Joining a panel of discussants at an event in Toronto, Canada on 10 September via Skype, RSC Director Richard Giragosian presented an assessment of recent developments in Armenia. Other notable speakers included prominent Canadian artist, actress and public figure Arsinee Khandjian, Dr. Daron Acemoglu, well-known MIT economist and co-author of the seminal book “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty,” Garo Ghazarian and Karnik Kerkonian from the Armenian Bar Association, and others.

In his opening presentation, Giragosian stressed two main points. First, he argued, “looking at trends in Armenia, it is clear that Armenia is in a political crisis today. However, this political crisis is nothing new – it has been accumulating. It is also based on an underlining lack of legitimacy, as Armenian voters and the political constituency have been denied either voice or choice in determining the future of this country.” He added that although “the political aspect of this crisis is not new either, what is new is the economic fragility. The emergence of so-called oligarchs, coupled with entrenched corruption and the related challenge of business and politics enjoying too much of an incestuous relationship, have combined to exacerbate the country’s economic downturn.”

Giragosian also criticized the country’s “traditional opposition parties for failing to offer clear or consistent policy alternatives, for relying solely on opposing, rather than proposing their own vision of the country.” Concluding his argument that “Armenia is in political crisis,” he noted that the “lesson learned is that there is no alternative but to reform the country.”

His second point was that “Armenia is in transition,” marked by “a change in the political elite.” This factor was especially significant, he added, because “the coming election in 2017 is a key turning point for real change,” which also “means that the lesson learned here is that it is dangerous for any incumbent government, in any country, to continue to ignore popular demands for change and expectations for reform.” The “culture of impunity and arrogance of power that has so damaged Armenian politics in recent years is neither any longer acceptable nor sustainable.” But he noted that “what is needed for positive change today is not violence. It is engagement and empowerment as imperatives to ensure the protection of the conduct of the coming election – this is the only way forward. What is needed is not violence, and not extremism, but rather, a focus on engagement in the political process.”

In the second part of the discussion, Giragosian responded to a question regarding the “outlook for positive change from the events of July.” In response, Giragosian argued that “change was already well underway, not because of the events of July, but despite the events of July.” He went on to say that “what is needed is not desperation but determination,” and warned that “violence only threatens to delegitimize the moral authority of civil activism.”

Rather, he argued that “unlike the desperate acts of violence of July,” the “more important milestone came first in June 2015, when the Electric Yerevan movement demonstrated the positive aspect of activism and change, marked not by force or armed insurrection, but by forceful inspiration, and defined by an educated, empowered, and enabled youth as an agent of change in Armenia.” Those events “also affirmed that activism has replaced apathy in Armenia.”

He then cited events in April 2016, regarding the Azerbaijani military offensive, which he hailed as “demonstrating that corruption has emerged as the most serious threat to national security.” Citing this point, he added that “in terms of national security it is no longer enough to safeguard the perception of Armenian invincibility, but to forge greater self-sufficiency and to pursue a policy of rational security instead of empty slogans of national security.”

Giragosian then concluded by noting that “unlike a campaign of violence, the imperative to transform crisis into opportunity is to seek greater political maturity, to elevate the level of political discourse to a contest of ideas, including a debate of policies not personalities.” He closed by highlighting that “change is coming, change is underway, but must be peaceful, mature and moderate,” while ruling out “extremism or violence, which will only trigger a harsh response and set back reforms for years to come.” Arguing that he is “optimistic,” he said that “Armenia is now too small to fail, in that it does not take much and does not take many for real change in the country.”

Full event video (CivilNet):