Debate & Decision

 Dr. Berge A. Minassian, Armenian Renaissance, Toronto, 9 August 2015

On one point no informed Armenians disagree: that Armenia (and Armenians’ Mother See) are governed, at best, as oligarchies. This alone is shocking, yet for one valid (though incorrect) reason is considered by many as normal. There is no discord on a second point: that an oligarchy invariably fails.  Why does the Armenian nation, which walked the trail of genocidal annihilation, which was so crushed that in the words of its poets it turned diamond, which in its Diaspora and homeland is among the most educated societies on Earth, tolerate this?

The reason is surprisingly simple, and surprisingly there’s one reason only: “We need Russia to defend our borders. A democratic Armenia will not be tolerated by Russia, because Russia itself is an oligarchy.” In other words, little Armenian “mafiosi” are an extension of the grand Russian “mafia”, and that if the latter does not receive the “protection money” from Armenia, it would withdraw its “protection”, and Armenia would be eaten by the big bad Turkish and Azeri wolves. I think this is a valid reason, one espoused by many honest, serious and thoughtful friends, but it is wrong.

 Dr. Berge A. Minassian, Armenian Renaissance, Toronto, 9 August 2015

On one point no informed Armenians disagree: that Armenia (and Armenians’ Mother See) are governed, at best, as oligarchies. This alone is shocking, yet for one valid (though incorrect) reason is considered by many as normal. There is no discord on a second point: that an oligarchy invariably fails.  Why does the Armenian nation, which walked the trail of genocidal annihilation, which was so crushed that in the words of its poets it turned diamond, which in its Diaspora and homeland is among the most educated societies on Earth, tolerate this?

The reason is surprisingly simple, and surprisingly there’s one reason only: “We need Russia to defend our borders. A democratic Armenia will not be tolerated by Russia, because Russia itself is an oligarchy.” In other words, little Armenian “mafiosi” are an extension of the grand Russian “mafia”, and that if the latter does not receive the “protection money” from Armenia, it would withdraw its “protection”, and Armenia would be eaten by the big bad Turkish and Azeri wolves. I think this is a valid reason, one espoused by many honest, serious and thoughtful friends, but it is wrong.

Before I explain why the above fear is wrong, let me discuss the nefarious consequences of countenancing oligarchy as our national governance system. What is a nation? Whatever it is, at its core are solidarity, caring for each other (yes, love, love of the one family drenched in rivers of blood), and common purpose. What is oligarchy/kleptocracy? It is the strong few stealing from the majority; robbing our people and their children their future. In other words, it is the complete opposite of nation.

When oligarchy is the norm (please see the opening statement of this essay), and a whole people accepts this as ‘normal’, then there is no solidarity, no caring for one another, and no common purpose. There is no longer nation. No longer is there a shared project of nation-building on our shared and cherished land.  What there remain are individual families, separate and alone. When oligarchy is the norm, what remains is depopulation, and the evidence is clear: this year again as in each of the recent years Armenia will lose 100,000 people. The count for the first six months is 75,500.

Russia is an oligarchy, but it is not only an oligarchy. Russia is also a superpower. This superpower’s influence is threatened by other powers. Jettisoning Armenia because it may lose some measly fraction of pittance from the little local Armenia mafia is nonsensical. Armenia can govern itself well and remain Russia’s most loyal ally. We can do it. It is a goal worth pursuing; a risk worth taking. A strong and willingly loyal vassal state is much more valuable to Russia than a grudging, hating, unstable, weak one.

It is time to settle this debate and decide that we can, at the same time, together, build a democracy and be Russia’s strongest ally. It is time we say no to oligarchy and to its representatives and its symbols, from the regime on down to the medals it bestows on our disgusted Diasporan hearts. It is time we each have the courage to unequivocally call for democracy, i.e. for respect to all Armenians, solidarity and common purpose. It is time we decide not to be afraid.  If this we decide, we will live. If not, we will not.

12 comments
  1. “On one point no informed Armenians disagree…”

    "On one point no informed Armenians disagree: that Armenia (and Armenians’ Mother See) are governed, at best, as oligarchies."

    I am a very informed Armenian and I disagree with your  personal opinion  that RoA is allegedly governed as an oligarchy.

    "A democratic Armenia will not be tolerated by Russia, because Russia itself is an oligarchy."

    Says who ? Those too are  your personal, unsubstantiated  opinions.

    And regurgitating bogus statistics  about Armenia losing 100,000 a year and falsely asserting it as evidence does not make it so. It is not evidence: you are repeating misinformation and disinformation being promulgated by foreign owned news outlets whose agenda it is to spread doom & gloom and demoralize the people of RoA.

    And I don’t know who owns 168.am, but a large number of allegedly Armenian (.am) news sites are foreign owned and carry out their owners’ Anti-RoA and Anti-Armenian agenda.

    For example, how many people know that Lragir.am is owned and operated by Open Society (Soros). Do people know who Soros is and what his agenda is?

    Maidan, does it ring a bell?

    How many people know that Azatutyun.am is a denialist US owned and operated propaganda outlet.

    168.am prints this headline "Առաջին կիսամյակում 75.5 հազար մարդ լքել է Հայաստանը" Աղբյուրը] in the article you linked.

    The body of the article says nothing about people abandoning(լքել) Armenia: the numbers they cite for Jan-Jun is normal seasonal deficit, not quote “լքել/abandoned”.

    People go to Russia to work at the beginning of the year, and then return at the end of the year.

    I have the stats from 2012, 2013, 2014 full years: there is similar deficit till about fall, then by December, people come back.

    In fact years 2012, 2013, 2014 @Zvartnots figuresn are positive.

    168.am deliberately misused the half-year stats to create a bogus headline and create the false, negative  impression about Armenia.

    Cui Bono?

    "… from the regime on down to the medals it bestows on our disgusted Diasporan hearts".

    It is not a quote, “regime”: it is an administration democratically elected by 58% majority of RoA electorate (vs 37% for the challenger.)

    It is your own "disgusted" Diaspora heart: nobody elected you to speak on behalf of all Diaspora Armenians, including this Armenian-American.

    1. Armenia’s loss of population, parallel with Anjar’s

      Avery,

      You and I agree. I know Dr. Minassian personally, and though I disagree with him about how to deal with our corruption plague in Armenia, I would never associate his name with Soros and other foreigners with an agenda. Like you and I, he is a dedicated professional with his heart in our Nation and Hayreniq.

      We know there are problems in Armenia. Let us work together towards helping solve them. Let us not exaggerate and demonize some of our own people, even though they do things we think are wrong. Most of all, let us not blame everything on them.

      Many have pointed at the "demographic heamorrhage" our Hayreniq continues to suffer from, since before independence, and used it to advocate for immediate (revolutionary) action. I would like to draw a parallel with Anjar, the Armenian village in Lebanon. Please watch

      and consider the following:

      We have our own government in Anjar, our own security forces…
      But still more than half the population has left!!!
      Is it because they also are governed by oligarchs in Anjar?
      Is it because they also have corruption in Anjar?
      Is it because they have 'governance problems' in Anjar?
      Is it because they have cheaters during the elections in Anjar?
      Or,
      is it because, we simply want a better paying job, and we leave?
      Ladies and Gentlemen, there are very few of us, let's avoid fighting one another. When we differ in opinion let's focus on our ultimate goal.

      Dear Canadian Friends:
      Please sign and comment on the petition for a Canadian Embassy Office in Yerevan by clicking here: Also, please encourage your Canadian family & friends to join you in signing it. Let me know if you have any questions/ suggestions. Thank you for your support!

      1. Apologies to Terjanian

        Mr. Terjanian,

        My apologies to you and to Dr. Minassian if I left the impression that he was in any way associated with the vile anti-Christian, anti-Armenian Soros and the Neocon filth. I simply pointed out to Dr. Minassian that a lot of *.am websites are foreign owned. I understand he may not be aware of it. I consider myself fairly well informed, yet only a month ago found out that Lragir.am is owned by Open Society. I could tell something was wrong for a long time by the anti-Armenian tone of their articles, but did not know Soros owned them.

        So I only objected to the honorable doctor citing a source in support of his contention re the 100,000 which may be a foreign-owned source – whose purpose it is to demoralize people in the RoA. And as noted in my post, I can  provide proof that the 100,000 or 75,000 figure of loss is not factual. That may or may not be honest, then the potential psychological damage to our people may be even greater. Nevertheless, as you know, I have great respect for what you and your brave wife have done for Armenia. If you say  you know Dr. Minassian personally, then that’s good enough for me.

        The video is very intersting. It proves what is being claimed about RoA and the causes for its population issues is none of those items you listed. But the most interesting part for me is at time stamp 5:10. “Իրենք թիվով  շատցան…..”

        That is the only problem facing our nation. Not the oligarchs. Not democracy. None of the other items on the list. But that one fact which Mr. Y. Havatian related to Ms. Titizian. Everything else is for naught unless we collectively solve that problem.

        Palestinians in the Palestinian Territories have been increasing their numbers year after year. Can anyone honestly compare the conditions Palestinian women endure in the dystopia of the Territories to the worst parts in Armenia? Even the worst parts in Armenia are paradise compared to PT. Yet Palestinian women are having 3 to 4 children each. Are there no oligarchs in PT? Is there democracy in PT?
        PT is an open-air prison. A concentration camp, shootings, etc. Yet each Palestinian couple has 4 children under those conditions. How?

      2. Anjar and Armenia

        Antoine

        In drawing a comparison between Anjar and Armenia, it would be fair to note the following as well.

        No native Anjartsi has ever claimed that 'barons' have a stronghold on the economy of the village. On the other hand, many native Armenians claim that a handful oligarchs control the economy of Armenia.

        No visitor to Anjar has left the village with the impression that the economy of Anjar is sum total of monopolies by few. Many visitors have reported that the economy of Armenia is the sum total of monopolies held by few.

        Surely for an interested person such reports would lead one to cast doubt that things in Anjar are as they are in Armenia.

    2. “Duh, it’s the economy”

      Dear Avery,

      While it happens that my assessment of the last presidential election is that it was indeed stolen, I did not state as much in my essay.  I see our people as one, and my call was to our people to choose a non-oligarchic system of governance.  I do not believe that you do not know that the majority of the levers of the economy in Armenia are held by a small number of people in one way or another tied to the Sargsyan/Kocharyan clans.

      You place my statement "A democratic Armenia will not be tolerated by Russia, because Russia itself is an oligarchy" in quotations and go on to disagree with it.  I am not sure which part of the statement you disagree with.  If the first, then you agree with the general point of my article, if the latter, let's leave it to readers to assess how Russia is governed.

      Then you challenge Armenia's depopulation numbers.  Here you are partly right.  I did look at the numbers more carefully and consulted with the folks at depop.am.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the 100,000/year commonly quoted is inflated and that the actual figures are closer to 50,000/year.  The article I had referred to correctly quoted 75,500 for the first half of 2015 and was summarizing an interview with Armenia's migration head (Հայաստանի Միգրացիոն պետական ծառայության պետ Գագիկ Եգանյան).  For the full article in Armenian click on 168Hours .  The concluding paragraph of that article bespeaks for itself:

      Նա չհամաձայնեց տեսակետին, որ բացասական սալդոն նվազել է ի հաշիվ նրա, որ պոտենցիալ արտագաղթողների մեծ մասն արդեն իսկ հեռացել է երկրից. «Արտագաղթի աճ չկա, հակառակ դեպքում պետք է բացասական սալդոն մեծանար: Ընդամենը 4500-ի մասին է խոսքը, որ էդքան պետք չէ շեշտել ու դրանով բացատրել: Եկեք սպասենք մի քիչ: Մարդիկ ժամանակից շուտ կարծիքներ են հայտնում: Կարող է լսես, թե զանգվածային արտագաղթ կա, ալիք կա: Բայց ժամանակ է պետք, որ հասկանանք, ինչ է տեղի ունենում»:

      What also speaks for itself are the empty villages all over Armenia, the changing face of Yerevan increasingly emptied of its original inhabitants who have migrated, replaced by village folk often trying to migrate, and the presence everywhere among us in the diaspora of thousands of Hayastantsik, often the cream of the educated crop of Armenia, accepted as immigrants in various Western and Russian cities.

      Before concluding I will briefly move to my friend Antoine's selection of the Anjar example to make a point that reads something like this: "Duh, it's the economy."  Of course the depopulation crisis is rooted in the economy.  But is it not self-evident that of all the economic systems we as a people can chose for our resource-poor country the oligarchic system is the worst?

  2. Echoes of Change

    Armenia has sided with Russia as its strategic partner. In turn, Russia wants a stable Armenia within its sphere of influence. I do not believe Russia will care any less about Armenia had it by a stroke of magic overnight become free of oligarchs and achieve the ultimate reality of governance: “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

    We, in the Diaspora, are victims of our love of our Mother Fatherland. We do not hold the ambassadors of Armenia accountable for the doings of the state they represent. On the contrary, we accord them much reverence  simply because they represent our centuries-old spiritual home.

    Therein lies the dilemma in the Diaspora: even echoes from Armenia by those who advocate bringing about change by non-violent civil disobedience disturb many of us.

    1. Debate and Decision – Echoes of Change

      Thank you Vahe.  Indeed, right after independence the emotional reverence for the leaders of our spiritual homeland was understandable.  But now, a quarter century later, after it has become crystal clear to the leadership of the diaspora, all the way to the last informed diasporan, what sort of regime rules this homeland, is it excusable to accept this situation, let alone 'revere' this regime's leaders and representatives?  The only valid reason to do so that I have heard is this business about Russia that my essay revolves around, which as you agree makes no sense.  Therefore one must seek alternative explanations for the diasporan leadership's behaviour.

  3. More Babies

    Dear Avery,

    I do not have a solution to a sustained increase to the birth rate of Armenia. I suspect though that if the economic prospects were better more couples would marry and do so at a younger age, more would have more children, and more would want to raise their children in the homeland. Therefore once again it's the economy.

    I do not know how to improve the economy without setting up proper modern free market and social economic structures. In medicine we speak of reversible causes of disease. The same applies to the economy. The question is: what is it that can be done, and that is in our hands to do, that will have a large and lasting impact on Armenia's economy?

    I URGE everyone to read Daron Acemoglu's 'Why Nations Fail'.
     

    1. Dr.  Minassian: something else

      Dr.  Minassian:

      “ I suspect though that if the economic prospects were better more couples would marry and do so at a younger age, more would have more children, and more would want to raise their children in the homeland. Therefore once again it's the economy.”

      You may suspect so, but empirical data from other countries and other societies disprove your belief. Economy is a variable, but not the dominant one. It’s something else. And that something else is very hard to describe, measure, or correct.

  4. Dr.  Minassian: Thanks

    Dr.  Minassian:

    Thanks for replying to my posts. Also thanks for acknowledging the figure of 100,000 you cited in your article is incorrect.

    As you see, if I had not challenged that figure, people reading your article in a highly  regarded Armenian web site would believe it to be true and repeat it as nauseam: innocently and inadvertently spreading  despair and demoralization amongst our people. The article still has that incorrect figure as of 8/22/2015. What percentage of readers of the article also read the comments? How many people will spot the discrepancy of 100K vs 50K in the comments section? Clearly the difference is no small number.

    As to your other assertions and figures and comments in the linked web sites: I accept that RoA oligarchs (businessmen)  have unhealthy level of control over large sectors of RoA economy, but it is not much different than anywhere else. Here in US a few families control something like 90% of nation’s wealth. But Warren Buffet, the Walton family, etc  and those like them are not seen as evil here. And I am sure you know about Princeton University Prof Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Prof Benjamin I. Page study arguing US is an Oligarchy. US is a large, prosperous country, so people don’t notice it. But in early days of US, during the era of robber barons, it was quite similar to Armenia.

    The current situation with RoA oligarchs is a necessary consequence of where RoA is (geographically), under what conditions it became independent, and its current geostrategic situation. It will self-correct with time, and some effort. Considering where RoA was on the day of Independence, and how far it has come, I see nothing but a bright future for both of our little republics. But Armenian Diaspora must have  their back. So I see it as my obligation to do whatever  I can to help: unconditional love and support for both RoA and NKR.

    I disagree with the migration loss figures, and have the data to back it up. But this thread has run its course, so we will have to revisit the matter in the future. I am sure Keghart.com will address the subject again.

    Until then, we have to agree to disagree and part with respect.

  5. I heed to the call of the natives

    In 1971 I visited Armenia as part of an American University of Beirut student tour organized by the Soviet Embassy and chaperoned by their representatives. Our first stop was Yerevan where we spent a few days on route to Leningrand, then Moscow and back home.

    In Yerevan our relatives hosted me royally. They would not let me sleep at the hotel. They argued among themselves who would be the next to host me over lavish tables with speeches said. I was not the first in our family to be in the Soviet Armenia. A few years earlier my mother, who taught Armenian language and literature, was invited by the Diaspora Ministry.

    Their hosting and their outpouring of the sentiments during these receptions, their want to share with me how well they were doing in Soviet Armenia put me in a very uneasy situation.  I hail from a Kessabti family. When my turn came to give my speech, in my naivety as a young idealist Armenian, nurtured from infancy that way, I said something to the effect ‘I have not come here to see how well you are doing, those things matter none to me, I have come to visit my homeland”.

    When time came to bid me farewell, few of my late uncle’s – Dr. Antranig Chalabian – friends told me that when I return home to tell my uncle that he sent them to Soviet Armenia, but he did not come. My idealist uncle had been one of the advocates of the great repatriation in 1947. He had stayed back until the next wave at the insistence of my father, his brother-in-law.

    Upon return, I became reflective of my experience and I realized that they were what Armenians ought to be. They live in Armenia, speak Armenian, their bosses are Armenians, the government they deal with is Armenian. What then mattered for them most is the very nature of any human being to better themselves economically and materially. No wonder I realized that they were so keen showing me of their material well being.

    Most of my parents’ relatives have passed away. When the winds of change altered governance in Armenia, many left Armenia for good with their sons and daughters born and raised there.

    I plan to be in Yerevan in October to attend our High School class reunion. We graduated Armenian Evangelical College in 1965 and were labeled as the 50th Anniversary Graduates. We plan to celebrate our 50th graduation anniversary in Yerevan on the Centennial. I hope that I also can reconnect with my not so distant cousins and relatives left there whom I met in 1971 but over the years with the passing away of our parents’ generation, our ties broke down.

    No matter what, my belief will not change. No matter what statistics one reads about immigration from Armenia, whether it's seasonal fluctuation and not an exodus; no matter how many times one visits Armenia to formulate an opinion or come to an “understanding”;  no matter how much the concentration of wealth in Armenia is compared with those of the United States, these arguments do not resonate in me.  I heed to the call of the natives who live and make a living there but want to make their grievances heard.
     

  6. Why?

    Dear Avery,

    Let us us return to where we started.  I had written that Armenia is run as an oligarchy.  In your recent comment you not only agreed but also rightly stated that this is unhealthy.  In my original text I had written that the only valid reason I had heard as to why we should choose this type of governance is that otherwise Russia would abandon us.  I went on to say that this argument is wrong.  In one of your comments you seemed to agree with me on that as well.  Now why is it that we should choose an unhealthy system of governance for our precious country?

    Thanks,

    Berge

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