By Babken DerGrigorian
October 10th will be a date that goes down in infamy for all Armenians.
It’s placed on the mantle next to April 24th, December 2nd, December 7th, March 1st, & October 27th.
These protocols undid with the stroke of a pen, what generations of Armenian activists have fought for; it undermined the national interests of the Republic of Armenia; it undermined our political capital in Washington; it undermined the self-determination of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh.
You know this, and I know this. But as the entire Armenian Nation across the world stands in disbelief, there is one question on our mind that we have a hard time coming to terms with: ‘Why?’
I would like to offer some thoughts of reflection, as well as some thoughts on moving forward.
As soon as the intentions of the protocols were made public, Armenian communities all over the world condemned them, and when President Serzh Sarkisian came for his Pan-Armenian tour, we all mobilized in the hundreds of thousands to show our opposition.
One thing was done very well: unification. The voice of the Armenian people was a unified ‘Voch’ (No). From Paris, to New York, to Los Angeles, to Beirut, and especially in Yerevan, we said No and the Armenian Government knows this. Yet despite this unified stance against the protocols, they were signed nonetheless.
It is clear from these actions that the government of Armenia does not represent the Armenian people–and really, why should they? The Armenian people didn’t elect this government. Setting aside presumptive arguments on dual citizenship, even the Armenian people in Armenia didn’t vote for them, lest we forget the tragic events of March 1st 2008.
The Republic of Armenia lacks basic democratic values of government accountability.
This is not news, nor is it shocking, yet we have collectively shied away from this ‘inconvenient truth’ for years, especially when the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) was part of the ruling coalition. Fine; there are arguments on both sides on whether this was or wasn’t justified given the political realities of the time but one thing is certain, it came back to bite us in the proverbial ass.
Let’s be frank. While we made a lot of noise, we failed because the protocols were signed. The protests were great for way to deal with our emotional outrage, but it didn’t change anyone’s mind. The protocols were signed. The hunger strikers were some of the bravest members of our community. Their dedication was inspiring and we are all extremely proud of their work, but the protocols were signed. We gave passionate speeches and pleaded with Serzh, but the protocols were signed. The ARF threatened to, and then did, resign from the ruling coalition but the protocols were signed.
The protocols were signed, the protocols were signed, the protocols were signed!
Which brings us back to the question, why?
It’s not because we didn’t want it (derailment of the process) bad enough. Nothing says dedication more than 35 youth hunger striking for over 100 hours.
The protocols were signed because we lacked the strategic points of intervention. Plain and simple.
What does this mean? It means our actions lacked sufficient leverage to cause the change we wanted. Were they useless? Of course not! But were they successful?
Unfortunately, the answer to that is also no, at least in the short term. The problem of leverage in the Armenian Government is something the Diaspora has had to figure out for the past 20 years. One such solution to this was to include the ARF in the ruling coalition, despite its proportionally low representation in the parliament. It gave the Armenian Government political capital because of the ARFs transnational nature, and it gave the Diaspora a stake in the government and influence in its policies. Yet ever since the turbulent beginnings of the Sarkisian Administration, the government has made it clear that it seeks to shake itself of this ‘external’ influence.
At a time when the undemocratic Government of Armenia is acting against the national interests of the country, I say it’s time for the ARF to embrace its position as Armenia’s natural opposition whole heartedly, and challenge power effectively.
As a transnational opposition, the ARF has much to gain from bringing about true democratic reforms in the country and is uniquely situated to be successful at such a movement.
I believe the signing of these protocols opens a new chapter in Armenian politics, one that is rooted in democracy.
Because the real issue at hand is not the protocols, it’s the accountability of the Armenian Government to the Armenian people.
In case there is any doubt in anyone’s mind, ask yourself this question: Had Armenia held free and fair elections, had the events of March 1st not occurred, would the protocols have been signed, or even existed?
But that’s all water under the bridge, what’s done is done. What we should be asking is, “What now?”
First thing we need to do is realize that we have more leverage points than meets the eye.
While protesting Serzh didn’t change his mind, barricading the Genocide memorial to not allow a photo opportunity is a prime example of a successful and strategic intervention using direct action. It worked!
What if we barricaded ourselves to the doors of the consulate? What if we barricaded ourselves to the doors of the Beverly Hilton. The tactics of non-violent direct action (NVDA) that have been carefully developed by scholars such as Gene Sharp and perfected by activists all over the world would do us much good and will become more relevant as we fight for an accountable Armenian Government.
It goes without saying but our sisters and brothers in Armenia have the most leverage to gain and exploit by utilizing these tactics, so long as it is part of a larger strategic vision.
Let us be responsible organizers here with a few words on direct action. NVDA is a tactic, not a strategy. It should only be used if it moves you closer to your goal. We should not elevate a tactic to the level of a strategy. If it doesn’t suit your purpose, then shake off the romantic feelings of barricading yourself. If you don’t the cops certainly will.
But let’s also acknowledge and put into practice the scores of scholarly work on power and social movements that present compelling arguments for pursuing this path. Gene Sharp’s work on such topics has been translated to over 30 languages, including Azeri, Farsi, and Georgian, and has been cited by the US Institute of Peace as the intellectual groundwork responsible for the success of the OTPOR movement in Serbia, which galvanized an entire country to remove Slobodan Milocoviç from power.
And let us not forget the works of Ghandi and his salt marches, or the now legendary events of Seattle ’99, where the World Trade Organization rounds were successfully halted by activists due to strategic uses of NVDA.
Indeed, NVDA has proven to be most successful when the adversary lacks mechanisms of accountability. I believe we’re at a stage now, where these tactics will increasingly be more useful and will bear fruit for our cause in opening up larger political leverage points, especially by our sisters and brothers in Armenia.
As soon as we pick up our collective jaws off the floor, I hope we can start to think strategically about what our next steps are, and how we can use our community’s social and financial power to increase our leverage against the unaccountable, undemocratic, government of Armenia.
Against the Protocols? Work for democracy in Armenia.
“There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart that you can’t take part; you can’t passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”