An armed group called “Sasna Tser” (Daredevils of Sassoon) recently seized the Erebuni police station in Yerevan, taking several policemen hostage and calling for the resignation of Armenian President Sarkisian and the release of prisoner Jirair Sefilyan, who is charged with the illegal procurement, transportation, and storing of weapons. The armed group is comprised of former soldiers who fought in the Karabagh War.
Violence must be condemned. Change through forced coercion sets a dangerous precedent.
The actions of the armed group have given rise to subsequent demonstrations and clashes with police. Citizens are rightly frustrated about a range of issues in Armenia, including corruption and governance, and are expressing their discontent.
Civil society in Armenia has been increasingly active, whether it be in response to prices rises in electricity and transport, or to the brutal murder of a family of seven in Gyumri, committed by a deserter from the city’s Russian military base.
Regime change will not immediately bring about the change the citizens and demonstrators want; regime change may eventually occur, but what is required in the first instance is real governance change.
In other words, combating corruption seriously includes overhauling the current Anti-Corruption Council and Commission and appointing a new leadership, fully independent of the current apparatus. The prosecution of alleged corruption should take place in a special court that can administer punishments and serious penalties should breaches be found. This should occur noting the state of Armenia’s judiciary today—Armenia’s ombudsman has claimed that the system is corrupt from top to bottom.
There needs to be a strengthening of civil society including fostering a healthy investigative journalism model, an effective way to create accountability and transparency. This should include a funded independent public broadcaster. Television is the main medium in Armenia, and most of its channels are controlled or friendly with the government, as broadcast media requires a license.
Armenia needs to address voter fraud seriously. Last month, the National Assembly approved major amendments, including having cameras at polling stations and improved voter identification. These amendments were dependent on foreign donors, who paid for the purchase of special equipment—a poor reflection of the government’s commitment.
There exists a lack of competition in certain staple commodity markets in Armenia, including wheat flour and sugar. Beginning in 2004, a monopoly in sugar has constantly controlled over 90 percent of the market, reaching 99.9 percent in 2011.1 For wheat flour, an essential staple, monopolists earned $110 million in pre-tax profits in 2014 alone, charging a 93-percent markup.2 Agencies responsible for fair competition need to take proper and real action.
Armenia must address its governance issues seriously and aggressively. One cannot build a solid home without a strong foundation. Governance reform for Armenia must be treated in this context. Regime change alone will not be effective until Armenia builds a strong foundation.
1 Hrayr Maroukhian Foundation, Monopolies in Armenia, February 2013.
2 Policy Forum Armenia, Monopoly Profits in the Wheat Flour Market in Armenia, June 14, 2016.
Sassoon Grigorian is the author of the forthcoming book, Smart Nation: A Blueprint for Modern Armenia, published by the Gomidas Institute.