been a resounding failure?”
  4. “Mr President, most economic indicators suggest that your financial policies, as well as the grasp of the Oligarchy on the economy are taking Armenia’s already stagnant economy towards another recession, can you explain your rationale for deciding to throw away 4 years of negotiations which would have allowed us to join the World’s largest free-trade zone, and n1 economy, in order for joining the already backward Customs Union?”
  5. “Mr President, despite the fact that you have been warned several times by our European partners that the custom rates of the Moscow-led Customs Union were not compatible with those of the European Free Trade Area, you have insisted on going on the road to Moscow, and yet you still claim that membership in both organisations is possible (despite the contrary) Can you please dispense with the vague statements, and explain to the European Deputies how you see this cooperation with two mutually exclusive organisations possible?”
  6. (assuming she wants to go for a shocking, yet diplomatic statement) “Mr President, You mentioned, on September 21st, that Armenia’s independence is an intrinsic value, yet only two weeks before, you completed a series of actions started by your predecessor, Robert Kocharyan, to sell Armenia’s independence to the Russians. Your party claims to be based on the ideology of “Tseghakron”,  what would you think reaction of the Armenian Freedom FIghter, Garegin Njdeh (the founder of the ideology who fought Russian occupation as much as Ottoman occupation) would be to your actions?”

All of these questions could have been posed in less than 30 seconds, in an eloquent, and intelligible way which would have had the same desired effect of embarrassing Sargsyan, yet with the bonus effect of showing the world that Armenia’s opposition politicians DO possess the qualities to run the country in a more effective manner. Furthermore, by asking pertinent questions related to the pressing topic at hand would demonstrate to the European Partners, that not everyone in the Armenian political community accepts the president’s decision, and that cooperation would be more desirable with the opposition.

Why Zaruhi Postandjyan’s comments were dumb, (and potentially hurtful to the Opposition)

Sargsyan addresses PACE

On the relatively sunny Strasbourgian day of October 2nd, Serj Sargsyan was scheduled for a speech at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE – an intergovernmental legislative body consisting of 45 European nations + Turkey and Azerbaijan). Although he was several minutes late, he decided to start the Azerbaijan-bashing early, barely 1:35 minutes into his speech. He went on to totally ridicule himself over the course of roughly an hour (which will be discussed below), including a particularly grilling Question-and-Answer session, where a number of confused European deputies inquired about the real state of democratisation in Armenia, as well as the actual position of the Armenian government on Sargsyan’s controversial September 3r decision to reverse three and a half years of negotiation with the European Union (for a deal which would have allowed Armenia privileged access to the world’s largest single trade-zone, in favour of joining a Moscow-led club of dictatorships with stagnant economies, including such illustrious nations as Lukashenko’s Belarus (affectionately known as ‘Europe’s Last Dictatorship’), President Nazerbayev’s Kazakhstan and of course, Putin’s Russia).

During his 60 minutes of fame, apart from unveiling his new “We admit that there are some problems to deal with, but we are still doing a good job” strategy of self-delusion, the President went on to make a number of incoherent, vague often contradictory statements, a historical revisionisms, and gross exagerations and sometimes bordering on the realm of outright lies.

However, on the morning of October the 3rd, it wasn’t President Sargsyan’s inability to convince his interlocutors that the September 3rd decision was made alone that made headlines, nor was it the multitude of vague, and incoherent statements he made on the Karabakh conflict, and the continuation of EU-Armenia relations (despite the fact that he has been told that Armenia will no longer be offered anything at Vilnius; Instead, it was the idiotic and wholly embarassing exchange between Heritage Member of Armenian National Assembly (and representative of Armenia to PACE) Zaruhi Postandjian and the president, in which, Postandjian, ignoring all diplomatic portocol, claimed that since the president wasn’t truly elected, she will not ask him anything about that, but instead ask about his alleged gambling debts of 70 million euros to a European casino. In a boorish yet sadly typically Armenian way,  Sargsyan responded that the other candidate did not have the respect of the people, or the right characteristics to be leader of the Armenians (despite the fact that the president had to resort to intimidation, ballot stuffing, bribes and carousel voting to win), that he wasn’t a gambler, and and that if he had access to such funds, he would donate it to Postandjian to help ‘cleanse her of her evil’. Yes… such an exchange actually took place in front of representatives of 47 countries… The exchange can be viewed here.

Heritage Party MP Zaruhi Postandyan (photo credit: Lragir.am)

This caused a furor in Armenia, with intense debates being waged on social networks, as well as in Parliament, where the Republican Speaker of the House, Hovik Aprahamyan announced plans to remove her from her position within Armenia’s delegation to PACE, over her ‘slanderous’ comments. Many (including herself) defended her actions, saying that she had been very brave in asking the questions that needed to be asked, but is that necessarily true?

Other than the fact that it isn’t usually correct protocol to try and shame your own country’s representative in an international arena, one can understand the idea that a political oppositionist would see the opportunity to shed light on a whole plethora of real problems in Armenia (including the lack of progress on the fight against corruption, poverty, and the slow pace of democratisation), Why she decided to use the time allocated to her to blab about an obscure  gambling debts claim when there literally ANY question would have been more pertinent is anyone’s guess.  It is also understandable that loyal opposition must be there to call the government on its missteps, but there is a difference between a brave opposition strategically and intelligently checking the government, and a hysterical woman (Zaruhi has built herself a reputation for hysteric outbursts as parliamentarian) throwing nebulous accusations across the floor of PACE, in front of dozens of confused delegates.

Her question provoked a number of disproportionally contemptible retorts from Republican Party government officials, who called her a traitor. Parliament Speaker Hovik Aprahamyan, apparently forgetting his government’s stated commitment to freedom of speech, claimed that “Expressing a political opinion, isn’t by nature, an absolute right”.  RPA MNA Karen Avagyan, amongst others uttered: “Today Zaruhi Postanjian was more of a Turk than any Turk, more of an Azerbaijani than any Azerbaijani,” (putting aside the blatant racism).

Furthermore, this only helps to discredit the Opposition, by showing that by their rash, emotionally charged actions, their eternal obsession with unconstructive criticism and lack of alternative suggestions fails to distinguish them from the ‘corrupt, and incompetent’ government officials as a credible force.

Arguably, had she simply remained silent, it would have been quite possible that the media would have focused on any one of these following statements which Sargsyan muttered over a half hour, proving that he is personally capable of embarrassing himself without outside help:

  1. Right off the bat: Blaming Turkey and Azerbaijan for impeding the development of a modern, prosperous nation in Armenia
  2. Trying to paint some of Armenia’s progresses in terms of freedom of the press, speech and assembly as part of his own reforms
  3. Claiming that the last three Armenian elections of the past year and a half (Parliamentary, Presidential and Mayoral) were a resounding success of democratic maturity, despite evidence of the countrary
  4. Insisting that the September 3rd decision was not made with pressure from Moscow (while of course failing to explain why, if this was truly an indeginous decision, they wasted three and a half years, and resources of the European Union, only to find out at the last minute that they wanted to be part of a Customs Union that they had consistently voiced opposition to previously)
  5. Contradicted Statement 4 by saying that they had ‘always’ warned their European partners that they are ready to move forward in negotiations as long as they do not jeopardise relations with their ‘strategic partner’ (this is confusing because there was never any evidence that Armenia’s wish to sign the DCFTA would somehow weaken the stranglehold Russia already has on Armenia; and thus, the only way the ‘strategic relationship’ would have been jeopardised by further EU accession by Armenia, would have been if the ‘partner’ in question had changed the rules of the partnership, implying direct pressure from Moscow)
  6. In a hilarious feat of historical revisionism, Sargsyan actually claimed that Armenia had ALWAYS said that it was not yet ready to take on the country on the path of more intense democratic reform, and it was the Europeans who were pushing for it.
  7. Praised the controversial ‘Giligia School’ (Where the ethnic Armenian pupils are forced to sing the Syrian National anthem every day and learn Syrian history, in Armenia…) for its actions in helping Syrian-Armenian students prepare themselves for their eventual return to Syria.

Yet instead of any of those topics being picked up and discussed by the media, now we are dealing with the backlash of an absurd event, which once more serves to ridicule Armenia in front of the world, in which both political figures have succeeded only in embarrassing themselves, each other, and their nation. They have only helped cement the post-September 3rd the view that Armenia is whimsical, peripheral, and an unreliable partner for international organisations.

When bloggers debate the winners and losers of that exchange, the answer is: Armenia lost…yet again.

Understanding the Armenian world view when dealing with the Artsakh Conflict

Despite the world having witnessed our recent history, we are still asked by International mediators to be reasonable in our demands (our demands to preserve what is left of our nation)

 it would be really nice if, for once, the international community, the Turks and the Azeris would care to understand the Armenian case: We are a nation of people who’s contribution to the world is quite disproportionate to our size, and yet have constantly been marginalised by larger interests, seen as disposable problems, to the point where our plight has even been refered to as “the armenian QUESTION“, as if we were a problem that the world was trying to effortlessly wash its hands of. For most of our recent history, we have been criticised as a nuisance by larger powers in the grand scheme of World Affairs, because we complained about our lands being taken from us, our people murdered, our sovereignty being violated, or culture compromised time and time again. Yet, we have constantly been asked to compromise on these things which we have held dear by the same powers who asked us to sacrifice for the greater good, to appease our aggressive neighbours, or for future compensation.

Today we live in a Republic that is one tenth the size of the state we were legally promised in 1919, which itself was only two thirds the size of the land we have historically lived in; which didn’t bother Stalin who decided to disect us even further.

Different Armenias

 We do not have the luxury of having a Sprachbund stretching from Blugaria to China like our neighbours do, our closest kin have long since been assimilated into other cultures, there is no where else for us to go. We have nothing left to give, and yet we are still being told by the International community that we are being unreasonable, that we must compromise…This is not an irrational call for romantic nationalism, or irredentism, this is a very real, pragmatic issue for us. IT is an issue that intails the very survival of our nation as a relevant, independent state in the modern world. We collectively share the pain of the Azeris who suffered in the early nineties, but it was a necessary pain, Just as the pain of the Indian-born Britons who left for a land of their ancestors that they had never seen, when India received it’s independence.

It should be noted, however, that despite the fact that the Armenian nation has already lost so much, for the sake of peace, the Armenian negotiators at the Kazan conference offered a compromise that was so humiliating for the Armenian side that some of the points have still not been publicly revieled. This very reasonable proposal was turned down by Aliyev. In other words, no matter what we offer, they will still ask for more.

Should Azeri refugees be alloud to return to their homes? Absolutely. Should we allow Azeris free passage through Armenia/Artsakh, as part of a pledge to allow all of mankind the right ot freedom of movement, and dignity they deserve as fellow human beings? Definately. Should we dream of the day where we could one day trade freely with Azerbaijan and look towards eventual regional economic integration? We are more than willing…Yet, to give up even an inch of land for which we have fought and bled for? NEVER.

The Cost of the Diaspora’s aid: Why the Diaspora should push for free-markets, not Charity as a generator of development in Armenia

This article was originally presented to the first annual convention for “Armenian Students for Liberty” September 2013

With independence, Armenia found itself inheriting a vast amount of socio-economic problems stemming from the collapse of the Soviet collectivist economy. These problems were further exasperated by the 1988 Spitak Earthquake, the war with neighbouring Azerbaijan over the Karabakh enclave as well hyperinflation of the newly introduced Dram. These alarming conditions lead a concerned Armenian Diaspora to pool its collective economic strength together in order to  set up a series of badly-needed emergency funds. This was the birth of the Diaspora-sponsored charity campaign; exemplified by organisations like the “Hayastan” All-Armenia Fund.

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how the now wide-spread practice of fundraising and donation-based foreign aid by the Armenian Diaspora, though initially helpful in the early years of Armenian independence, is harming healthy development more than it is helping. Furthermore, It should be argued that a much better approach at promoting financial prosperity and development by the Diaspora would be to invest politically and financially into the institutions of free-markets, and rule of law.

Since Independence, the “Hayastan” All-Armenia Fund alone has collected over a quarter of a billion dollars in direct aid to Armenian infrastructure reconstruction projects.    Added to that are the billions of dollars collected by a myriad of charitable organisations, including roughly two billion USD in aid and development assistance by the American Government.

Diaspora generously gives back to to the Fatherland

Economists agree that this sort of “development” aid has been largely wasteful and ineffective in achieving the desired effect. Christopher Coyne, professor of economics at George Mason University argues that: “Those Involved in humanitarian efforts are unable to promote societal economic progress because they suffer from the “planner’s problem,” meaning they are unable to access the relevant knowledge to best allocate resources in the face of a variety of competing, feasible alternative uses.”

Negative socio-economic impact of Aid

The negative consequences of development aid include a deligitmisation of the National Government, perpetuates the sense of learned-helplessness amongst the population, and abets corruption by officials. Since the primary role of Government in Armenia is to preserve the rules of the game by enforcing contracts, preventing coercion, and keeping markets free, yet as the same time the government budget sets aside funds for the construction and rehabilitation of state infrastructure; Diaspora-funded project only serve to remove the responsibility that  elected government officials should have vis-à-vis their electorate in regards to the spending of their tax money. This, in turns, allows for irresponsible spending by both the Diaspora organizations, and the government.

The politics of Foreign Aid also has a direct negative impact on the communities they are trying to help by disrupting the organic development of civil society when dealing with issues. Thus, instead of communities forming committees to deal with problems that affect them all on a grass-roots level, they are instead encouraged to simply wait for help from the diaspora.

Foreign aid encourages corruption in Armenia. Diaspora donors act in a very peculiar way when donating to such charities. They essentially allow themselves to contribute to the tax revenues of a country of which they are not a citizen of, and with no say on how the money should be spent; which is ironically the exact same confrontation on which the United States of America was founded (“No taxation without representation”). They do not, in anyway demand accountability, or transparency from the local contractors when funding projects. This has lead to widely publicised scandals where Armenian government officials used a system of kick-backs, bribery and fraud in order to augment their income. Because most development projects usually require cooperation with the local government. This increased exposure amplifies the opportunities for fraud and corruption.

Causations of Diaspora Behaviour

The Diaspora’s Foreign Aid mentality has been shaped by the image of a far-away, desperate Armenia of the 1988 earthquake, as well as five decades of post-colonialist, and structuralist views towards the benefits of Marshal-era Aid policies. The sense of duty towards a homeland, the naiveté of donors towards the on-site partners, as well as the self-gratification when doing good generally has the effect of obscuring the real needs of the target beneficiaries. In many cases, projects can fall pray to corruption, mismanagement  and failure to achieve longterm sustainability.

Solutions:

Aside from small-scale, and pinpointed projects, large-scale aid and development projects are simply obsolete. The only true path to sustainable economic development for Armenia, as well as all nations, is good governance. In their book, “Why Nations Fail” (2013) Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson conclusively show that it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success (or the lack of it). For Acemoglu and Robinson, nations that progress socially and economically usually have states which: “Secure property rights, the law, public services, and the freedom to contract and exchange all rely on the state, the institution with the coercive capacity to impose order, prevent theft and fraud, and enforce contracts between private parties.”

Thus, the Armenian Diaspora needs to shift its focus from providing relief aid, and large-scale infrastructure development aid, to ensuring the development of healthy, transparent, and inclusive institutions. This would mean pushing for a government which secures basic individual liberties, does not obstruct the free exchange of goods, services and ideas.

 This can be done in the following ways: 

 Diaspora aid organisations could change their focus from donations to venture capital management. They could contribute rationally to sustainable development by promoting good business practices in Armenia, and to finance the Armenian private sector in the country. Such groups could hire on-site risk management professionals who could analyse the business plans for local entrepreneurs, while helping those who’s ideas need to be further cultivated with sound business consulting.

Furthermore, in order to protect the interest of Diaspora, repatriate, as well as foreig ninvestors who could potentially breath fresh air into the the country’s business sector, against government provocation, harassment, nepotism and kickbacks. they can also engage in reverse-lobbying in Armenia. In other words, as Armenian Diaspora organisations revamp themselves as investment groups, they can threaten to withhold funds from the cash-strapped government until it submits to a number of legislative changes which would help create a link between : These would include abolishing the customs agency, reducing personal income and corporate taxes to a 15% flat tax rate, create tax-free zones in the provinces to encourage foreign direct investment, to form an independent judiciary branch, and to severely cut down the size of government.

This would protect the interest of Diaspora or repatriate, as well as foreign investors who could potentially breath fresh air into the the country’s business sector, against government provocation, harassment, nepotism and kickbacks.

Such emphasis on laissez-faire policies would allow the armenian economy to shed its soviet legacy of inefficiency, while kickstarting a vibrant and competitive economic presence on  the world market. With such policies,  Armenia  would become a very attractive place for investors, and could find its competitive advantage, while building a niche for export products and services.

source: https://i1.wp.com/farm3.staticflickr.com/2607/3934658340_35216ae67b_z.jpg

Armenia should be encouraging high-skilled, high-income repatriation

The Armenian Diaspora could also pressure the Armenian government to greatly simplify the repatriation process, especially for investors, by allowing for alternate military service, tax breaks for certain types of professionals, and so on. 

For the Diaspora organisations adamant on preserving the Benevolent/development-oriented nature of their organisations, it is also possible to transform the organisation into a sort of independent (form the RoA government) development foundation, providing grants and real support to social-business start ups and so on; following a structure similar to the US-Government-funded “Enterprise Development & Market Competitiveness Project”

Conclusions

Since funding massive aid projects is an obsolete way of solving Armenia’s problems with economic stagnation, oligarchy, corruption and emigration, the main goal that the Armenian Diaspora should be more invested in implementing the right conditions for long-term, and sustainable socio-economic growth in Armenia, by lobbying for what Coyne describes as “The conditions underpinning economic freedom—protection of property rights, private means of production, and free trade in labor and goods—provide an environment free of coercion in which people can engage in the process of discovery and experimentation necessary for economic development. This process is messy and will often appear misguided to outsiders, but it is the only way to achieve society-wide development.”

Works Cited:

 “”HAYASTAN” ALL ARMENIAN FUND | Www.himnadram.org| Rural and Infrastructure Development Projects in Armenia and Artsakh. Schools, Hospitals, Roads. Charity. Donate Now.” “HAYASTAN” ALL ARMENIAN FUND | Www.himnadram.org| Rural and Infrastructure Development Projects in Armenia and Artsakh. Schools, Hospitals, Roads. Charity. Donate Now. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Aug. 2013.

2 “From Relief to Development.” USAID / Armenia :. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Aug. 2013.

3  Coyne, Christopher J. Doing Bad by Doing Good: Why Humanitarian Action Fails. May 2013 Print.

4 “The Role of Government in Education,” by Milton Friedman. From Economics and the Public Interest, ed. Robert A. Solo, copyright 1955 by the Trustees of Rutgers College in New Jersey. Reprinted by permission of Rutgers University Press.

5 Acemoglu, Daron, and James A. Robinson. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. New York: Crown, 2012. Print.

6 “EDMC.” www.EDMC.am Web. 25 Aug. 2013.

7 Coyne, Christopher J. Doing Bad by Doing Good: Why Humanitarian Action Fails. May 2013 Print.

Why Serzh Cannot fulfill his electoral promises

On April 9th, as tens of thousands of victims of the present regime gathered at Liberty Square to express their discontent, Serj Sargsyan, was controversially sworn in for a second term at Yerevan’s Hamalir. His inauguration speech (which, given the location he had picked, reminded one of a Communist party Congress) was as fascinating as it was absurd. After placing his hand on a 7th century Bible, Sargsyan swore to uphold the constitution, and outlined his strategy for the next 5 years. He went on to reassure the people that their concern for the state of the country is well understood; citing corruption, poverty and emigration as the main focus of his 2nd term ‘plan’.

Before we go on to explain how this is nothing short of ludicrous, and simply impossible; let’s take the time to explore the last 5 years of Sargsyan’s presidency. It should be noted, in fairness, that Sargsyan was handed a country on the brink of recession by a former president, who hid Armenia’s real economic development numbers under a veil of construction-fuelled ”prosperity”. Sargsyan did preside over a period of modest growth, with most indicators showing a moderately positive trend, the 2013 EU progress report noted some promising reforms in the fields of transport, energy, environment, information technology, research and development, people-to-people contacts, education and health.

Armenia has made a notable leap in press freedom, jumping from 102nd, when Sargsyan took office in 2008, to 74th place this year according to reporters without borders. Armenia also ranks 32nd in the world for ease of doing business, according to the World Bank.

Sargsyan did oversee some relatively bold foreign policy firsts, such as the highly controversial protocols and football diplomacy between Armenia and Turkey; he has so far managed to tactfully circumvent Moscow’s pressure to join the Russia-led “Eurasian Union” in favour of further integration into the European geo-political structure; signing the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA), and visa facilitation with the EU this year.

Thus, under Sargsyan’s presidency, Armenia did indeed become a better place than it was in 2008; it managed to pull itself out of a World Recession, it restructured its finance apparatus, allowed for a more tolerant political sphere, and has developed a more dynamic business environment; at least on paper. However, several questions remain unanswered; how much of this redressing can be credited to Sargsyan? Did he lead toward socio-economic recovery or merely hinder inevitable progress? If so, who really reaped the fruits of this progress?

Despite the modest improvement of Armenia’s socio-political situation during Sargsyan’s first presidency, the President simply cannot solve the main threats to Armenia’s long-term security; threats which took him 5 years to identify: corruption, poverty and emigration.

In the year leading up to the latest round of elections (parliamentary, presidential, municipal) Sargsyan has begun to denounce malfeasance within the government, but this turned out to be no more than theatrics rather than an honest show of will. Short of making Tigran Sargsyan cry on state television, little has been done to fight corruption. Both Sargsyans have pledged to fight corruption, yet so far, their efforts have only lead to the elimination of some sacrificial lambs, with no concrete results.

He cannot solve the problems which plague Armenia because…He is at the center of the problem. The simple reason as to why he has not been able to make any significant progress in solving those problems so far has nothing to do with the country’s geopolitical, or economic situation, but everything to do with him. His political dinosaur-dominated government has inherited the soviet tradition of making grand, vague, and ultimately groundless promises of self-improvement. As Sargsyan stood on stage denouncing the lack of good governance by the cabinet which (as he apparently forgot) HE appointed, and is most likely planning to reappoint (with almost no changes), one could not help but make comparisons to similar complaints and promises uttered by Soviet president Mikhael Gorbatchev, some 30 years before, in similar circumstances. As history taught us about the USSR, large, bureaucratic and obsolete organisations are simply unable to self-medicate.

How could Sargsyan effectively fight corruption when the head of the country’s main anti-corruption body, the aptly named “Anti-Corruption Council” is headed by a man (not just any man, but Armenia’s supposedly technocratic Prime Minister Tigran Sargisyan) whose central role in a money laundering scheme has recently been revealed? How will he fight against the economic inequalities created by the existence of commodity-based cartels, when the ringleaders sit next to him in the National Assembly? How can he ask the criminal justice system to prosecute the oligarchs, which have been ravaging the country, when the judges themselves are appointed by these same people? How can he make Armenia a more attractive place for international and diaspora investments when he himself has taken kick-backs? How could he preside over rapid economic growth when that would mean giving up his preferential economic status, and breaking up the cartels of his closest backers?

He cannot solve the emigration issue because people leave due to the fact that they cannot find a place in a country where the private businesses of the president’s wife, daughter, or cat get priority over their own prosperity; because they do not have access to infrastructure since funds are diverted to private accounts, and so on.

When PM Sargsyan toured the United States several months ago, begging for renewed Diaspora investments , he was unable to explain how he was to go about restoring investors trust in Armenia. The easy answer would have been to simplify the tax code (impossible when you consider that the head of the Tax authority of Armenia is an Oligarch himself) and strengthen Rule of Law. Thus we see a paradox where the Government claims it wants to safeguard economic growth in Armenia, just not at the cost of losing some of its own privileges..

Corruption, lack of good governance & Rule of Law, as well as widespread poverty, are not problems that can be individually dealt with; they are symptomatic of a bigger cancer; a cancer which has already consumed the present ruling apparatus, and needs to be cleansed.

The Republican Party (which The Economist magazine has described as a “typical post-Soviet ‘party of power’ mainly comprising senior government officials, civil servants, and wealthy business people dependent on government connections”) is more and more aware of the criticisms, but is still too delusional to cope with the reality that they have placed their compatriots in. This is evident by their hilariously oxymoronic campaign slogans such as “հավատանք որ փոխենք” lets believe to change (considering the Republicans were already in power at the time, this is probably the first time one could think of where a party actually ran against itself), or “դեպի ապահով Հայաստան” Towards a Safer Armenia (evident by this awful soviet throw-back campaign video, which clearly shows that the Republicans do not believe the Armenian people are capable of critical thinking) and the mayoral slogan “ավելի լաւ Երեւան” (for a better Yerevan). Does the government think that the populace will believe empty promises forever?

Once more, the reflections of soviet-era propaganda are difficult not to recognise, but are emblematic of the RPA’s inability to deal with the modern realities and challenges with a soviet-era modus operant.

The RPA’s foundations are thoroughly rotten, and can no longer be replaced. The cycle of corruption runs so deeply within the corridors of power that the only way for Sargsyan to truly stop such an infestation would require the dismissal, and imprisonment of such a large part of the government apparatus that the regime would collapse. Even putting aside the genuine lack of effective policy-making, it is the Symbol of a state run by greed, nepotism, profiteering, unscrupulousness and extorsion that has failed the electorate; when rising in the bureaucratic ranks is often accompanied by increased condescendance, more grotesque shows of wealth, and impunity towards the law, instead of increased sense of duty.

Thus, if Sargsyan truly cares for the wellbeing of his people, and the sustainable future of his country, he would understand that the only way for the fight against corruption, poverty and emigration to be undertaken seriously would require him, and his cabinet to resign. Unfortunately, no one expects him to have that kind of political will.

Mshak: expressing Armenian Libertarian thought since 1872

In 1872, the prominent Armenian political philosopher and economist, Grigor Artsruni, became the primary founder of the first liberal newspaper for Armenians around the world in Mshak (AImagermenian:Մշակ meaning “The Toiler”). Along with the help of co-founders Aleksandr and Levon Kalantar,Arakel Babekhanian, Hambardzum Arakelian, and Hakob Melik Hakobyan (penname “Raffi”), the newspaper soon grew to become one of the largest and most prominent voices of Armenian people in the Russian and Ottoman empires. It advocated firmly for the respect of individual freedom and for free market-oriented economic reforms in the Russian empire. In addition, it first published the works of many famous authors and intellectuals, most notably the nationalist liberal author Raffi’s famous novella,Khente (Armenian: խենթը meaning “The Fool”). In keeping with such themes, Mshak also called for the creation of a unified Armenian nation-state until it was shut down in 1921 by the Bolshevist occupation of Georgia.

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This modern publication aims to preserve the original spirit of Mshak in a contemporary context. Our goal is to contribute to the maturation of the political and economic discourse in Armenia by analyzing government policies in the country and the Transcaucasus region, and making recommendations from a classical-liberal and paleo-conservative perspective.

Mshak is a non-governmental organisation, and is not affiliated with any political party, whether it be in the Armenian National Assembly or in the Opposition.

This publication advocates the ten fundamental principles:

  • Armenians all across the world form a single nation;
  • Armenians residing within the Republic of Armenia “should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development,” as per  President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points;
  • Society within the Republic should be structured around the respect of the unalienable natural rights of man, bound through social contract and freedom to pursue “life, liberty, and property”;
  • Respect for Rule of Law within the Republic;
  • Universal equality through the justice system of the Republic
  • Increased governmental transparency and accountability within the Republic;
  • A small, transparent, streamlined, and highly efficient government bureaucracy within the Republic;
  • A thorough and complete transition to a free market economy within the Republic;
  • An imposition of a minimal flat tax on business within the Republic;
  • The immediate creation of tax-free zones in the bordering provinces of the Republic;
  • Armenia, as an integral member of the European Continuum, should pursue a more aggressive European integration policy.