What will it take for capable leadership?

Republic Square, Yerevan (Photo: Tony Bowden/Flickr)

We are raised in the diaspora with this romantic perception that everything Armenian is good. In most cases that’s true. We have a deep faith, a beautiful language and a respected culture. Our “clannish” behavior is a subject of humor, but has also been a major contributor to our continued existence. We look for each other and take great joy in that discovery. Saroyan’s words ring true as communities of Armenians continue to blossom on this planet. If a critical mass were not deeply committed to preserving who we are for today and the future, we would experience full assimilation. That’s how it works in a dispersed state: struggling to maintain a heritage with damaged roots from a genocide.

Nevertheless, most of us in the current generations were fortunate enough to watch our parents and grandparents toil with selfless devotion to build and support an Armenian life through communal activities. This environment in the United States, Canada, Europe, South America and the Middle East shaped our view that great value comes from our Armenian identity. The notion of greed and corruption was either a foreign concept or ignored as remote exceptions, blinded by our devotion. How could we possibly see any weaknesses when our community role models were those who raised us? Behind the pride and simplicity of youth, there were the stains of disunity and community upheavals caused by ego-based conflicts. Despite these occasional distractions, our communities have been a strong foundation with infrastructure, wealth, generational transference and a yearning for the homeland. 

In 1991, when Armenia gained its sovereignty and Artsakh a de facto independence, the diaspora was ready to embrace the dream. The expectations were, unfairly, high as the diaspora inevitability expected what they had experienced in their host countries. Similar to all former Soviet republics, Armenia suffered a power transition that enabled the oligarchs and corruption of the next 25 years. Still, hope prevailed as we believed the “Soviet” culture would pass.

The three attributes of leadership necessary for an emerging democracy are integrity, political will and competence. Our problem can be summarized, in its simplest terms, by stating that Armenia has not experienced all three concurrently in its almost 30 years of independence. Acquiring power and establishing the trust of the people are independent variables. There has been no shortage of those desiring and maintaining power; credibility and trust, however, have been lacking. Levon Ter Petrosyan, the first president of Armenia, inherited a massive challenge with transitional unemployment from the Soviet era and resulting emigration. His desire to resolve the Artsakh conflict with compromise drove him from office. Ironically, his advocacy of compromise came to pass through a criminal assault on the innocent after compromise was rejected. The Kocharyan and Sargsyan eras were filled with electoral corruption and economic despair. From a leadership perspective, they were “Moscow friendly,” but there were significant issues of credibility, corruption and ambivalence by the citizens. In fact, by 2017, many Armenians felt a sense of hopelessness in their ability to impact their future. It was this environment that led to the “Velvet Revolution” and ushered in a period of recovered hope and optimism. Of course, very few actually knew Nikol Pashinyan and his ability to govern. As his My Step alliances swept a majority in parliamentary elections, we witnessed the impact of an emotional tidal wave. The euphoria of the street revolution and the hope of ending corruption were so strong that the long-controlling Republican Party did not win a single seat in the new parliament. The stars seemed to be aligned for Pashinyan…or so we thought. He had the confidence of the people, a ruling majority in the parliament and a nation ready for change. The issue of his competence to govern was unanswered, but most assumed that the positive mood and desire for change would bend the learning curve. There were clear signs of progress with domestic policy issues such as anti-corruption, social equality and infrastructure. Lurking in parallel were foreign policy strategies that tend to be less visible on a daily basis. It is clear now that Armenia did not seriously prepare for the Azeri/Turkish ambush despite many warning signs. That, along with the Pashinyan government’s refusal to compromise on the diplomatic front with Artsakh, created a dangerous isolation that left Armenians alone with yet another Turkish onslaught.

The government clearly miscalculated the resolve of the major players for Armenia to return the liberated territories while the rest of us interpreted the refusal as a patriotic gesture. The Turkish criminal assault was not a full surprise. The warning signs were evident: violent rhetoric from the Turkish alliance, war exercises with equipment and resources remaining in Azerbaijan, and Turkey’s unchallenged expansionist policy in no less than seven areas of the region. Our preparation both militarily and diplomatically was misaligned with this reality. Inexperience? Incompetence? It was a leadership failure. Once again the fox in the henhouse got away with its crimes because of the Russian chess game, western ambivalence and Armenian naivety.

Armenia is a small nation with limited natural resources in a neighborhood with no close allies. This is not a new revelation. The argument could be made that it has been this way for literally thousands of years. If our survival is based on self-reliance, why has our leadership failed to meet the three criteria outlined earlier (integrity, political will and competence)? Why have our leaders failed to build an intelligence service and military capability to defend the borders in the last 30 years? Why is it that Armenia can only produce leaders that are corrupt or amateurish and seemingly unable to lead a nation of educated and self-sacrificing people? It is still shocking for many in the diaspora to see Armenians who profit off the misfortune of their compatriots. It’s not just the presence of this problem, but that our system seems incapable of producing beloved, honest and capable leaders. Surely they exist among a people of brilliant entrepreneurs, political minds and innovative citizenry. Before we pile on the criticism bandwagon too heavily, we must accept that we are all somewhat complicit. It is we who encouraged the western political push of Pashinyan that proved to be a major factor in Russia’s response during the war. We applauded his “no compromise” stand in response to Azerbaijan’s vile and horrific behaviors. Common citizens can be emotional, but governments have a responsibility to develop strategies that will not put their nation in harm’s way. We were all in the same bus on this one. Now we are rightfully upset. If we demand change, then let’s address the root cause of why we have a leadership crisis. We must grow from this and address the absence of true leadership. Our future will require an answer.

It disgusts me—as I am certain it disgusts many of you—that a noble, cultured and honorable people such as the Armenians are plagued with corruption, ineptness and such narrow thinking. The Catholicos, who has his own credibility issues, recently called for the resignation of Pashinyan. For an institution that has been relatively invisible while women are abused in their homes and poverty is rampant, this was an inappropriate message. This is not leadership. The Catholicos stating a publicly popular position seems self-serving. The church should focus on its mission. The 17 parties propose an alternative in a man who last served 27 years ago in government. A nation of barely three million has almost 20 parties and only three represented in the parliament. What does that tell you? When 17 parties agree on one name, it either reflects an obvious popular solution or a compromise. This seems to be the latter. It doesn’t look like a very serious political system when everyone has a party, they come together to address a common political foe and then divide when the short term is accomplished and the real power is at stake. They will splinter back into a power versus powerless alignment. It is this process that produces the leaders. If the process is flawed or immature, then the output will be compromised. The problem is much more complex than just replacing Pashinyan. Real leadership comprehends and embraces that concern.

The talent in the diaspora is deep and diverse. It is an abject failure on our collective part that this talent is not fully integrated into making Armenia a prosperous nation. Why do we allow subordinated distractions such as egos, fears, biases and power politics to limit the dream? Are we really serious about a sustainable and vibrant Armenia? In the recovery, the resources of the diaspora must be utilized in the areas of intelligence, military, diplomacy and economic growth. The walls that limit that integration must be torn down. This can only happen with enlightened leaders who see Armenia not simply as a home for three million individuals, but as the center of the Armenian universe where all Armenians can live, prosper and contribute. Does such a mindset exist to inspire global Armenians and navigate the troubled waters of Turkish racism and a precarious Russian relationship? Our progress thus far has been driven bottom up by devoted individuals and non-profit organizations. For it to be a transformative process, it must be led from the top. It is exhausting and suboptimal to drive change from the roots only. Where are those leaders? Sometimes they exist, but they are hidden by the distractions created by our failures. 

This is not an intellectual exercise. The future of the nation is at stake. A combination of youthful innovation and experience-based wisdom is the level of diversity required, but the catalyst leadership must meet the criteria. It is time for all of us to walk the talk with the term “patriotic” by parking our egos at the door and enabling those leaders who will get Armenia on a path of redemption.

Stepan Piligian

Stepan Piligian

Stepan was raised in the Armenian community of Indian Orchard, MA at the St. Gregory Parish. A former member of the AYF Central Executive and the Eastern Prelacy Executive Council, he also served many years as a delegate to the Eastern Diocesan Assembly. Currently , he serves as a member of the board and executive committee of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (NAASR). He also serves on the board of the Armenian Heritage Foundation. Stepan is a retired executive in the computer storage industry and resides in the Boston area with his wife Susan. He has spent many years as a volunteer teacher of Armenian history and contemporary issues to the young generation and adults at schools, camps and churches. His interests include the Armenian diaspora, Armenia, sports and reading.


  1. Stepan, these are my feelings exactly and I thank you for expressing them so eloquently and clearly. I have share your article with my cousins in Istanbul as well as many friends here in the US. I hope your excellent commentary will spur Armenians in the diaspora to take a more active role in establishing a democratic government in Armenia.

  2. You should not cast stones at our Vehapar Hayr Garegin B Amenayn Hayotc Kathoghikosy , The Armenian Church is very correct and within it’s prerogative to address such issues that effect our Motherland and it is not your place to tell our Vehapar Hayr what he should or should not do

  3. Do you really believe that somebody capable in the West or Russia would be nationalistic enough to take the risk to govern Armenia? We are all proud to be Armenian but when we need to make sacrifices then we back down.

  4. I enjoyed your article and it rings true on many levels. Unfortunately Turkey robbed us of that breathing space we needed as a nation to nurture and nourish that leadership element that is so needed. It is my hope that once the dust settles we will be more aggressive and hope that these leaders pop up through the cracks of recovery.

  5. I agree 100%. Armenia must leverage all its human and capital resources in the diaspora in order to overcome the current crisis and thrive in the future! I firmly believe that the diaspora needs to be properly represented in the Armenian Parliament and potentially have a leading position, maybe even the PM could be from diaspora.

    • Many American Jews have served and are serving in the Israeli Governments.I believe that is a successful formula.

    • Comparing Armenia to Israel is a joke, I will explain why. When Israel formed in 1948, the Jews brought in Jews from around the world who were best suited and qualified for each role, and that brought them all the success in the world. When Armenia gained independence, the Soviet Beggar Thief of Armenia made sure to get RID of the best Armenians and to also keep the qualified Armenians from the diaspora at bay in order to go on LOOTING the country.

      All this talk about “we need to do this and that in the diaspora” is a waste of time. Armenians just don’t get it, we need to do NOTHING in Armenia until first and foremost, the Soviet Beggar Thief is completely EXPUNGED. Nothing more.

    • Yea, we all get it, the diaspora is important. Except when you put in charge someone like Sinanyan, one of five or so Glendale mayors without any noteworthy accomplishments, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

  6. The fate of Armenia depends on Armenia saying goodbye to its Diaspora

    Armenia’s Diaspora has brought nothing but a phalanx of gender studies majors (which are currently in the Pashinoglu government), and other foreign concepts of liberalism, all with Soros money.

    Armenia’s “woke” Diaspora has been an utter disaster, trying to fit in. To Armenia’s “woke” diaspora, congratulations on destroying our homeland. Now, go claim Turkey as a homeland, and do as much damage there.

    • Which “diaspora” are you talking about anyway? Your run-of-the-mill anti-ARF “authentic Armenian” hayastantsi neighbors who ESCAPED from Armenia during independence, or the traditional diaspora which has been supporting and sustaining Armenia, which the former disdains despite having ESCAPED?

      And by the way, even though some of our traditional (non-ARF) diaspora leftist bolshevik types did “infiltrate” Armenia spreading globalist propaganda there, who were those who let them thrive in Armenia to begin with? Those were the two “pro-Russia” CROOKS called Kocharyan and Sargsyan, Pashnyan started NOTHING new in Armenia that didn’t already exist. And the loss of this pre-planned “war” had everything to do with all the Bolshevik Remnants of Soviet Armenia looting the nation and robbing Armenia of the capability to properly wage a war which EVERYONE knew was coming, lying to us all throughout the 30 years about how “Russia is our ally and Armenia has the best army and weapons in the region blah blah blah”. Yeah we saw quite clearly how Russia behaved in this “war” and we saw quite clearly all those “secret weapons”. Who is to blame for that, the “diaspora”?

    • Funny – because partially true while also incredibly hypocritical because without said diaspora you’d all be literally starving. So maybe try to relax a little bit.

  7. Regarding military strategy, even with competent, non-corrupt leadership, Armenia is in a no-win situation because it is not dealing with honest brokers on the adversarial OR so-called allied sides. If Armenia had compromised on the diplomatic front, Turkey-Az-Russia would have demanded more in this default show of weakness and still given nothing in return. Refer to previous historical compromises Armenia made and recall how the US and Europe betrayed their “little ally,” too.

    Regarding Diasporan non-monetary contributions, Russia and its handmaidens in Armenia do everything possible to prevent that from happening. It is impractical to say that the Diaspora has kept Armenia at arms-length when it is the opposite. If there are those who keep their distance it is because they have learned that they will be used and abused.

    The global Armenian nation is not to be accused of collective complicity when they are most often forbidden to make decisions that affect the nation. We speak of the oligarchs in Armenia but rarely of the oligarchs in the Diaspora who control and filter news and activities, as they’re often in the pockets of bigger fish.

    Let us not allow analysis-paralysis and a knee-jerk desire to remove one man from office only to install another who will inherit the very same obstacles prevent us from seeing that secure borders are our number one priority.

  8. An excellent analysis of the political situation in Armenia. One thing the people are very certain about is that they don’t want the past Talanchiner back in power again who have totally ruined Armenia with their systematic Talan of the country where they have banked their Talan in billions of dollars in offshore accounts under different names, their election rigging, murder, torture, criminal governance and the rest, as every institution in Armenia has been corrupted that includes the oligarch karekin, judiciary and security forces, all these corrupt and criminal officials must be sentenced or else justice will mean nothing in Armenia which is sadly the case now.

    Armenia needs a fresh clean and wise leader to try and pull us out of this horrendous mess with the help of professionals from the Diaspora.

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