It has been over three weeks since we are living in a different Armenia. Now, in just a few days, the interim government will present its program of short term policies. Many are hopeful about the potential for positive change, but others are more cautious. How much change will actually be possible?
It’s helpful to remember that from the start, the leaders of Armenia’s peaceful revolution were consistent in outlining several very concrete main goals. The first, to elect their leader, Nikol Pashinyan, as interim prime minister has been achieved. Also achieved: their goal of forming and appointing a temporary government. Still in the works are the implementation of legislative changes to the electoral code and changing laws on political parties to ensure fair and free snap elections (predicted to be organized this autumn). Additionally, they have stated intentions to clear state bodies of special interests and work to eliminate corruption in the country. (To this end, a new body was recently established, called the “State Oversight Service of Armenia” run by Davit Sanasaryan.)
But while these broader goals are enough to keep the newly formed apparatus fully busy, citizens are already following up expectations for problems in more specific, regional interests to be addressed.
Geographer and environmental activist Levon Galstyan hopes for changes in the country’s environmental policy. “All previous governments of Armenia viewed environmental issues as a last priority in their political agenda,” he says, “They didn’t realize that ecological security is equal to national security in Armenia. I hope the new government approaches environmental issues with this in mind and based on it creates environmental policy for the state.” But though for Galstyan hopes for environmental change, he does not expect it immediately. He realizes the new government is temporary and has a specific agenda (i.e. fixing the electoral process), on which it must focus in order for future change to be possible.
Gohar Stepanyan is a cultural anthropologist who also believes that establishing a rule of law should be the government’s first priority, but a close second for her is education. Stepanyan says she hopes to see the “recovery of the educational sphere, in short and long term programs. Both local and international experts, researchers in different fields should be involved in teaching. As a representative of science, I would also highlight the need for new approaches to developing science. There are many initiatives from the scientific community, but the state also has to be receptive towards them.”
Journalist Arman Gharibyan is hopeful about the government’s stated ambitions to curb corruption in the country, but he hopes that this will come with much more visible steps than taken in previous attempts. “I imagine this to be done in no other way than holding high ranking officials accountable, maybe already former officials, who committed crimes and appropriated state money.” He adds that this is also important to ensure that in the future new members of the government and other officials will keep in mind that they will not be immune from liability.
Anna Kamay, a local curator, believes the time frame is too short to expect too much from this government. “We now see that a process has started similar to Georgia’s, as the prime minister’s team works toward eliminating corruption. Yet there is no certainty if it will be possible to fully eliminate it, also taking account Georgia’s case where at higher levels corruption still remains. The only expectation [I have] from the new temporary government is the organization of just elections as Nikol has promised us.”
As for her field of work—arts—Kamay adds that she will continue pursuing her art projects hoping for a support from the respective ministry. “The newly appointed minister of Culture has little background in this sphere, but [it might actually be a good thing], in the sense that she might be objective,” which Kamay says would be a change from her predecessors.
Anna Nikoghosyan is a feminist scholar and activist, whose skepticism revolves around the appointments that have been made to Pashinyan’s cabinet. “There were appointments that made me optimistic, like for example, the minister of education and minister of justice,” she says, “but others suggest that… class, social, economic, environmental, and feminist issues will continue to stay on the fringes, so we are going to be the ones trying to push for changes in these areas.”
Based on this cabinet, Nikoghosyan says she expects the least change in terms of feminist reforms. “The fight that we went through showed that patriarchal approaches have not declined at all, as it was mostly men speaking from the platform, even though women did a lot of work as well, or the posts that were appointed in the government, ministries, only two women appointed to decision making posts. And for me, this is a real problem, as in terms of gender balance, there is no real change,” she continues cautiously, “The temporary government should go after goals that are possible to realize in short terms which are eliminating corruption and ensuring free, just and transparent elections.”
Another point of criticism has targeted the experience and particularly the age of many of Nikol’s appointees, who have been younger than in previous administrations. But according to Babken DerGrigorian, a diasporan himself who was recently appointed Deputy Minister of Diaspora, younger faces mean fresher perspectives.
“I’ve been at the job for a few days already and I am seeing that this team has a lot to offer. First of all, a new vision for Armenia, for the government. Secondly, I think we have a morally different approach to governance, a lot of things that were acceptable for the old system, for us they are completely unacceptable, such as inefficient management. We may be inexperienced, but we know what is efficient and what’s not. After all, this is a team of activists and organizers. These are very goal oriented people. We measure our actions based on the end goal that we are trying to reach.”
But at the end of the day, says DerGrigorian, though there are many hopes for broader reforms, the top priority remains the organization of fair elections. Without that first important step, Pashinyan’s team believes, nothing else will be possible.
It is not likely to, in 20 days, completely shake up an old system, which was the last twenty years in the making. But for the future, it will be important to bear in mind that key to Armenia’s success will be the individual contributions made by each and every one of us. Government should not have a monopoly over the process of state-building. Only through the cooperation of people and politicians can we achieve the country we always thought we deserved.