The challenge of a successful engagement of the diaspora and the homeland has always been about managing useful resources and limiting the impact of negative emotions. Activism in our nation takes on many forms. The political dimension, for example, has been rooted in justice for the Armenian Genocide and advocacy for Artsakh. Other campaigns have been focused on education (infrastructure and curriculum), economics (anti-corruption and investment) and social justice (domestic violence, gender equality). All have contributed to the emergence of a modern Armenia. The diaspora has and will continue to play a vital role through financing, NGO creation, repatriation and other forms of service. Making a difference for the diaspora is a challenging adventure that can be limited by inexperience, remoteness and an overabundance of emotion. While emotion via empathy creates the initial passion to participate, a real impact requires a clear understanding of the needs and practical solutions. Often a continued reliance on emotions can either guide us into an overwhelmed state or unrealistic expectations that can diminish a commitment. I have found that the most successful contributors abandon their personal agendas and invest in learning about the needs of the environment. Armenia’s politics, unfortunately, seem to suffer from an overabundance of self-interests.
My sense is that this essential balance has been impacted by the current events in Armenia. I am not referring to the organizational work that continues unabated by many outstanding nonprofits and NGOs in the diaspora. This concern is based on the impact of the individuals that fuel large organizations or smaller group efforts. The “anger index” is still very high. I would compare it to a springtime flood of a major river. The waters have not yet receded leaving many people in a very emotional state. It is difficult to be optimally effective when emotions are still raw. We are angry at many things. As we look inward for answers to the devastation, the short-term response will be more anger and frustration. As information emerges about the diplomatic checkmate we found ourselves boxed into and the military lapses that sacrificed so many young citizens, our anger grows and our trust diminishes.
Everything we have invested in seems to be regressing or in question. The economy has been impacted. Will this fuel emigration? Social progress seems to be on the back-burner. When will we recover? Millions of dollars of investment in Artsakh have been lost as buildings, homes and land have been ceded to Azerbaijan. There are gray border areas with Azerbaijan that were previously with the Republic of Artsakh. How much of our sovereignty has been forfeited? Was the price beyond the human loss and the territory? Have we been reduced to a Russian vassal state? Is Artsakh the new South Ossetia?
Despite the government’s errors, this generation received a first-hand experience that modern Turkey has much more in common with its Kemalist, Ittihad and Sultanate ancestors. Turkey’s racist hatred of Armenians, genocidal intent and pan-Turkic objectives link them to their criminal legacy. The current Turkish leadership has committed its own 21st century version of human rights and war crimes with jihadist imports and inhuman assaults. The impact of watching another generation of Turkish crimes (both Azeri and Turks) basically ignored is devastating to the psyche of this generation raised on the horrors of their grandparents’ experiences. Most reasonable Armenians have advocated a justice agenda with Turkey and Azerbaijan based on facts and not promoting racist intentions. We have worked earnestly to separate activism from hatred. This ideal just became more complicated to accomplish based on the open promotion of Turkish racism in their respective societies. Based on the reality that the general populations of Armenians and Azeris must be territorially separated due to the atrocities committed by the aggressors, the balance we seek has been altered. Our hope is that the peaceful and civilized instincts of our people will melt the anger over time, but with survival at risk from evil aggressors, we are many years from that state.
The other destination for our anger currently is the leadership of Armenia. I recently wrote about the broken contract as a justification for change. Change fueled by anger can be dangerous. The people today are asking, what happened and who are the leaders we can trust? These questions will be answered if we invest in the democratic institutions we have fought so hard to achieve. The diaspora has its own set of questions that are laced with anger and tell a story of wounded trust. Over $175 million has been raised by the All Hayastan Fund (with the US affiliate Armenian Fund). In these times, overkill on public transparency would be a wise move. When the majority of that money was donated, it was not anticipated that we would have such a political and humanitarian crisis. Specifics on a regular basis on disbursements will rebuild and maintain trust. Communication has been reasonable, but more is needed. Why? Because hundreds of millions more needs to be raised.
The government standoff must also end. The public rhetoric of the government and the opposition must lead to decisions now. Enough with political positioning designed to retain power. There must be an agreement on a path to stability. Pashinyan says the people will decide but that he alone cannot decide on snap elections. Technically he is correct, but his decisions will either forestall or enable the process. He sits in the seat, and a “filibuster” is not in Armenia’s interest. When he says that he takes full responsibility, part of that has to be how to restore political stability and national confidence. A free expression of will is the constitutional instrument to restore a recovery path.
Armenians both in the diaspora and the homeland would be wise to confirm their knowledge of the political process. Early elections without political alliance realignment will result in name changes perhaps, but not in strategy. The prime minister is chosen by the ruling party or by a coalition creating a majority in parliament. Pashinyan’s My Step alliance is the current majority group in parliament based on the 2018 parliamentary election with 86 seats. The “opposition” has put forth the name of Vazgen Manukyan, a former prime minister who last served in the government 27 years ago. His candidacy is based on the assumption of Pashinyan’s resignation. Although the demands are spirited, they have little constitutional basis since the PM serves until his party loses a parliamentary mandate, if he resigns or loses a no-confidence vote within his party. It is perfectly legal for Pashinyan to ignore calls to resign—legal, but probably not the best option. His response has been that the opposition does not represent the will of the people. It remains unclear what electoral alignment would emerge with Manukyan under early elections and what his prospects would be. Currently only three parties/alliances hold seats in the parliament. The second highest seat holder, Prosperous Armenia, is a part of the opposition alignment. This standoff should be broken by early elections, which are now believed to be projected for March. Why is this detail important to understand? Simply put, if the democratic institutions of Armenia are not supported in this transition, then what is the point of sovereignty?
This dilemma has created a crisis of how to be productive for many individuals. If Pashinyan were to heed the demands and resign, his alliance would have the opportunity to form a new government, unless they brought a “compromise” candidate forward. This would be the “caretaker” or “unity” government that the opposition envisions. It would require a major compromise from the ruling alliance. The prime minister is trying to buy time assuming that the emotions and anger will fade over time. His original position of elections in June 2021 reflects that thinking. Putin, of course, is probably happy with a politically wounded leader in Armenia. It makes opposition to the “nine points” less credible with compromised negotiations. Of course, a caretaker with a harder line could backfire with Russia holding all the cards. The most practical solution would be a patriotic resignation enabling parliamentary support for a “unity” caretaker candidate as the nation prepares for early elections.
All options are fraught with risks, but aligning the citizens’ will with a government is critical. We cannot afford to fall back into the pre-Pashinyan era where hope was a scarce commodity. The current standoff and its resulting consternation has blurred the lines of activism. Who and what should we support? Anger has led to the ABP movement (anybody but Pashinyan). Others fear a return of the oligarch regimes, especially with Russia’s public influence. Calling for Pashinyan’s resignation without a stronger alternative may create a more difficult future. This is why the “alternative” must be credible, competent and pragmatic. Does such leadership exist in Armenia? We have experienced the oligarch and the corrupt. We have seen the populists and inexperienced regimes. Is our system capable of producing leaders who can respond to the challenges, enjoy the public support and navigate the geopolitical terrain of the neighborhood? The events of the next several months will answer that question. One of the challenges of democracy is that some forces build loyalty to a faction or individuals and their patriotism is expressed through that lens. These political forces spar within a sovereign state to advocate for their vision of the nation. When external forces threaten the stability of that sovereignty, these forces must subordinate their self-interests or risk the very essence of nationhood. This is where Armenia is now. Power must be subordinated to real solutions. Conflicts must have closure and not continue open looped. Pashinyan needs to internalize this. The My Step alliance must also. The 17 opposition parties also have a responsibility. Put your political “weapons” down. Call a domestic ceasefire and talk to each other as Armenian patriots. If you choose not to, we may all regret it as the line remains blurred and our dream fades.