I was detained by Armenian police, in the capital city of Yerevan on July 27, 2016, while photographing a rally for democratic rights and social and political reforms. This random, unjustifiable arrest made me realize that as an artist and human rights activist, it is my responsibility to speak out about issues essential to the stability, unity and perpetual sustainability of the Armenian homeland. I also realized we are overdue in re-examining the nature of the Armenian Diaspora’s engagement with its homeland.
On this 25th anniversary of independence, there are huge social, political and economic obstacles deeply challenging and taxing the livelihood of the Republic of Armenia.
The country has major internal problems due to systemic corruption, nepotism and an oligarchic economy, where power and wealth remains in the hands of a few. Absence of equitable rule of law and upward social mobility combined with the suppression of freedom of speech and thought as well as civil liberties and rights, have all further exacerbated an already intolerable situation in the Republic.
There are other alarming factors fomenting Armenia’s domestic and foreign problems. Lack of natural resources, an economic blockade by Turkey and Azerbaijan, geopolitics of superpowers in the region, adversarial neighbours, a ‘no war no peace’ situation at its border with impending and continued international pressure in the peace negotiations for Nagorno Karabakh Republic, have all thwarted international interest in the twin Armenian republics. These circumstances have created an existential impasse where public mistrust, resentment and fear coupled with inadequate economic and social welfare, have resulted into desperate acts of defiance and outrage.
This deadlocked situation and the sudden incursion of Azeri forces beginning of April, 2016, that caused the death of over one hundred soldiers along with the loss of some 800 hectares of land to Azerbaijan, led to a group of gunmen to take over a police station in Yerevan on July 17, 2016, as an act of last resort after exhausted attempts at promoting change through political movements.
The subsequent expression of public support for the group’s extreme measures illustrated the level of the frustration that has been percolating in Armenian society in the face of governmental indifference and negligence towards the plight of the people. In short, the citizens of Armenia have widespread misgivings about their government and have ceased to believe that their children and grandchildren can have sustainable and dependable living conditions or a future in their ancestral homeland.
Hundreds of thousands are leery about the ruling elite and the questionable, constitutional legitimacy of those in power. Over a million people or one third of the population, have opted quietly, for an exit strategy from the country causing massive depopulation and brain drain of the cream of the crop of our homeland . The preservation and the security of the Republics of Armenia and Artsakh is alarmingly threatened as a consequence.
Citizens and civil organizations who are fighting ongoing indignation or injustices on the ground are calling on the 8-million–strong Armenian Diaspora and its institutions for attention, participation and support.
For years now, citizens of the Republic and a spattering number of Armenians from the Diaspora have been demanding honest and fundamental reforms to the much-too-fragile social contract between the government and the people it’s supposed to represent. They are calling for these changes to remedy the country’s ills and misfortunes — all brought upon by systemic and abusive practices at all levels of state institutions.
Time and again, I have been urged by our compatriots in Armenia that the Diaspora takes upon itself and share the responsibility to pay heed to these circumstances and positively contribute to their efforts in rehabilitating this untenable and explosive environment.
So how can the Diaspora participate in a direct and impactful way toward positive social and political paradigm shifts in Armenia?
Defending human rights, civil rights and rule of law is the prescient and effective way. A simple step will be for independent volunteers from across the Diaspora to go to Armenia in the spring of 2017 and man every polling station at the upcoming parliamentary elections. This on the ground engagement in support of our compatriots should be the priority of every Armenian and their institutions worldwide in order to promote and secure fair and free and transparent elections in the country.
All deployed participants should be non-partisan observers, participating at their own expense and whose sole interest and responsibility is to oversee the election process from the dropping of ballots into boxes, to the counting votes at the closing of the polls. This is a direct and constructive involvement that can help eliminate electoral fraud or vote rigging.
The role of the observers who will work with Armenian civil associations, non-governmental organizations, and anti-corruption bodies is vital and imperative to the process. These observers will be armies of democracy, joining local groups that have the knowledge, the experience and the acquired wisdom from past elections in carrying the work from the ground up.
In the crucial months leading to the next parliamentary elections, voters throughout the country should be provided extended civic education programs about the importance of their participation in a transparent electoral process. They should be encouraged to learn about their privileges and options, and their power to influence with their votes the election’s outcome. They should be brought to believe that this civic duty can and must be carried out without bribery and bullying in the full dignity of their rights.
The protection of these basic human rights of inalienable freedom is closely linked to furthering long-term, sustainable development. It is an instrumental and first crucial step in attaining a true democracy in Armenia.
Diasporan leaders, scholars and activists and specially those coming from Western democracies can help organize and secure training and expertise to implement fair and free elections. They can play a key role in translating the best practices from their adopted countries of residence to practices in Armenia that promote rule of law.
The Central Electoral Commission on the other hand is one good place for those in power to begin implementing democratic safeguards as a gesture of good will. In doing so they will start to build confidence and trust within the electorate, that their vote will not be rigged and that their voice can in fact help secure much needed fundamental change to the existing system.
The upcoming parliamentary elections in May of 2017 will give the Armenian government an ultimate opportunity to take the first and honest transformative steps to conduct transparent elections in the most expedient and effective manner.
Those in power should and must refrain from manipulating or using non-democratic procedures that can lead to the falsification of election results. The Republic of Armenia is a signatory to many conventions and treaties, which stipulate compliance with democratic procedures. Thus, the Republic is obliged by international laws to hold fair and free elections.
It is by engaging in this process as a facilitator that the Diaspora can and will help the Republic of Armenia’s newly elected government to earn respect and legitimacy with its citizens, and with the international community.
On the other hand, a transparent election process will turn citizens into stakeholders and give them a sense of ownership of democratic practices. It will also provide them with hope for a better future and a compelling alternative from the dismal, hopeless prospects they now face.
At this crucial juncture of so many challenges in the homeland, the Diaspora cannot plead ignorance. The Diaspora must not be an ambivalent bystander. Armenians around the world must not avoid or neglect the pleas from our compatriots. The Diaspora must no longer ignore the perils of inaction. We can never say we did not know. We can never say we were not offered a chance to participate in these formative years of our collective future.
As I finish writing this letter, I come across a call from President Serzh Sarkisian in a recent statement published in Diaspora papers: “… I believe, we must not limit ourselves to resources within our ranks and for the resolution of issues before us we must seek and find individuals and people who are able and willing to shoulder responsibilities for the difficult tasks, regardless what part of the world they are.”
I rest my case.
I urge volunteers in the Diaspora to get in touch with Citizen Observer Initiative through Transparency International in Armenia, make plans and commit to being in Armenia as volunteer observers during parliamentary elections next April and enroll as soon as possible by writing to [email protected] until a volunteer registration platform is built online.
All emails/registrations are also to be cc’d to: [email protected] to help share interest in volunteering with other organizations working similarly on transparent election initiatives.
In the name of our nation, we all have an opportunity to commit to the ideals of action and advocacy so that Diaspora and Armenia are brought closer — much closer than they are today.
My Armenia deserves better.
To Armenia with love,
II deeply feel the grief depicted by Arsinee and can suggest that President Jimmy Carter’s Foundation be approached to monitor the 2017 elections in Armenia. The Carter Foundation has substantial expertise and experience in these matters. The main issue is how to approach them to undertake this mission.
As a member of the Armenian community in Germany I am first of all happy that the diaspora is getting involved into a general discussion about the Armenian Republic. We should really clear out our relations to the Republic of Armenia.
As an outsider to the developments I see the Republic as a corrupted and almost failed state. An with this characteristics it is by far not alone in the “greater” middle east. It is indeed not alone in the whole non asian eastern world from east Europe over russia to the “Whatever-stan” countries back to Iran, Turkey and the whole Levante and northern Africa. The only states that seem to be stable have elites that are massively funded by foreign powers or have resources or both. Armenia is poorly funded and has no resources. Therefore it is extremely weak. It has not more value than the land it has occupied and the position it finds itself on the map.
To believe that a functioning state within this environment is possible is just itself unbelievable. As an endangered people it would mean near to suicide to concentrate our powers just unto this one project.
From a strategic point of view it is also far more dangerous for Armenia to climb up the development ladder rather than staying underdeveloped. At least as long as we are not a part of a somehow reliable coalition or union or whatsoever.
Neither Russia nor the Unites States are interested in a self determined Armenia. Therefore your suggestions are at best naive. At worst they come from a mind that is not ready to learn from the historic mistakes of the Armenian people. The belief in being self determined is good. But it is just childish when it ignores the circumstances whithin where this determination is supposed to happen.
We have to overcome this naivety.
We have to strengthen the diaspora and the diaspora alone. This is hard enough of a task. If the people of the Republic of Armenia are not capable of making progress within an organized state that is acknowledged by the entire world, than that should be their burden to carry. It is not that I do not care. It is that I do not think we can make a difference there. And all our efforts will be sucked first in and then out by the corrupted politicians and the powers supporting them.
Therefore I ask you to stop calling for resources. The diaspora has enough undone homework in the places they live. Organize first and then distribute. Or else you will mix yourself up and fade away to a dream which I am not sure it is even worth coming true. I am not ready to accept that the only Armenia possible is the one that even does not speak my mother tongue. Our pillar of existence in the diaspora is the recognition of the genocide and the involvement of the world within this topic. You have to understand that we can only create, if we are part of the world agenda. After acknowledgment the life of diaspora just begins to start. We need schools, infrastructure growing communities. Involvement into the regular politics of the countries we live in. I am not sure any Diaspora has achieved these goals in an satisfying way. Neither US, nor France. Canada maybe. And do not believe the German Bundestag chose to recognize because of the Armenian lobby pressure. It was their own choice and most of the agitators are looking to sharpen their personal profile. But the lesson we learned is, that we can influence if we can get align with the interests of the countries we live in. We have strong arguments but we must not throw them into the people´s faces.
We are weak. Weak just one step from being non existent. Let the republic be republic on its own.
I write this in peace. I share more from your thoughts than it seems.
Armenians deserve better.
To Armenians with love
Armenia is a TYPICAL developing nation with TYPICAL growing pains. Actually, when one considers that the country is small, poor, remote landlocked, blockaded and in a state of war since its independence, one may actually realize that Armenia is actually doing not so bad after all. It could have been much, much worst. But Armenia is alive and well. The constant, relentless complaints about the country are being propagated by Western intelligence agencies via their proxies (servants) in Armenian communities around the world. The net result: Today’s hysteria, panic, hate, hopelessness, disillusionment and thus, population flight. Armenians may think they are running away from “injustice”, “corruption” or “oligarchs” what they are actually doing is running away from all the constant negativity being propagated by Western powers. Injustice, corruption and oligarchs are much worst in most countries of the world. Yet, it sometimes feels like Armenians are the only ones fleeing from it. The Western agenda to weaken Armenia has achieved some success. Western interests want to foment a revolution in the country like the one they managed in Ukraine simply because Armenia is allied to Russia. This is why Western agents in Armenian society (and there are a lot of them) constantly air Armenia’s dirty laundry and this is why Western agents in Armenian society (and there are a lot of them) constantly bad mouth Russia. Trust me folks, had Armenia been in bed with Uncle Sam we wouldn’t be seeing any protests against our “corrupt leaders” or “oligarchs”. At the end of the day, we must realize that the Western agenda is alive and well in Armenia today only because we Armenians are foolish enough or, in the case of the thousands of Western funded NGO workers in Armenia, financially desperate enough to allow it. Anyway, despite all the hysterical rantings, be it in the homeland or in the diaspora, Armenia is slowly but surely developing and moving forward. People can begin developing a positive attitude and join in the long process of nation-building or continue staying on the murky sidelines and continue spewing their poison. Those who choose the latter are merely doing the bidding of Armenia’s enemies.
The situation in Armenia is deeply discouraging, and the country’s perspective does not appear good.
We have had an illegitimate autocratic government in power for 25 years, which showed its nasty face during the March 1-2, 2008 slaughter against peaceful protestors exercising their democratic rights and striving for accelerated democratization.
Not a single free and fair elections has taken place.
Oligarchy, corruption and criminality flourish.
Key sectors are unsound.
The permanent population has reduced by some 1.2 million, while Turkey’s and Azerbaijan’s populations have gradually increased.
Arsinee is indeed courageous and has her heart and mind all in the right place, but I am not too confident additional non-aligned election observers will change the status-quo.
Keep in mind that several hundred righteous (Western) Diasporans have already observed previous national elections, and their ability to initiate positive change on this front have been minor.
Perhaps a general boycott of coming Armenian Government-sponsored events and medal ceremonies, including the Serge Sargsyan-chaired All-Armenia Fund, will yield greater impact in the short term?
We need to go back to the drawing board to figure out how best to get ourselves out of this big Armenian mess.
There are no quick solutions.
@ Hayk: You are absolutely right. There are no quick solutions. I think that the solutions will take more than one generation. We have to keep in mind, that after the Genocide these are the effects we still suffer from. I think the solution lies in the diaspora. We need to continue evolving our culture. We have to look beyond the possibilities of the Armenia we have right now. And we must not pour our scattered resources into a system that we cannot control from outside. We have to be less emotional about Armenia. I am not saying we have to limit ourselves to pragmatism. We need visions. But as Hayk said:”We need to go back to the drawing board.”
Khanjian had no business getting involved in illegal demonstrations in support of foreign funded militants that had murdered policemen in an attempt to overthrow the Armenian government by force. In a normal country Khanjian would have been put away for a very long time for aiding and abetting foreign funded militants. Diasporans like her and her husband are slowly becoming a liability for Armenia…
Well your game is obvious. Remember in other countries you can even demonstrate for the liberation of sentenced murderers without having any trouble. So what you say is simply not true. And by calling anyone with a different opinion a liability ridicules your point of view. What you call a normal country, will hopefully never become real for Armenia.
See my article in response to Arninee Khanjain’s Open Letter not published by Massis Post here: https://policykinetics.blogspot.am/2016/10/arsinee-khanjian-open-letter-to.html. Freedom of expression is demanded in Armenia, but California-based Massis Post seems to have another policy.
Parev Arsinee and fellow activists,
Please review these instructive articles on the more than 100 Diasporans who monitored the fixed 2013 presidential and Yerevan municipal elections. They will help you create an even more impactful mission for 2017 and beyond:
From me personally to Ms. Khanjian: No one in the diaspora has any more power than you do to change anything the RoA. We are not citizens, and far too many of us have to live in very weak or poor countries like Syria, Lebanon, Brazil, Argentina, and even Ethiopia. Even the American Diaspora faces the fundamental challenge of survival in the face of a near-gencodial assimiliationist de-facto cultural and education policy. Diaspora Armenians cannot intervene in the affairs of the RoA. We have repeatedly been told to mind our own business, and the very same groups calling for our intervention in the politics of the country will tomorrow call us Akhper — please develop some sophistication. There is a lot of external funding for supposed “civil society.” This support cannot be said to be either innocent or stabilizing. It is not for us at the end of the day to tell RoA Armenians how to run the country. It is not for us to interfere, past attempts have always been met with resentment and rejection; whether in the economic or any other field, RoA Armenians insist on running their own affairs. They alone have to decide what happens with the government, and I submit to you, Ms. Khanjian, that you do not necessarily know how many support or oppose the government, opposition arguments and street theater aside. Please mind your own business and focus on helping the RoA and the diaspora in fields outside politic