First Hundred Days

As some of you are reading this, others will still be at Glendale’s civic center rallying on the occasion of Nikol Pashinyan’s first 100 days in office as the Republic of Armenia’s prime minister.

This has been a period of almost unparalleled excitement in the Armenian world. The only other such time that people actually remember was when Armenia served as the trigger that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. That was followed by great disappointment, and it’s important that such a let-down not happen again. The other such time was when Armenia first gained its independence in 1918, though naturally it was somewhat muted given the immediate aftereffects of the Genocide.

Scheduling this 100-day rally in Yerevan, weeks in advance, was an excellent move by Pashinian. Most importantly, it serves to consolidate the gains made by the Velvet Revolution by reenergizing that large segment of the public on whose shoulders Pashinian rose to power. It also keeps him visible and, at least nominally, accountable to that same constituency.

With similar rallies in the Diaspora, the connection with the homeland is also strengthened. Plus, given the unavoidable “delay” in the level of engagement by the Diaspora, it’s important to build support for the new regime in Yerevan, which these rallies can do.

No doubt Pashinian will cite the accomplishments of the last three months (remember, this is being written BEFORE he has spoken), primarily in the anticorruption realm. The splashy, much publicized, arrest of Manvel Grigorian (the guy who was feeding soldiers’ rations to his caged “pet” bears and lions) being the most obvious example.

But there are other examples, too, though far less glamorous, they are very important. A number of tax cheats have been brought to light and they have been paying the back taxes they owe. This has improved, ever so slightly, the budgetary picture of the government. Various other indictments of corrupt officials have also been handed down.

Other good news Pashinian is likely to cite is the apparent decrease in emigration. Recently released numbers indicate a very significant decrease in the number of people leaving the country. There has been a net INflux of people. Unfortunately, it’s hard for me to conclude that this is definitively good news because the last three months also coincide with the high tourist season and the number of travelers may be somehow distorting the picture. Happily, with summer almost over, we’ll soon have a clearer picture. I’m hoping these initial statistics do turn out to be indicative of the beginning of the end of our huge demographic/population-decrease problem.

On the affirmative, so-called “pro-active” front, the idea of issuing Diaspora bonds (something done for decades by Israel in the Jewish Diaspora) has been floated. A very important aspect of this is that it was formulated by a Diasporan repatriate who is serving in the new government. It demonstrates the importance of the Diaspora which many in the homeland do not yet fully, practically, and viscerally appreciate.

Another very important aspect of this government’s policy is its inclusiveness. It has announced that those willing to work on rebuilding the country will be engaged.

All of this is very hope-inspiring and enthusiasm-building. The gloom of robber-oligarchs sucking the country dry has been (at least partially) lifted. But there are also some worrisome aspects to the otherwise very constructive course this government has taken.

Because of how rapidly, and rather unexpectedly (even and especially for themselves), this agglomeration of activist/civic/political forces came to power, they were unprepared to govern. High positions have been filled with people inexperienced in the art/science of running the day-to-day operation of a government. This is only temporary because people, especially dedicated, enthusiastic, well-meaning people, will learn and often very quickly. What’s worrisome, if it’s true, is the arrogance that new people in power, particularly Pashinian, are supposedly imbued with. If this is indeed the case, I will become very concerned because arrogance is the beginning of any person’s or movement’s downfall. Look no further than those who have been in power from the very beginning of the Republic’s re-independence.

I recall [Kocharian’s] anti-ARF position and actions from long before he became president. Couple that with the abuses he perpetuated after first president Levon Ter Petrosian… and you have a not-particularly admirable man. But if he is to be held to account, it should be done properly, not with a lynch mob mentality.

In this vein, the importance of utilizing the accumulated experience of the existing government bureaucracy in Yerevan cannot be overstated. The best example is obviously the National Security Service which has been responsible for the sensational arrests of the last few months. If these people had not been well trained and experienced, their law enforcement actions might well have been impossible, or at least happened much later. It turns out that even in the life of the first republic of Armenia, the middle and lower level staff of Tsarist Russia carried over and enabled the building of an independent state. I hope Pashinyan and his circle are modest enough to recognize the value of these people in all departments (although no doubt some weeding out is necessary).

Which brings us to the biggest development since the new regime took office: former president Robert Kocharian’s arrest. Speaking as an ARF member, I recall his anti-ARF position and actions from long before he became president. Couple that with the abuses he perpetuated after first president Levon Ter Petrosian—enshrined the corrupt system, carried over from Soviet times, that has been sucking the country dry—and you have a not-particularly admirable man. But if he is to be held to account, it should be done properly, not with a lynch mob mentality.

Currently, Kocharian is under indictment for his role in the March 1, 2008 riots and ensuing ten deaths that occurred in the aftermath of the rigged election which brought Serge Sarkissian to power. Obviously, this is a highly charged issue. That’s all the more reason to move forward proceed with extra precision. It’s even sensitive enough that someone as necessarily cautious in his pronouncements as the American ambassador spoke to the necessity of following proper procedures. But when Kocharian’s press conference gets disrupted and terminated through the action of demonstrators (a few days go), there rises some cause for concern. Plus, if Kocharian’s case is mishandled, because of his former position, institutions of the state may be weakened by losing even more credibility in some ways while gaining the legitimation to act arbitrarily in others. Those are the same institutions, bureaucracy, and staff that enabled his arrest and the other positive steps noted above. We cannot afford to lose those

We must all rally and support the new government while pressing it to be true to its original founding principles. That’s what got Pashinyan into office and it’s what will keep him there, at least until new elections are held and (hopefully) a better functioning democratic and corruption-free system is established.

All of what has happened in the last four-plus months has served to build confidence among the citizenry. It’s our job, all Armenians, homeland-dwelling or Diasporan, to keep supporting this government and keep pushing it in the right direction.

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Garen Yegparian

Garen Yegparian is a fat, bald guy who has too much to say and do for his own good. So, you know he loves mouthing off weekly in the Weekly about anything he damn well pleases to write about that he can remotely tie in to things Armenian. He's got a checkered past: principal of an Armenian school, project manager on a housing development, ANC-WR Executive Director, AYF Field worker (again on the left coast), Operations Director for a telecom startup, and a City of LA employee most recently (in three different departments so far). Plus, he's got delusions of breaking into electoral politics, meanwhile participating in other aspects of it and making sure to stay in trouble.
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