BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
No one disagrees that we have significant problems in the Republic of Armenia (RoA). The disagreement is over what they are, how large they loom, and how to solve them.
From the perspective of local civic activists, the current crop of people in power is the problem, or, at least, the cause of the country’s problems. This is not least because economic power, held by the so-called oligarchs, is coupled with political power to such a degree that it creates suffocating conditions for the average citizen. I tend to agree with this portrayal.
So what is the solution? Is an imperfect, incomplete, solution preferable to the current conditions? Can “civil society” circles accept such an interim step? Are they willing to make tough and, at least seemingly, unappetizing compromises? Can cooperation with other sectors of Armenian society be part of a gradual, multi-decade solution? Even talk about some approaches could generate enough incremental pressure on the offending forces to prompt them to rein in their abuses and begin a process of reform.
One of the key sectors of any country/society is the military. Though sworn to obey the established, legal, reigning government, defense, police, and other physical-power agencies have been known “switch sides” to varying degrees. In any major change, upheaval, or revolution, the military plays a key role— quashing the nascent movement, or stepping aside to allow events to unfold.
In the case of the Russian revolution, troops deserted the front lines and joined demonstrators, ultimately toppling the czar. More recently, as part of the so-called “Arab Spring,” Egypt’s military used the street demonstrations as an opportunity to overthrow the sitting president. In Iran’s revolution, the military reportedly did not crush the demonstrations at the ruling shah’s behest. In a interesting twist, when a coup against the Soviet Union’s Gorbachev was attempted by his opponents, and people took the streets to support him, the military sided with him rather than those who attempted the overthrow. I even recall discussions that Levon Ter Petrosia’s departure from office was ultimately due to the power ministries being held by those who did not support his weak-kneed policies.
My question is, are civic activists in Armenia willing to work with a military that is also corrupt in the way of the oligarchs as well as in need of internal reform to prevent the needless, non-combat deaths and abuse? It is easy to imagine how such a linkage could temper, through fear of reprisal, the gluttonous appetites of the oligarchs, creating space for improvements in economic and social life. This is key to addressing the expatriation problem that, in the not too distant future, will come to hamper the ability of the RoA to function properly.
Conversely, is the military sector willing to step forward and build on its credibility (founded on its successes against Azerbaijan) by helping transform the country into a far more desirable place to live? This might come at the personal expense of some of the brass. But, they would become heroes.
This idea may seem radical, dangerous, or just plain fantasy. But, I’d argue it’s a far better option than having a country that ends up being depopulated and realizing the Turkic dream, since Ottoman times, of an “Armenia without Armenians” or revolution that so destabilizes the country that people die and Azerbaijan is able to make inroads where it is now utterly stymied – both diplomatically and militarily.
It would be interesting to see what people think of this approach, be they Diasporans or homeland-dwellers (both those in the elites and those on the outs). Please, speak your mind.