BY DAVID ARAKELYAN
It has been a year since the Velvet Revolution headed by Nikol Pashinyan swept Serzh Sarkisian’s regime. As a result of the Revolution, the people of Armenia received an opportunity to choose their representatives in a free and fair election for the first time in more than two decades. They ultimately chose Mr. Pashinyan and his party, the Civil Contract, to lead the country for the next five years. I have been a staunch supporter of Mr. Pashinyan since before the Revolution, and believe that even if he does nothing else, dismantling the criminal regime and giving the Armenian people the ability to choose their leaders is already something for which Mr. Pashinyan will be remembered in Armenian history books.
However, that legacy will be greatly enhanced if the Prime Minister can also resolve some of the key issues facing Armenia and try to justify at least some of the (sky-high) expectations of the populace. While I am convinced that the Velvet Revolution was a necessary and positive step for Armenia’s development, I also believe that there are several areas where Mr. Pashinyan and his team must make improvements in order to increase the likelihood that this government will ultimately be a successful one. Constructive criticism is important for any government, and this article is my modest attempt to provide such criticism to Mr. Pashinyan and his team.
Doing that is necessary since most of the ‘criticism’ directed against the government is neither objective nor intended to help it correct its mistakes. Rather, it is mostly hateful propaganda sponsored by the affiliates of the former regime. Thus, it is incumbent upon those of us, who do not have a political agenda to stay vigilant and clearly assess both the strengths and the flaws of this government. Though I could write a long essay on the positive changes brought by this government during the course of the past year, today I will focus on some of its shortcomings.
1. Constitution. From the non-dismantlement of speed cameras to the ‘non-diminishment’ of the powers of the Prime Minister, there are several promises made by Nikol Pashinyan that have not been fulfilled. Not everything can be done in a year, of course, but something as important as changing the ARF-inspired, Serzh-sponsored Constitution passed in a referendum tainted by vote buying and voter intimidation should have been a priority. As a member of Parliament, Mr. Pashinyan (correctly) criticized that document for creating a position of a ‘super-Prime Minister’ and for not doing enough to effectively balance the distribution of powers between different branches of the government. Thus, it was logical for him to take concrete steps to address that problem upon assuming office. That has not been done. Hopefully, Mr. Pashinyan will turn his attention to this matter in the near future and not end up reversing himself, as he has done with regards to traffic cameras, for example.
2. Artsakh. It does not seem like this government is making sufficient effort aimed at preparing the Armenian public for a potential (and likely) war with Azerbaijan. Instead, there is too much talk of peace with the regime in Baku, if not by the Prime Minister himself, then at least by his surrogates. Peace is a pipe dream. If Mr. Pashinyan does not want his tenure to end in a calamity, he needs to end these premature conversations about peace and prepare for a war. Our history of interactions with the Turco-Tatars teaches us a very clear lesson: the more prepared Armenia is to defend itself, the less likely our enemies are to attack.
Of course, this does not mean ending diplomatic efforts and purely focusing on military buildup. Armenia needs to win time to rebuild after the criminal regime brought the country to the brink of disaster, and diplomacy can help there. In that sense, Mr. Pashinyan’s attempt to bring Artsakh, left by Kocharian and Sarkisian out of the negotiations process, back to the table is commendable. However, as long as there are no monumental shifts in the mindset of the Azeri populace, diplomatic efforts will not yield peace. The best they can do is help Armenia win time, and that is precisely what needs to be done, so the country can improve its economic and military capabilities before the next wave of aggression by Azerbaijan.
3. Tone/Style of Leadership. Mr. Pashinyan’s style of talking to people is worrisome. The widely-publicized incident with the flag at the customs office was not the Prime Minister’s finest hour, though his anger may have been justified. Mr. Pashinyan is emotional and people like him for that (and his sincerity), but that gives the apologists of the criminal regime an opportunity to focus on his temper and try to delegitimize what he is actually saying or trying to accomplish. Mr. Pashinyan cannot let that happen. Instead of talking about the Prime Minister’s irritability, those individuals should be forced to address the rampant corruption, the rigged elections and other crimes, which have taken place during Serzh Sarkisian’s and Robert Kocharian’s years and which they are busy trying to deny or diminish. As for Mr. Pashinyan’s temper, he should follow his own message of ‘love and tolerance’ and avoid public outbursts that give ammunition to his opponents.
4. Appointments. Mr. Pashinyan seems to have a lack of desire (or maybe lack of cadres) to surround himself with more professional individuals. He has relied mainly on his teammates from the Civil Contract for the past year, and though they are viewed as honest and not prone to corruption, the youth and inexperience of many ministers/MP’s is concerning. There are several people appointed/elected to positions who are clearly not qualified for the jobs they hold. At the same time, there is significant untapped potential of competent professionals, both in Armenia and in the Diaspora, who could be engaged in the nation-building process. Loyalty and membership in a certain political party cannot be the main categories for appointing people to important positions in the government, especially when the country is facing monumental challenges. The Prime Minister should look into making his government more diverse and more professional in order to be able to solve the many problems facing Armenia.
5. Information War. Mr. Pashinyan needs to address these issues in a situation when a full-scale information war is being waged against his government. His predecessors, Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian along with their former coalition partners continue to control large TV channels (Kentron, H2) and other media outlets (newspapers and online sources such as Tert.am, News.am, Slaq.am, etc.) that are used to sabotage and attack the Prime Minister and his family. The government should look into the sources of funding for these ‘news outlets’ devoted to anti-government propaganda and develop a better PR strategy to neutralize their impact. Maybe in the process of investigating the funding sources of these ‘news outlets’ affiliated with Kocharian and Sarkisian, the authorities will also finally come across the many business ventures, offshore accounts, and hidden properties that the public widely believes are owned by the two former Presidents. And maybe then there will be enough evidence to hold them accountable for those and many other crimes committed during their years in office.
The Armenian people have very high hopes and expectations of Nikol Pashinyan’s government. For the first time in more than two decades, the government enjoys public support and the legitimacy necessary to consolidate the Armenian society and provide solutions to the problems facing our nation. That chance cannot be wasted. Mr. Pashinyan must be more deliberate in his decisions and in his behavior in order to be able to withstand both the internal and external pressures and address the socio-economic and geopolitical challenges facing Armenia. And we, as Armenians, must resist the temptation to fall prey to false propaganda disseminated by the former (criminal) regime and help this government succeed. History has not always given us an opportunity like the one we have today to build the Armenia of our dreams. It is incumbent upon all of us, and particularly, our country’s new leadership, not to miss this historic chance.