Political compromise is the work of patriots

Demonstrations in Yerevan calling for the unification of Karabakh with Soviet Armenia (Photo: Ruben Mangasaryan, circa 1980s)

Most people who pursue public service believe their perspective on policy is essential. When accompanied with the interpersonal dynamics of political life, we sometimes find ourselves unable to compromise. It’s commonly referred to as partisan politics. Party loyalty is admirable, but it also contributes to legislative and governing gridlock. When does a parochial view begin to limit what’s in the national interest? The easy part is forming a view. The hard part is implementation. The only time in politics when compromise is not required is in a dictatorship. I always find it interesting when a politician wins an election by, say 52 to 48 percent, they declare they have a “mandate.” A mandate for what? To govern or to push their agenda? The mandate is that you have been entrusted in a democratic society to govern the entire population. They certainly have no issues with the 52 percent that supported them, but what about the responsibility to the 48 percent? Successful leaders know how to bring everyone along for the journey. That requires compromise without abandoning the national interests.

Some call compromise a betrayal to the ideals (the 52 percent), while others view it as a process of inclusion. At one point, we will all be on either side of that distribution, yet we tend to change our perspective depending on which end we reside. Patriotism involves always working truly in the best interests of the nation which requires us to closely examine the views of those who did not vote for us. It is challenging to find consensus, but with power of authority comes the responsibility to find solutions.

This is a theme that bears repeating for our dear homeland and the worldwide diaspora. We can safely make two assumptions about the political climate in Armenia and Artsakh. The first is that there is no greater priority today than the national security of the Armenian homeland. The other is that the instability of the political environment is weakening Armenia’s ability to address that priority. The climate of conflict is toxic. Endless arrests, investigations, political undermining and staffing changes only lead to the perception of aimless governing and bitter adversarial relations. How can Armenia improve the political landscape? Private and discreet negotiations between the parties are certainly important, but for too long the message of inclusion and compromise has been missing in public discourse. The public has been encouraged to take to the streets, use the media and express hopelessness to promote personal attacks and divisive rhetoric. Regardless of your perspective, it is difficult to defend this as helpful for Armenia’s future. Most of the attacks center around forcing the resignation of Pashinyan. This is the same tactic used prior to the June elections. Now with a “mandate” to serve, the same approach is wasteful. It creates more animosity and more division, further weakening our position. Can Armenia survive the turmoil connected to regime change? Our enemies view this as an open invitation to attack Armenia and further pressure the government to subscribe to unfavorable “peace.” Pashinyan’s people likewise respond with charges of past corruption from previous administrations (now opposition) which has the same negative impact. Is it that difficult to understand the futility of this approach or is patriotism now defined as synonymous with partisan positions?

Last week, we broached this matter with some suggested actions to break the apparent gridlock. It starts with the authority structure which is the current government. In this chess game, they have the first move. No one should be exonerating past corruption, but the country cannot endlessly continue a process that began in 2018. On the back of the Velvet Revolution, there was a place for anti-corruption. What began as standing up to the faces of corruption and a public cry for justice continued with political overtones. Exonerations added to this perception. The war of 2020 simply added to the feeling of anxiety that fueled public opinion.

The gridlock and political civil war are not in the interests of a sovereign prosperous Armenia. The answer in Armenia always seems to be demanding the replacement of the government. It has happened with the Ter Petrosyan, Kocharyan, Sargysyan and now the Pashinyan administration. Whether its street demonstrations, elections or other forms of pressure, the exit of one government has rarely improved the climate. Poverty remains a critical issue. Population migration is crippling, and now national security is threatening sovereignty. We have seen many leaders with different styles over the last 30 years in a variety of landscapes. One approach that has not been attempted is a comprehensive national reconciliation and political unity movement. The reconciliation is required to enable the healing caused by the bitter internal conflict. Political unity can only happen when there is a common “unifier.” In this moment of porous borders and “huns at the gates,” can there be any greater purpose than overcoming the nefarious intentions of our enemies? Many Armenians today have abdicated their impact by claiming that the future of the country is in the hands of others. We are all too familiar with Armenia’s dependency on Russia, but sovereignty starts with a spirit of self-determination. Once that is lost, the decline is significant.

What can Armenia do to protect its sovereignty? We can start by acting as one nation. Division always reduces the whole, and we need every ounce of the whole at this time. Political debate can certainly be an important part of the democratic process, but not when it is motivated by acquiring power or making change that does not inspire confidence. Armenia is at a point where the inability to find consensus and work together has become the major obstacle. In a divided political society, one group takes power and discounts the others. Change in this environment simply rotates the chairs with the same result. At the end of the day, this political process does little to improve the lives of the citizens.

Bold action is required to bring our nation together. But how? Pashinyan has spent considerable effort bringing charges against former government officials. The list is long. Supporters say it is tedious work because the problem is rampant. My observation is that this process has not been particularly successful. Some have been released, and others have been found innocent. On the other hand, this has fueled an opposition that views this as revenge. The truth has become almost irrelevant as the country sinks into civil conflict. Perhaps a conditional general amnesty is a better way for the nation. A good friend of mine who is active in Armenian politics suggested that rather than endless investigations, we should consider a “conditional amnesty” where individuals would compensate the nation in return for amnesty. These funds would be substantial and would be directed toward the national security of the nation. A conditional amnesty should be declared to relieve the country of the atmosphere of investigations and arrests that have gained a perception of political motivation.

Fortifying both sides of Syunik and improving armament and military research are just a few uses for this funding. The nation receives compensation for the past, and the individuals start with a clean slate. I cannot think of any more significant change to reduce the internal political conflict. We must find a way to put these conflicts behind us. Patriotic expression should be encouraged and valued. Let those who refuse to participate in a national reconciliation movement be isolated. This will take incredible will on the part of the political elite, perhaps more than they may believe they are capable of. We must also appeal to the egos of the elite. One possible opening to convince these individuals may be in appealing to their legacy. At some point, most influential individuals care about how they are perceived, remembered and how their impact is sustained. It will require all parties to subordinate their personal feelings and embrace a sense of national collaboration. Are patriotic values stronger than the cultural norm of disunity? This approach has the possibility of de-escalating the domestic political firestorm and focus our resources on the external threats instead of being dissipated in partisan conflict.

Pan-Armenian behavior has become prevalent in the diaspora as old wounds heal and the need for collaboration becomes essential. The lack of such in the homeland is a dark cloud hovering over our people and represents a significant threat. It has taken many painful years to come to this realization. Armenia needs a similar epiphany and the catalyst may be the national security crisis.

A wounded bird unable to fly cannot protect the nest. Most major wounds heal from the inside. The rhetoric expounded about patriotism and the homeland has little practical value unless it leads to recovery. An engine with cylinders misfiring is not very effective and will probably break down. The pain and suffering of the Armenian nation requires unprecedented action by the powerful to reconcile those in conflict and to restore hope in the citizenry. Are we expecting perfection? Of course not. Conflict is part of human nature. Civil discourse can be valuable as long as it does not impede decisiveness and stays below the threshold of dysfunction. No one should be above self-reflection. We should all examine our approach during this critical moment in our history. One of the greatest expressions of patriotism is to subordinate oneself to the needs of the nation. Our people will follow a path of reconciliation, self-sacrifice and the compromise required to survive.

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. Let’s not forget that Kocharyan murdered an ARF member. Shame that the Party’s Bureau chose to sheepishly side with this criminal and never sought justice for the murder of Mr. Poghosyan. If Armenia is to heal, locking up these killers and restoring trust with the Armenian people is the first step. Amnesty comes later.

    It’s clear Mr. Pashinyan has failed to keep Rob K. behind bars. It’s up to the ARF to break off this foolish, unfruitful alliance with corrupt K and seek his permanent arrest for the myriad of laws he has broken. And for the sheer extent of damages he has caused to the Armenian nation and people. Everything from theft, intimidation, tax evasion, to murder. Or at minimum, for a murder of a party member. Instead, there are reports of party members being removed from the party for questioning the partnership and bringing this injustice to the fold.

    “Conditional amnesty” is great in theory as a form of restorative justice, but that requires guilty parties admitting guilt, which they refuse to do. There is no way psychopaths like Kocharyan and his cronies will bring home or give back to the military the funds they have laundered from the State or admit wrong to their violent crimes. They have powerful friends and voracious greed. For this reason, we need an alternative to conditional amnesty, something more firm and demanding.

    Once the ARF removes the yolk of the murderer Kocharyan, then the country can be led by civil individuals (even if they disagree) that are not selfish, petty killers that hinder Hye Dat.

  2. I totally agree with Stepan Piligian. We need “national reconciliation” to get out of current impasse. For me, one of the greatest men is Nelson Mandela. Why? Because he led his compatriots, both blacks and whites, to “reconciliation”. Can anyone say that during apartheid the South African people were better off than Armenians during the regimes that preceded Pashinian? Note, Armenians have not seen segregation. Corruption, perhaps. But Nelson Mandela did not dwell on apartheid and used it as a weapon, an excuse, argument to “punish” the “guilty” who had put him in jail for over 25 years. Nelson Mandela asked his people to “reconcile” and move on to build their countries future (Read his views and biography, this winner of Nobel Peace prize, Sakharov prize, and other recognitions of his greatness). In 2018, after winning the people’s confidence, unfortunately for us Armenians, Pashinian never stopped his witch hunt. At the time, I thought, I hoped, that Pashinian would at least partially be at the level of Nelson Mandela. But alas, he did not. I agree with Stepan Piligian, it is never too late for reconciliation. We need it. We are able to. Such a move, philosophy to implement, can come only from the top, from those in authority. Can Pashinian withstand the challenge?

  3. Political conflict is an integral part of human society. It exists everywhere but with very different consequences. For “mature democratic” societies such as France and England, elections are used to decide the “next four years”. There is a healthy turnover of different political parties and ideas so that each side feels that they have a “say” in the running of the country. There is also a healthy civil society outside parliament where many different ideas can be aired and debated.
    But most societies are not democratic and violence is often used to impose one particular viewpoint. Examples are China, Russia, Egypt, Syria, Belarus and Azerbaijan to name a few. Yet another example is dispossessed people like the Kurds or Palestinians who are unable to have a healthy political culture, partly because of external pressures by their enemies and partly because of the tribal nature of their societies.
    Finally, another category are emerging democracies who have some features of all of the above. Examples are countries in South America and Eastern Europe. Armenia lies somewhere in this last category. Its political culture is dominated by “personalities” rather than ideas. Unfortunately, these personalities tend to be rather uninspiring leaders, lacking in imagination and maturity (no Washington, Adams nor Jefferson need apply here !) . I always hoped and thought that the Armenian historical experience would produce a Yitzhak Rabin or a Nelson Mandela but alas not so far. On the other hand we have fortunately been spared mass civil violence.
    Political conflict is part of social life and can be healthy if it is channeled correctly. The Armenian version tends to be more toxic because it is a) narrow minded, b) based on family, friends, clan, c) not very confident- every opposing view is a “mortal threat”, and d) maximalist – my way or the highway. In a recent interview on Civilnet(12/2021), Nubar Afeyan said that he and other diasporic leaders had not been consulted about the future direction of Armenia by the present government. Many analysis and studies to improve the economy and institutions have been ignored by successive governments. The pages of this newspaper are full of stories about the diaspora being ignored during the past 30 years, when there was so much opportunity for collaboration. On the other hand, diasporic Armenians demonstrating in front of Armenian consulates and calling Pashinian a traitor, also shows immaturity. What ever happened to the idea that national politics stays within “Armenian boundaries” and that we present a united front to the outside world? With Turkey pointing a gun at Armenia’s head, if this is not the time to come together, when is it?
    What to do about the current political situation in Armenia? A reconciliation process as described by Mr Piligian is a good start. Another idea is massive investment by the diaspora (both human and financial) to revitalize Armenian society and open new political spaces. But in order for that to happen, there must be a real “partnership “, along the lines proposed by Mr. Afeyan. Yet another idea is to have a prize given to an individual or organization that brings “civil good” to Armenia and the diaspora. Finally, an internship program for young people in Armenia and diaspora to work in government and NGOs to encourage citizenship. This could build on existing programs run by AGBU, ANCA and other organizations.

  4. Another brave and nationalistic article by Piligian that tries to bypass the politically strangulated Armenian culture, external pressures and take a sensible view of present day realities. Thank you for the maturity and wisdom shown. Hope our leaders take notice and come to their senses, both in Armenia and the diaspora. The recosiliation idea is an excellent proposal for our nation and situation but it must be “universal” in nature. That is to say it needs to be reciprocated by all parties involved. Pashinyan needs to get the ball rolling and at the same time previous leaders show appreciation of the realities and confirm unity of purpose and make a one off donation to the nation from their amassed wealth. Pashinyan needs to form an all inclusive government, representing the other major parties and aim for a government of proportional representation in the future, like they have in Lebanon. New laws need to be passed to stop future corruption and enforced vigorously. This could present a win win scenario for all parties involved and be a blessing for the nation. The “maturity and unity” shown needs to be from all, including the diaspora, otherwise the problem will repeat due to human nature, where if we can get away with it once we will try again. Just like genocide.

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