Armenia: Riot is over, nothing has changed
Members of the armed group calling itself “Sasna Tsrer” (“Daredevils of Sasoun”) that seized a police compound in Yerevan earlier last month have laid down their arms. One can only welcome that fact. No more victims, no more blood, the Armenian capital is coming round after two weeks of dangerous confrontation.
Yet, the masterminds of the riot say what has happened will spark the flame of “national-liberation fight.” We do not know if they studied Lenin’s works, but they have a Lenin-type mentality.
Many in Armenia wonder what, in fact, happened? Apparently, there is already a kind of consensus concerning the explanation of those events. No one argues that the major reasons behind the Yerevan drama are the heavy social and economic situation in the country, the gloom of society, corruption, contempt of the authorities (and the wealthy section of the population in general) for the poor, evident disregard of expectations and problems of the citizens, outrage by oligarchs, statesmen, and police. The “four-day war” in Karabakh earlier this April proved the last drop that made the cup run over. The public anger and annoyance sparked an armed riot, and many in Armenia supported the rioters. The problem is not that Azerbaijan managed to take some territories from Armenians. Simply, the war showed that the army that was considered the reliable shield of the nation and the most perfect state institution that enjoyed public confidence suffers from the same diseases as the public do. A well-known politician Ashot Manucharyan said in an interview with EADaily “the flare up in the Karabakh conflict zone showed that the situation here is worse than anywhere (the post-Soviet countries – editor’s note). For instance, unlike neighboring Azerbaijan we sold out even the armor jackets of our soldiers in trenches. We have sold everything that could be sold.” That is why the leaders of the riot were veterans of the Karabakh War of 1992-1994 for whom such situation was especially unbearable. The rumors that with the intensification of the peace talks on Karabakh the Armenian side will have to make quite painful concessions, namely, to cede some regions of the ‘security zone’ around the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic just added fuel to the flame.
All this is quite clear and was even predictable. The problem is that the mass protest sentiments were not reflected in the activity of responsible politicians or constructive speeches of authoritative intellectuals and priesthood representatives, but grew into spontaneous, bloody, and anarchic actions of a group of idealists doomed to failure. They are called patriots and it is true. However, such kind of “fermented” patriotism has never helped anyone in history.
There are two reasons why those “guys” enlisted the public support: deep protest sentiments (finally, there are people who will teach the authorities what is what!) and the bargained-away intellectual and spiritual capacity of the people. The simple nationalism very different from true patriotism has come to the forefront there.
The people have arrived at such deplorable situation not because of their demerits. The people of Armenia have no more demerits than any other peoples do. This was a result of the consistent policy of the authorities. People have made sure that their votes do not matter at elections – the authorities will “draw” the necessary figures irrespective of the real number of votes. That is why many people just sell their votes for 10-15 dollars (equivalent of the national currency). This habit has fully undermined the feelings of civic duty. People see that fair labor (like the idea of justice) is worth nothing, as thieves, swindlers, trimmers, corrupt officials sitting in the parliament and government enjoy the benefits of life.
It is characteristic that the parliament in Yerevan did not interrupt its vacation and did not convene extraordinarily even when the situation grew extremely tense. Only 19 of 131 parliamentarians voted for calling an extraordinary meeting of the legislative body.
The negative aspects of the life in present-day Armenia can be listed endlessly. The idea of national purpose has been lost and it has become a real threat to the statehood. There are no constructive ideas of national and much less of pan-Armenian level, since today’s ideal is not a strong and fair country able to become a secure foothold and protection for the citizens and the Diaspora Armenians. Today’s ideal is the interests of clans, groups and oligarchs that bear no relation to the interests of the ordinary people. The people are not ready to sacrifice themselves in the fight with “perpetual enemy” as they no longer see any reason to do it and no longer trust any high-sounding words.
Nonetheless, many in Armenia were waiting for President Serzh Sargsyan to address the people. Many hoped the president, who was silent within the two weeks of siege and hostage situation in the country, will give an adequate assessment of the situation and show that what happened in the country has changed all the deeply-rooted approaches and ideas and the life in the country will change fundamentally. And Serzh Sargsyan addressed the situation finally.
Yet, the people reacted to his speech with anger and disappointment, at least the comments in social media create such impression. “He failed to find the necessary words. He failed to understand the most important things. What happened in the country was the public outcry. Now I am sure that in the country where fair elections are impossible, where police are praised for inhumane treatment of people, the situations like the one of the last weeks may repeat in Yerevan. A full disappointment…,” a user writes. “He said nothing of what I would like to hear. That’s too bad,” another user writes. “There was no sign of adequacy in his words. He is not able to perceive the reality,” the third one writes.
There are many such responses. Actually, in vain the people waited for the president to unveil the true reasons and motives of those events and to suggest specific measures to overcome the crisis. In his speech, the president just made public the program of the government’s actions for the short-term and mid-term outlook. The riot was a brilliant opportunity to do it.
The president, particularly, said “we need urgent public and political reforms. We must root out the tragic attitude that problems can and must be solved by means of force.” (It turns out that there was such process…) He stressed the need for a government of national accord. “When carrying out our constitutional reforms, we had this very aim in mind. This is not about an attempt by people who are not in power to come into it, this is about wider public responsibility. I assure you that in a few months we will have such a government, where political parties and political figures will have a bigger role,” Serzh Sargsyan said.
Actually, the president openly said what EADaily’s experts have said repeatedly i.e. after the reforms that look to turn Armenia from presidential into parliamentary republic, the personal responsibility will be replaced by collective irresponsibility. The multi-party parliament will be forming the government that can be easily dismissed by the votes of the president-led ruling Republican Party (that seeks to retain its grip on power).
Certainly, the carefully selected parties – satellites, for instance ARF Dashnaktsutyun, will get their pieces of the pie. It is not clear how this all will change the current situation, improve the living standards of the population, and restore the people’s feeling of their civil duty.
In his speech, the president addressed the Karabakh peace process too. “I repeat once again: there will be no unilateral concessions in the resolution of the NK issue. Never. Nagorno-Karabakh will never be part of Azerbaijan. Never. I repeat once again: it is out of question!” the president said emotionally. Actually, Sargsyan took advantage of the strange armed riot to determine his strong position. Let us wait what Azerbaijan will say to that.
Meantime, no one demands the Armenian side to make “unilateral concessions.” The OSCE Minsk Group mediators on Karabakh (Russia, U.S., France) plan a transfer to some territories around NKR in exchange for a postponed referendum for the status of the region and opening of all the borders in the region, which should have a positive impact of the shrinking economy of Armenia. In this sense, the president said nothing new and nothing consoling about the situation. The new parliament and the new “government of wider responsibility” will have to implement those plans and Serzh Sargsyan will have no relation to that process by that time. Therefore, he will not have to “sacrifice any position or life” “to get to the solution acceptable for the nation,” as he said in the speech.
Margarita Bagratuni, Yerevan, for EADaily
Published on August 3rd, 2016 09:34 AM