BY MIKE MKHITAR MORADIAN, Ph.D.
I am writing to you from the beautiful and lively Armenia. During the past few weeks, after attending the 5th International Medical Congress in Armenia, I interacted with hundreds of people, from taxi drivers to restaurant workers, shop keepers, hotel employees, farmers, ranchers, academics, researchers, and medical professionals, across different regions of the country. As a scientific and strategic leadership expert I could categorize their many interesting views, regarding the future of the country, into three different groups.
While the overwhelming majority was very excited and approved of the Velvet Revolution, almost half were cautiously optimistic, and to my surprise, a quarter were quite suspicious. The remaining quarter were the super supporters and already envisioned a bright future.
My inferences were somewhat concordant with the latest polls, where over 40 percent of participants declined to publicly approve or disapprove of the current government’s performance. In this article, I would like to share three key points and concerns that were commonly expressed and anticipated by the government. The first includes presenting a clear plan, or strategy, to overcome the major socioeconomic and political challenges in the country. Second, uprooting an extensively corrupt political and social order and establishing fair and just systems for all. Third, creating a strong national statehood and national army, using an all-inclusive approach. As the head of the government and the leader of the revolution, Prime Minister Pashinyan naturally becomes the addressee, so let’s begin.
Dear Prime Minister Pashinyan, you made history by pulling off an unlikely and unbelievable revolution to oust a somewhat corrupt regime. Your remarkable perseverance and determination led the Armenian people to the second major change after the independence in 1991. You brought hope and inspired life to the country, which puts a massive burden on your shoulders to carry on and implement the promises of the revolution. Obviously, it is improbable to introduce or implement changes in just one year, we all agree on that. However, it should have been quite possible to prepare a plan or strategy on how the government will be financing its operations and guarantees that everyone will pay their fair share of the taxes.
Collecting stolen money is a good first step, yet not a solution. Another major necessary action is to create a strategy to have major employers in the country, including the government, raise the employees’ salaries so the people can afford the living standards in Armenia. Incentives for large businesses, including tax cuts, are fine, yet they should come with government mandates such as creating more jobs and increasing workers’ pay, a major government responsibility. As you know, majority of the people live on salaries that are not sufficient to provide a normal life for their families and children—this group can also be considered the revolution’s backbone.
Speaking of people in need, I could not ignore the confrontation between government and the illegal loggers in the north, so I visited Ijevan and surrounding border villages such as Achajoor (Աչաջուր) and Sevkar (Սևքար). While I fully support the campaign against any illegal activity in the country, including logging, I realized that the issues were not as simple as just cutting trees. The people in Tavush region, especially villagers on the border with Azerbaijan, are very patriotic and concerned citizens. They are not part of an organized crime groups or looters of the forests. My impression was that they would never cut a tree if they did not have to. Unfortunately, for many years the forest was the only means for them to provide for their families. When the government took action, it was obvious that there was no root cause analysis performed on this issue before sending in the security forces. In fact, conducting root cause analysis is hardly a practice in Armenia.
You inherited an extensively corrupt political and social order from your predecessors, which creates enormous challenges for you. This corrupt order’s roots go back to the mid 90s, becoming this monster that, like a kraken, has inserted its multiple tentacles everywhere in the country. No one expects you or your government to uproot the corrupt system in a year or two, that is not even possible. What everyone expects is to take proper actions to defeat the corruption at its roots, which not only requires a root cause analysis but also needs establishing fair and just systems for all. Let’s begin with a complicated issue, such as breaking down the business monopolies. There are several micro-economic systems and solutions for a scientific approach to break monopolies, yet their effectiveness is contingent upon government’s enforcement of the business laws such as collection of customs fees and taxes equally from all importers.
Another major government role is to create and support competition and to limit the market share for almost every import, export, and, if possible, manufacturing. Once every businessman or businesswoman is guaranteed equal rights and fair business environment, then gradually the monopolies will lose their market share to small yet innovative and smart business owners.
A major reason for corruption is uneven distribution of wealth in the country and Armenia is no exception. A small group of super wealthy individuals, namely the oligarchs, control the overwhelming majority of the wealth and the resources in the country. Almost none of these so called oligarchs have made their fortunes through innovation or major manufacturing, don’t make a mistake, Armenia had no Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. But, Armenia has many bright minds who can become the future innovators and economic developers of the country. It is the government’s task to create a fair and just business and manufacturing environment for these brilliant minds to innovate and prosper. Basically, creating systems in the country that would guarantee that the country’s not so large wealth is fairly distributed among all the citizens where smart thinking and hard work could have a big pay out.
The Velvet Revolution’s major promise was that the people’s will and determination become the driving force in the country. This is only possible if we create a strong national statehood and national army, in other words, every Armenian citizen should feel that they are part of the government and a soldier of the country. In 2016, every Armenian in the country proved that they were the soldiers of the land and they would defend their homeland to their last breath. Yet, it seems like not every Armenian citizen believes that they are part of the government, which poses the challenge on you and your government to create a national statehood, by the people and for the people. This mandates an all-inclusive approach, which means that there should not be white or black Armenian, there is only one color Armenian—the All-Armenians. National unity is the only way to create the prosperous Armenia that you and everyone else in the country envisions.
I acknowledge that there could be many ideological and political differences among important forces in the country, but as the famous philosopher Socrates taught us, virtue is product of dialogue and new ideas are born during civil dialogues. Thus, if we want to have prosperous and virtuous statehood and citizens, then we should keep the dialogue open among all major forces in the country. Obviously, your government has super majority in the parliament and does not need to collaborate with any other political force to run the country, I respect that. However, a national statehood should include all the forces and to utilize all their means to the benefit of the country.
In this sense, I would like to focus on the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, the largest and most influential Armenian political party across the globe. Recent elections showed that the ARF has lost the trust of a large group of Armenian people perhaps solely due to its collaboration with the previous regime. This means that the ARF’s new leadership has more work to do to regain the people’s trust. However, let’s not forget that in the past century the ARF has saved tens of thousands of Armenian lives, has given us the Republic of Armenia, has created, strengthened, and maintained the vast Armenian Diaspora, and most recently was a major force during Artsakh’s liberation. It is expected that a large political force with such a long history could make mistakes, yet history has shown us that the ARF learns from these mistakes and returns more determined with new and innovative ideas every time, and it is certain that this time will be no exception.
I would like to conclude with the following statement: Dear Prime Minister Pashinyan, it is the wish of every Armenian in the world to see the Velvet Revolution become the beginning of a prosperous and powerful Armenia. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the previous three governments, we cannot afford to rely heavily on any external force to prosper, we cannot afford to disrespect each other and expect others to respect us, and finally, we cannot afford to keep the status quo. Let’s push forward together with all the forces in the country and in the Diaspora, let’s create the real national statehood, and let’s earn the seat that the Armenian people deserve, on all international arenas. History has been witness to what a capable people we are, we just need to revitalize people’s determination and the hope to create a bright future for all the Armenians with dignity, strength, and honor.