2019: A Watershed Year

Karen Mkrtchyan MA, Editorial, Yerevan, 1 January 2020

Another year has come to a close and we Armenians, much like the rest of the world, find ourselves engaged in introspection, the positive habit of looking back at the year gone by in an attempt to identify and note our achievements and shortcomings. The tradition refers to the collective/national soul-searching and not to individual navel-gazing.

Whether it is in the political arena, in the Republic of Armenia, Artsakh, the Diaspora, the Church, domestic and foreign policy or internal and external foes, Armenians had a lot served on a single plate in the past year. With the completion of the Velvet Revolution in May of last year and the subsequent democratic elections in December that saw “My Step” Alliance come to power with an unprecedented majority of over 70 per cent, politics has virtually been at the centre-stage of any conversation.

Having brought the corrupt former regime to its knees, Prime Minister Pashinyan was transformed into an icon of national unity, a hero to all ages, with his name sung at various occasions. It is no wonder that expectations of the “Prime Minister of our hearts”, as many citizens called him, would be at par with his soaring popularity. Satisfying all expectations, as it was evident to any person observing the euphoria, was going to be impossible.

While the government has often organized media briefings at various levels to inform the citizens of the steps it has taken to bring about the much-awaited changes in the country, the opposition parties, both in the National Assembly and outside it, have concentrated on the shortcomings of the government. This has created ripples among the citizens who look at any opposition to the current government as a possible attempt at revanche by the representatives and supporters of the ousted regime, leaving the opposition in a Catch-22 situation. On the one hand, they are expected to dispose of their duties as elected opposition while on the other they had to ensure their criticisms and their actions were not misunderstood by the electorate and in turn manipulated by the supporters of the former regime.

With a few high-profile arrests, including that of a former president and members of parliament, resignations, corruption revelations of the former regime and intense exchanges and occasional accusations between political opponents, the media in Armenia have had no dearth of news to cover during the year. Not a week has gone by without a scandal or a debate. While it is unlikely for domestic issues to settle soon–given the mushrooming of new and dubious political movements aimed at undermining the new system and delegitimizing the parliament– developments around Armenia need urgent attention as well.

Post-Velvet Revolution, Armenia’s global image as a democratic country has improved. While Pashinyan’s government may have gained the trust of certain international partners and organizations, Armenia is still looked at with suspicion by the powers in the East and the West. Pashinyan may have used every opportunity to state the revolution had no geopolitical context and was an internal matter, convincing the superpowers has proven to be harder than expected. Democracy, human rights, and corruption-free systems are taken at face value by states whose priority is self-interests. These are terms that make for wonderful topics for conferences and seminars, but when it comes to realpolitik, it’s only self-interests that matter.

No wonder Pashinyan was unable to hide his dissatisfaction at the lack of enthusiasm by U.S authorities vis-à-vis the Velvet Revolution. He tried to market democratic achievements to the wrong customer. The United States continues to perceive Armenia as a Russian ally, especially with Armenia’s refusal to abandon friendly ties with Iran, coupled with the decision of Armenia to send non-combat teams to Syria at Russia’s request.

Russia, on the other hand, has not forgotten Pashinyan’s strong criticisms of Russian influence on the former regime in Armenia and the unexpected decision to join the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) while in negotiations for an agreement with the European Union (EU). This has also led the EU to exercise caution in trusting too quickly Armenian authorities.

An important factor to consider is that any revolution within Russia’s sphere of influence was bound to be perceived by Kremlin as Western-backed and anti-Russian. Whereas for the West if a revolution within the post-Soviet block was not openly anti-Russian, then it could not be termed a revolution. None seemed to be impressed by the positive developments; although both sides wanted to make sure they didn’t alienate Armenia and push it farther into the arms of the other.

The most unexpected development came from the United States towards the end of the year. In October, the U.S. House of Representatives, by an overwhelming 405-to-11 vote, passed a resolution officially condemning the Armenian Genocide. Before everyone could get over the celebrations, a similar bipartisan resolution tabled at the US Senate received unanimous support. Armenians around the world were jubilant but what caught one’s attention was the lack of understanding of the context within the larger framework of US-Turkish relations, especially the Turkish adventures in northern Syria against the local Kurdish and minority population.

Admittedly, recent developments in the US Congress are in our favour and will set the record straight. However, our reactions were jaw-dropping. No sooner had the resolution passed everyone started taking credit for it. From community organizations to political parties, people were out there fighting for a slice of the cake, laying out everything they had done for the cause, lest someone else take credit for it. For the elated masses of our nation, on the other hand, the question that reigned supreme was: “Now what?”

More than one-hundred years have passed since the Genocide, and yet we are unable to have a roadmap of what we want or how we see justice served. We must learn to be more involved in global affairs, have our say and declare our position on various matters loud and clear, as it is evident that the Armenian Genocide continues to be the stick used to discipline Turkey and keep a check on it.

The US Government, or any government for that matter, does not bother itself with the truth or our feelings. To them, we are a little country. Unless little countries obtain power, they will forever find themselves being used as a tool in big games of the big powers.

Pashinyan has his hands full with so many domestic and foreign policy issues that he will need all his ingenuity to find ways to protect Armenia’s interests without alienating strong allies, both domestic and foreign.

Despite the many difficulties Armenia and the Armenian nation have experienced in the past year, 2019 has been a remarkably positive year: We have rid ourselves of deeply-entrenched corrupt governance in Armenia and, for the first time, in more than a century, we have registered remarkable victories in Washington. To confirm the strides made by Armenia, in late December TIME magazine called Armenia “the Caucasian Tiger”. Let’s be grateful for our successes. Let’s look for continued victories in Armenia, Artsakh and in the Diaspora.

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