BY MARIA TITIZIAN
In 1932, writer James Kieran used the term Brain Trust in the “New York Times” when referring to the close group of experts that surrounded United States presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt. Today it is widely regarded as a group of official or unofficial advisers concerned primarily with planning and strategy especially for a government.
Many years ago I was part of the Women’s Coalition of Armenia (WCA) composed of women from different political parties and civil society organizations. The WCA didn’t have a proper office, so we would meet at different locations hosted by one of the women from our organization. I remember vividly a particular meeting, which was being held at the offices of a now-defunct opposition party. When I walked in to their office, the leader of that party was sitting with a colleague poring over sheets of papers scattered all over the desk. He looked up when I walked in and said, “Maria, come here. You’re from abroad, I want your perspective on this particular sentence.” It was 2007, a few months before the parliamentary elections and he was drafting their party’s campaign platform.
I don’t remember the exact wording of the sentence but it went something like, “It’s shameful to be rich in a poor country…” I didn’t particularly agree with the sentiment at the time and I told him that if people were honest and hard working, well educated, and focused, and if they were able to acquire a standard of living that could be considered upper middle class or even wealthy despite the economic hardships of the country, why would you want to punish them or make them feel ashamed for reaping the benefits of their hard work? He reflected on my statement for a few seconds and said, “Yes, yes, you’re right.” He turned to his colleague and said, “Remove that sentence.”
Today, years later, I am left wondering if there was some truth to his words.
In the span of one year, citizens of Armenia went to the polls three times. It began with the parliamentary elections in May 2012, followed by the presidential election of February, 2013 and we capped the year off with the election of the Council of Elders and Mayor of Yerevan on May 5. It was a year that was fraught with uncertainty, indifference, drama, hope and disappointment. As a result, today we have a regime that is wholly controlled by one political party, the Republican Party of Armenia (RPA), one which has all the levers of power firmly cusped in its hands with no further worries of elections for the next four years.
To believe that they will utilize this time period to initiate significant reforms, or to address the discontent of the people, or to make a sincere effort to raise the standard of living in our country is nothing short of naïve. After all, they won three major elections in close succession with a clear majority, at least according to Armenia’s Central Electoral Commission and have received the stamp of approval from their strategic partners from around the world.
They will most likely rest on their laurels and continue to enjoy their unrestricted ability to govern at their will and amass more personal wealth while almost 40 percent of the population lives in poverty. For the RPA therefore, the next four years will be a period of relative calm, or will it?
That depends on us.
It is true; there are no more elections for four years. What can we the people do in the absence of clear leadership from the establishment and other political forces in order to systematically raise issues that are crippling our nation’s development and offer potential solutions?
A series of events over the past ten days has reinstated some of my dwindling hope for the future. These events, if not addressed will lead to an ungovernable situation for the government, I would even argue for other political forces. Citizens of Armenia are beginning to take the disintegrating situation of their existence in their own hands, the results of which might lead to something no one was predicting. We are witnessing spontaneous outbursts of severe dissatisfaction, albeit limited in scope, by ordinary people around social issues, something that would have been unthinkable a decade ago or five years ago or even a year ago.
Residents of the village of Marts in Lori marz hurled huge water pipes into a gorge to fight against a proposed hydro-electric power plant in their village, which will threaten their water supply and the surrounding environment. Residents of another village in Aragatsotn marz, Byurakan blocked a stretch of the Yerevan – Gyumri highway to protest the construction of yet another hydro-electric power plant on the Amberd River; they were joined by the villagers of Ujan in a sign of solidarity. A group of farmers whose crops were decimated by hailstorms in Armavir marz blocked another portion of a major highway to protest the government’s inaction to compensate their losses – the very livelihood of these farmers has been wiped out. A group of citizens staged a protest in front of the government building a few days ago to demand the government stop a proposed 64% hike in natural gas prices submitted by the country’s sole gas supplier, ArmRusGasProm to the Public Services Regulatory Commission, which will likely lead to price hikes in electricity charges. Another village was up in arms when one of its children, conscript Luyks Stepanyan was killed by a fellow soldier in the Armed Forces while on active duty. The family of Luyks had threatened to bring his body to Yerevan as a sign of protest at the unspeakable crime. The family and members of their village were stopped on the highway from Lake Sevan to Yerevan by the Minister of Defense Seyran Ohanyan, the Chief of Police Vladimir Gasparyan and other officials and convinced to return to their village to bury their dead son while hundreds of people protested another army death during peacetime in front of the government building.
All of these protests were carried out by ordinary people who have been abandoned by the government, by the political elite, by the so-called intellectuals of Armenia and by all of us who don’t want to hear about their problems.
Clearly the “Brain Trust” of this regime, if we could consider them to be defined as such, living and working in their privileged offices, comfortably far removed from the realities they are responsible for creating and which are breaking the backs of their own people, have lost their decency, their humanity and their sense of purpose. They don’t realize the abyss of hopelessness from which our people are trying to crawl out of. When a family is so utterly desperate for justice that it is willing to drive their dead son’s body in a van from Kavar to Yerevan, to place his death before the feet of the government, it is a symbol of indescribable rage.
While the “Brain Trust” is bankrupt, making feeble attempts to address the rising voice of dissatisfaction, actions and directives by the common man and woman are planting the seeds for what we might be able to consider the People Trust. This new configuration, absent of leadership for now, will hopefully awaken the opposition from its calamitous disorganization, competing egos, lack of vision and uselessness to rise up to the challenge of consolidating the people’s power and helping to bring about deep, structural reforms.
The People Trust will take over from the existing “Brain Trust” only when we join forces with the ordinary man and woman. I hope one day soon to be able to write that the People Trust has won.