Civil Society in Armenia: Challenges and Opportunities

Special for the Armenian Weekly

Civil society is a system of public mechanisms and relations that is self-contained and independent from the state. It provides conditions for the satisfaction of the private interests and needs of groups and individuals. In the Western political understanding, a strong civil society allows for the promotion of democracy and good governance in transitional democracies such as Armenia.

Photo by Anush Khachatryan
Photo by Anush Khachatryan

Armenian non-governmental organizations (NGOs)—and in the broader sense, Armenia civil society organizations (hereinafter CSOs)—have grown in number and prominence over recent years. However, there are still various institutional and organizational barriers that do not allow CSOs to strengthen their capacity and become key factors in promoting democracy in Armenia. Today, a large number of Armenian NGOs is involved in democracy building, human rights advocacy, and good governance promotion.

It should be stated that non-governmental organizations have a unique position in the Armenian social system. In a broader sense the role and mission of the NGOs is, firstly, to protect and advocate for the rights of Armenian citizens, prescribed by the Constitution and by international treaties; secondly, NGOs have a function of promoting private interests and the demands of citizen groups and individuals, as well as participating in public governance; thirdly, through NGOs, the community is able to determine public control and sub-control over Armenia’s state governance and local self-governance.

Whenever we talk about the role of Armenian NGOs as democracy promoters, we need to face a cold reality: Today, government-civil society cooperation and dialogue are weak in Armenia—for many reasons, including:

– NGOs are often viewed by government officials as being disconnected from the general public, and not representative of the people’s voice;

– many civil society organizations are perceived by the public as profit-making and non-transparent;

– the CSO sector usually lacks the required competence and skills to affect government policies;

– CSOs are in a permanent struggle against each other for finding sustainable financial donors.

These factors create an atmosphere in which the level of trust and reliability between the government and CSOs is increasingly declining. If we compare the development of civil society in Armenia with other Eastern Partnership countries (like Moldova, Georgia, or Ukraine), the main and fundamental difference is that in Armenia, CSO involvement in the policy-making cycle and generally its influence on government policies seem to mostly be an imitation of other movements rather than a natural and logical process.

It is important to mention that the opportunities for independent and democracy-promoting Armenian NGOs to participate in policy-making—not as consumers, but as providers of policy alternatives to the government—are very limited or simply do not exist yet in practice. The case of President Serge Sarkissian’s unpopular decision on Sept. 3, 2013 to withdraw from the Armenia-EU Association Process is one of the best proofs of the above-stated thesis. Although the vast majority of civil society actors were against this decision, no public discussion or debate was conducted with them and no large-scale protests by NGOs or civic movements were launched in Yerevan. Of course, one may debate that in this case, the president’s decision could not be characterized as “unpopular.” However, it clearly highlighted how unprepared the civil society actors were, especially the pro-European organizations, to stand up and advocate for their values, as it was, for instance, in Ukraine.

Generally, the existence of a weak and disorganized civil society may open doors for bigger challenges. Unfortunately, one challenge that exists in Armenia is the replacement of independent civil society organizations with “quasi civil society actors,” who get a platform to present their views, though in reality they simply present the government’s viewpoint and understanding of democracy promotion in Armenia. To some extent, they are even established by pro-governmental individuals and get direct funding from various state institutions.

The other challenge for Armenian NGOs is the search for reliable and sustainable financial donors, which will allow them to enhance their existing administrative and institutional capacity. Usually, the donors list includes stakeholders from abroad. However, external financial support is also quite tricky to deal with, as there are cases of biased and non-professional implementations of externally funded projects in the field of democracy promotion and good governance by different Armenian NGOs, which in turn may lead to the discrediting of NGOs as real agents of change and promoters of democracy and transparency. Therefore, addressing the matter of financial sustainability of Armenian NGOs is imperative in the context of civil society development, as external financial support cannot be considered as a solution for the existing internal and local inter-organizational problems (lack of qualified staff and experts, and corruption).

It should be noted that there have been many cases when locally self-organized civic movements—and not Armenian NGOs—have executed their aims and mission without any external financial support or without any institutionalized structures. The success stories of the Mashtots Park, “100 AMD,” and “DEM ENQ” civic movements stand as milestones, showing that it is possible to impact government policies via civic activism. Accordingly, civil society could also be described as a tool for empowering citizens to act for the benefit of the wider community. The civil society movements and groups mentioned above represented the interests of Armenian citizens and also successfully shaped government policies.

The right key for expanding Armenian civil society participation in the democratic change of Armenia could lie in building, developing, and sustaining an understanding between civil society actors and the general public. Simply said, if we want civil society and NGOs to become real agents of change and sources of democratization, the Armenian government needs to change its attitude and rethink the role of civil society in policy-making and democratization, and refrain from treating civil society and NGOs as potential threats/spies/agents, but rather as strong and reliable partners. Additionally, ordinary Armenian citizens should value the activities of various civic groups and NGOs, who in many cases struggle for the citizens’ prosperity and welfare.

Simultaneously, in order to increase the role of NGOs in Armenia, as well as the efficiency of the public control of state governance and local self-governance through NGOs, the Armenian government and National Assembly should take further legislative steps to tackle the above-mentioned problems.

The door of cooperation and understanding between the Armenian government and civil society is not locked…yet.

Armenak Minasyants

Armenak Minasyants

Armenak Minasyants has held several mid- and high-level positions in Armenian state institutions and is currently the head of a department that deals with international cooperation and external policy. He is a founding member of several Armenian youth organizations and associations that have aimed to boost youth participation and involvement in European initiatives. Minasyants has represented Armenia and the Armenian civil society in more than 40 European and international events, including high-level forums at the European Parliament and European Commission. Minasyants holds a B.A and M.A. with honors in diplomacy and international relations from Yerevan State University. He is based in Yerevan.
Armenak Minasyants

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  1. We have seen enough of these sheeple being exploited by Western imperialists. Putting aside their lofty utopian rhetoric (i.e. political naivete) we must come to the realization that these people are the enemy’s fifth column in Armenia. Some of them will attempt to hijack the 100th centennial of the Armenian Genocide by trying to topple the Armenian government.

  2. Related to this topic of Western financed NGOs in Armenia: One of the biggest problem we face is Armenia’s Western-backed political extremists calling themselves Preparliament. These people are planning on hijacking the upcoming April 24 commemoration events by trying to overthrow the Armenian government “if need be” by the use of arms.

    Armenian opposition warns it may revert to armed protests:

    Սթափվե´ք, այլապես կգա այն օրը, երբ ժողովուրդը կստիպի ձեզ սթափվել:

    • Noreserunt/Harutik – and what do you two(if indeed you are 2 different people) suggest? leave the criminal regime in place so that Armenians continue to get robbed by the oligarchy or out of desperation leave the homeland? or do you believe that this regime is an acceptable one? in that case you can either plead ignorance that you know nothing or guilt that you are as criminal in your thinking as is the Serzh and his cronies.

    • Dear Koko

      Cant speak for Harutik but seeing that I may be talking to one of the Western led opposition extremists in Armenia, I would like to tell you that I MUCH rather the current, flawed political system (the status quo) over any of the politically suicidal psychopaths present on the opposition’s side. And trust me those who think like me are the silent majority throughout Armenian society perhaps with the exception of the thoroughly assimilated and zombified American Diaspora. We saw where your “civil society” and “democracy” has gotten countries like Venezuela, Egypt, Serbia, Libya, Ukraine and Syria. No thanks. Play with fire in your own homes, not in my homeland. Your Western backed movement will be crushed one way or another. Not knowing what your motivation is to address my comments but I suggest you open your eyes to the world you live in – before it hurts you.

    • {“ …suggest? leave the criminal regime in place so that Armenians continue to get robbed by the oligarchy or out of desperation leave the homeland?”}

      The ones who are criminals are those individuals who committed terrorist acts in downtown Yerevan by detonating explosive devices in public and attacking police officers with large wooden batons. After spending some time in a psych ward, Mr. Shant Harutiunian, who is so sure he knows what’s best for RoA, absolutely sure, was tried and sentenced to many years in jail. Also were sentenced 10 or so of his fellow delusional ‘revolutionaries’ (sic).

      And if the young man in the video with a shiner goes through with his threats to use violence, he too will be tried for his crimes and will spend time in jail to cool his passions.

      Now: anyone who uses the derogatory term ‘regime’ when referring to the duly elected Government of Republic of Armenia shows clear and illogical bias. Therefore, none of his/her assertions regarding the myriad issues in the young republic can be taken seriously.

      President Sargsyan was re-elected by a landslide: 58% vs 37% for the Barevaloser.
      In the Yerevan municipal elections following the Presidential elections, RPA received 55%; Prosperous received 23%; the Barevalosers received 8%.
      Like it or not, the adult voters of Republic of Armenia chose President Sargsyan and RPA. Overwhelmingly.
      You and your friends don’t like it ? That’s too bad.
      A tiny minority of delusional people or Գրանտակեր agitators,
      who think they know best, are not going to impose their will on the majority of citizens of Armenia.

  3. It is very peculiar that the author does not mention any organization by name, but two commentators (who seem to be one and the same person and probably Azeri or Russian stooges) choose to bad mouth Preparliament and the movement they head called “The Centennial without this regime” Note that Harutik quotes an Azeri site which needless to say distorts the reality as usual. Preparliament did not advocate an armed struggle, that is an outright lie and those who disseminate a lie like that can not be misinformed sheeple (Norserunt’s choice of words to describe his fellow Armenians who happen to have a different opinion then his), but rather agents of the enemy or the regime in Armenia who try to create a negative image of someone or some group that they deem as dangerous for their regime. Lets us also get one thing straight, what rules in Armenia now is a regime of mafia style corrupt officials and criminal oligarchs whose Godfather is none other than Serj Sargsyan. Any independent thinking person should ask one simple question, what prompted Norserunt and Harutik, agents provocateur, attack Preparliament when they were not even mentioned in the article. The answer is simple: the agents are fearful. And let us not confuse fearfulness of agents with patriotism that they claim to have. For further info on Preparliament and what they stand for see and and

    • Koko jan,

      If I had to pick between the political opposition in Armenia and the “criminal” regime in Armenia, I would pick the “criminal” regime by a wide margin. Stop fooling yourself, the only thing pushing Armenians out of the country is Armenian otaramolutiun and the Western led political opposition’s 24/7 doom and gloom rhetoric. Ask yourself, why aren’t Uzbek’s fleeing their homeland, is it because Uzbekistan is so wonderful?

      The current leadership in Armenia, with all its flaws, is – by far – the lesser of all evils in the country. You sound like someone with good intentions and genuine concerns about Armenia. But as the saying goes, the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. Open your eyes. As Norserunt mentioned in his or her reply to you, ten years ago, I would have somewhat understood where you were coming from. Not today, not after what we have seen take place in places such as Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, Greece, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Iran and Venezuela – to name only a few places where Western led, financed or inspired “civil society” nutjobs have either ruined or are actively trying to ruin.

      Regarding Preparilament: What a disgusting bunch of people to exploit our April 24 commemorations with their Western inspired nonsense.

  4. Don’t we have like 3000+ NGOs in Armenia? Probably the most NGO infested country in the world based on population percentage. NGOs today are open doors for foreign influence and we sure had no shortage of disaster examples around us.

  5. Dear Truth

    “Any independent thinking person should ask one simple question” why would Preparliament hijack the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide to advance its self-destructive political agenda in an already embattled country? Whether you admit it or not, whether you realize it or not, Preparliament extremists are serving a Turco/Western agenda in Armenia. The groups equivalent in any Western/developed nation would have been hunted down a long time ago. Preparilament is shamefully taking advantage of Armenia’s ample political freedoms to cause unrest in the country.

    If Armenia was ever in the hands of Preparliament types, it would have disappeared from the map once more. Like Norserunt said: Play with fire in your own homes, not in my homeland.

  6. Dear Avery,
    You have ascerted well as to above.For your info few yrs back something similar happened in Europe.A few semi-intellectuals or so, tried to establish the ¨´Wetern Armenian Parliament in France¨¨
    I argued we are not Kurds to have Parliamenmt in exile they do,in Brussels i believe. We have a Soverign State. and also my dear friend(the dr. who operated near 20 hours chain smoking and coffee drink in Spitak sving lives…was invoved in it and invited me to join in.I said On one condition that you take out the word ¨´Parliament¨´ and repalce it with ,say w/word ¨´Supreme council¨¨ of the Western Armenians in Europe. by and by they got convinced and now they have changed it,to something else.In an article I wore as EAR End Balance shee ( re Armenian affairs,that I maioled to many.would like to mail either to you or any close friend relative(if you do no wish to give me yours.
    Meanwhil.My beleive is that our present Nakhagah,Presiden is a natural born Lider ,albeit medium prepared as to certain issues.But if reshuffles his cabinet and leaaae those out who have (adjective stuck to thei nick name) would be the bes.
    My best choiced for his Prime ministre is (forget the name harutunyan) present -RA AMBASSADOR IN GB.tHERE ARE SO MANY GOOD PEOPLE HE WOULD BRING IN TO OUR pARLIAMENT.aNY Witing you news
    as ever Gaytzag Palandjian,Nations Servant for the Civil Societies of RA

  7. I hsve to say that Armenia is better off with the current government, then with headless juntas like in Kiev. We can’t afford to try things… And of some of you thing the greatest country in the world “USA” is not controlled by clans you are in the clouds… Next election in the US. should teach the world about democracy…
    Bush vs Clinton
    We need a pathway to Russia through Georgia… That’s what we need…

  8. (Truth // December 29, 2014 at 3:42 pm // )

    {“ Preparliament did not advocate an armed struggle, that is an outright lie”}

    No, it isn’t an outright lie: it is an outright Fact.
    Obviously you did not listen to the words of the individuals in the video provided by [Harutik] above.
    I did.

    Mr. Gevorg Safarian who represents himself as a Preparliament ‘candidate’ (sic), clearly threatens violence if their supposedly ‘peaceful’ attempts to overthrow the legally elected government of RoA are thwarted.
    He even uses the vile term reserved for killing animals, Սատկացնել, in threats against officials.

    “…all insurrectionist youth will arm itself and go against the ‘regime’…”. (Gevorg Safarian)
    What part of “arm itself” do you consider not advocating armed struggle, Mr/Ms. unTruth ?

    {“ Lets us also get one thing straight, what rules in Armenia now is a regime of mafia style corrupt officials and criminal oligarchs whose Godfather is none other than Serj Sargsyan.”}

    Let us also get one thing straight: the Government of Armenia was elected by the citizens of Armenia. Overwhelmingly. Multiple times.
    The warped opinions of a tiny, tiny, tiny minority of delusional, confused, manipulated individuals or outright Neocon funded SorosaAnarchist agents do not matter.

    And as others wrote above: the fact that these individuals are planning to disrupt the centennial of one of the, if not _THE_, most important events in the history of the entire worldwide Armenian nation speaks volumes about their motivations and who is promoting and funding their activities – whether they are aware of it or not.

  9. (Norserunt // December 29, 2014 at 4:19 pm //)

    {“….the thoroughly assimilated and zombified American Diaspora. “}

    Au contraire mon ami.
    We are neither assimilated nor zombified.

    The silent majority exists here same as in RoA (at least in SoCal).

    Do not confuse what you read in some Diaspora publications with what the majority people actually think and feel here.
    Do not confuse what some public Disapora figures pronounce (e.g. attorney Garo Ghazarian) on their own with what the majority people actually think and feel here.
    To wit: a group headed by one Mr. Ara Manoogian perennially calls for protests in front of the RoA Embassy in Glendale, CA.
    Glendale has about 80,000 residents of Armenian descent.
    Only 10-20 people show up, if they show up at all.

    After the Presidential election in RoA in Feb 2013, some groups here called for ‘massive’ protests in Glendale, after a meeting in St Mary’s Armenian Apostolic church hall. Only about 200 people showed up: there was no ‘massive’ protest.
    Again, this in a city of about 80,000 Armenian-Americans. People could literally walk to the Church if they wanted to.
    On most Sundays, people overflow onto the parking lot, the large church is so packed with the faithful.

    Some years ago there was a protest in Glendale against the infamous Protocols: an estimated 8,000-10,000 people showed up in a public park.
    A couple of years ago AYF called for a protest in front of the Azerbaijan Consulate in West L.A.
    That is some driving distance from Armenian presence cities like Glendale, Little Armenia in Hollywood, etc.
    An estimated 1,500 people showed up.

    Despite the massive disinformation campaign launched against it here in SoCal, Armenian-Americans pledged/donated a record amount (compared to 2013) towards the completion of the strategic Vardenis highway during Telethon 2014.

    Silent majority here knows who and what are the enemies of RoA, NKR, and the Armenian Nation. And what is important for the same.

    One last thing: a “thoroughly assimilated and zombified” Armenian-American born in Fresno, California, who did not speak a word of Armenian when he was little, went to Artsakh voluntarily and became one of the greatest military captains* of the Armenian Nation.
    The 4,000 men he commanded were instrumental in several crucial Armenian victories.
    His name was Monte Melkonian.

    Armenians in RoA, NKR, US, France, Syria, Lebanon, Iran,….. Argentina, Australia,…..
    We are: One Armenian Nation, under God. Indivisible.

    * not the rank, but as used by Napoleon to describe a military leader.

    • I hope you are right Avery, I hope you are right. I am only basing my words on my personal experiences with the American Armenian community.

  10. I am far from being a government apologist but I think its outrageous that these people are trying to exploit the centennial of the Armenian Genocide to advance their western agenda. My advice: Follow their money trail and you will find out who is behind them.

    PS: Happy new year to all and let’s hope Armenia finally finds some peace and stability in the EEU.

  11. It is obvious to me that besides Koko Yegnukian all the other commentators here are either the same person or members of Putin’s fan club. I understand what your intentions are.
    I did hear what Gevork Safaryan said and when he said it. He was attacked and beaten in the middle of a busy street and in the presence of numerous cameras. Of course the perpetrators were not caught even though a few days before in the same spot a mugger was caught because of the numerous cameras. It is obvious to even the most gullible person that the thugs were none other than the law itself. So Gevork in that video says to the authorities: “I am warning you and this is NOT a threat” that if the authorities continue with their criminal behavior then they will get back what they saw. That is a call for self-defense and by the way, for our “know it all fake patriots” the Armenian constitution guarantees that right to its citizens.
    As for Pre-Parliament “hijacking” the April 24 and your cries on how could they do that, I have one answer: “Oh you are so pathetic” What is it that you were going to do on April 24 that you can’t do now? Look back at our history of the past 100 years and ask yourself: “what have we done so far? how far has Hay Dat gotten? what reparations have we gotten?” Nothing! and nothing will be done until and after there is a government in Armenia that thinks and lives for Armenia and not for their pocketbook. All that you fake patriots have done in the past 100 years is to beg for recognition. Who cares about recognition? Reparations is what we need.
    Now Pre-Parliament is calling for this regime (which contrary to what some of you have stated, was NOT elected) to be overthrown with peacefu,l non-violent methods such as civil disobedience, however it also says in no uncertain terms that if the regime decides to repeat the events of March 1, then they will get an appropriate and commensurate response. I repeat, that is a constitutionally guaranteed right of the people.
    BTW, I am not writing this for the members of the Putin club, but rather for those readers who have not taken sides yet and have not set their mind. For those people here is a link from Pre-Parliamet video where they explain Why on April 24th.

    • Everything is apparently obvious to you.
      Except it isn’t.

      Yes, President Serj Sargsyan was popularly elected: 58% to 37%.
      A landslide win.
      In the Yerevan municipal elections, May 2013, RPA won 55% of the vote. (Yerevan city is about 30% of the electorate of RoA.)
      In the March 2014 community elections in Armenia, out of 40 communities that held elections, RPA won 28.

      And yes, despite the pre-parliamentarian (sic) belief that the Earth is flat, the Earth is actually round and revolves around the Sun.

      Best regards.
      A loyal Putin fan. (I even changed my handle not to leave any doubt)
      с новым годом.

  12. Avery; you are not an Armenian – i suggest you make every attempt from calling yourself one. any “Armenian” that calls him/herself a Putin fan is equivalent to calling him/herself an Ataturk fan. you didn’t even come close to addressing anything that i or Truth has said. you continued by restating the election statistics which a 1st grader in Armenia knows have been heavily falsified. maybe you should get out of SoCal and go to Armenia and live there before you spew your disgusting rhetoric on this forum.

    Armenia is run by a criminal oligarchy that needs to meet its end, period. if you disagree that there is an oligarchy then you need to live there and experience it yourself. now, if you are part of that oligarchy than i have nothing to say to you other than “your days are numbered”.

    p.s. my other post was not accepted; where my words may have been harsher. hopefully this meets the requirements for the AW moderators. thank you in advance for even giving us this opportunity to voice our thoughts.

  13. Truth? Perhaps Koko?

    Keep dreaming about all the other commenters here being the same person. You will see how much support you really have when the kaka hits the fan. You are a miniscule minority. An obscure fringe in Armenian society. And better being Putin’s fan club members than bending over to Turks and Uncle Sam like you characters love to do. Gevork types in any other nation would be have been in prison or dead.

    • minorities often win:

      American Revolution
      French Revolution
      US Civil War
      etc. etc. etc.

      maybe you too should move to Armenia before blabbing hatred, “Gevork… would be have been dead or in prison” towards someone who is actually trying to make Armenia a better place for ALL Armenians including the likes of you

  14. “Any “Armenian” that calls him/herself a Putin fan is equivalent to calling him/herself an Ataturk fan”

    Koko Are you honestly comparing Putin to Ataturk? This a joke or are you really this insane? Don’t know the answer but Im glad you made this statement so that others here can see the quality of our opposition movement in Armenia. Is it really that difficult to realize that without Russian help Armenia cant survive? Putin has been the most Armenia friendly foreign leader in modern times comparing him to Atatuk is almost like treason against Armenia.

  15. (Koko Yegnukian // January 5, 2015 at 6:26 pm // )

    {“Avery; you are not an Armenian – i suggest you make every attempt from calling yourself one”}
    “Yes I am”.
    “No you are not”.
    “Yes I am”.
    “No you are not”.

    OK Koko, you win: your logic is overwhelming.

    {“ you continued by restating the election statistics which a 1st grader in Armenia knows have been heavily falsified.”}
    Yes, of course: the BarevaCadres are all first graders. That’s how they know the election statistics have been allegedly falsified.
    All those independent organizations and observers, EU commissions, OSCE observers, Europeans observers, exit polls,……are wrong and the Barevalosers are right.
    Yes, of course, every election won by RPA overwhelmingly was falsified.
    And the BarevaLeader is the real President of RoA: he was/is so popular that his rallies attract 50-100 people these days, half of them pensioners looking for excitement.

    {“ maybe you should get out of SoCal and go to Armenia and live there before you spew your disgusting rhetoric on this forum.”}
    How do you know I don’t go to Armenia every month ?
    Heard of Air travel ?
    How do you know I haven’t lived in Armenia ?
    How many years have you lived in Armenia ?
    What do you know about the Neocon West ?
    Have you every been outside of Armenia ?
    Have you heard of Soros ?
    Any idea who and what Գրանտակերներ are ?

    {“Armenia is run by a criminal oligarchy that needs to meet its end, period. “}
    Try to make that happen yourself: don’t just be keyboard warrior.
    Don’t issue empty threats from the safety of your computer.
    Go out on a Yerevan street and do what Shahen Harutyunyan did.
    Then you will be arrested, tried, convicted and have a nice vacation in a Yerevan jail.

    Thank you in advance for reading and responding to my disgusting rhetoric in this forum. Your appreciation of my prose is greatly appreciated.

  16. Avery; you’re the one who said you are in Southern California and praised the Diaspora there. I know about Soros, grantagers(the current regime in Armenian is the best example), etc. what is your point? i am none of those if that is what you are implying. yes, i’ve lived in and out of Armenia. unlike you i am active beyond the computer.

    Norserunt; you need a better understanding of what treason is. you are protective of a group of people that rob the people of Armenia and its resources on a daily basis. you obviously either do not see this apparent issue which 90% of Armenia is subject to or you agree with it which makes you a traitor.

    just like Avery your empty threats are useless as long as you are anonymous.

    Gurgen said to follow the money trail of preparliament which was the most poignant argument made, why don’t you all do that and report back to us on what you’ve found.

    i think we’ve taken up enough of the moderator’s time so if any of you have anything further to say email me directly

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