By the time you read this, the Republic of Armenia will formally know who its new, fourth president will be come April. He is the second one named Sarkissian—first name Armen this time.
What would normally be a happy, or at least welcomed, development can only be greeted with much caution and trepidation. The first three presidents share one major commonality, overseeing and maintaining a corrupt, suboptimal system of government (not to be confused with what is the official, constitutional, structure of government). This is why I am not celebrating.
The very fact that he was put forth by the current President Sarkisian and his Republican Party makes one suspicious. Remember, the republic’s president will be elected by parliament and not directly by citizens under the new constitution. It’s natural to expect that they would only nominate someone who would think and behave as they do. This concern would have applied regardless of who it was that was nominated, and is not limited to Armen Sarkissian.
But there are signs that this president might be different. For starters, he will not have the unfettered power of his predecessors. The new constitution, adopted in Dec. 2015 rendered the president much more of a figurehead, though with some ability to counter the actions of the parliament and the government it creates and some authority on the international front. This will prevent anyone holding the office from conducting the functions of government from heading up a system as dirty as what we have witnessed.
There is also the fact that Armen Sarkissian has spent over two decades outside of Armenia while serving as its ambassador to Great Britain and in other international capacities. Some people have argued that this makes him somehow less qualified to become resident. I don’t see that connection. If anything, having spent the time outside the day-to-day corruption pervading Armenia may have developed different, more desirable, sensibilities in him when it comes to governance, than his peers in-country.
This second president (elect) Sarkissian is also a successful businessman. Between terms as ambassador to Britain, he used his training to make a living in the (then) relatively new industry of electronic games. His wealth may serve to inoculate him from the temptation to use the high office he is about to hold as a means of enriching himself.
He has familial ties in the Diaspora. That sort of contact may also mitigate some of the worst habits developed by people living in the Soviet system, though this is no guarantee since we have the example of the first president, Levon Der Bedrossian (Levon Ter Petrosyan), who was himself one of the Armenians who had repatriated from the Diaspora but was responsible for establishing the corrupt system now bedeviling the country.
The most direct, though still somewhat tenuous, evidence that Armen Sarkissian might be a different sort of leader is what he did once it was clear he would be the ruling, majority, party’s nominee. He went around meeting and holding discussions with the various poles of power, interest groups, institutions, etc. that are important in the life of the country. This might have been only for show, but hopefully, it was more than just that. If he was indeed listening and initiating good relations with these sectors of society, taking their concerns to heart, then maybe he will be a different, better, leader than what Armenians have dealt with for a quarter century.
Plus, if he has a backbone and is right-thinking, he can use the bully-pulpit of the presidency to push the discourse, and hopefully eventually the practice, of government in our homeland in a direction that is less corrupt and more oriented to serving the public at large rather than his own and the crooked oligarchs’ pockets.
The question now is, what can we, the Diaspora, do to enable this man’s better angels to manifest themselves?