Dodging the Bullet

 Editorial, 10 July 2015

The high and mighty fretted and fulminated, the punditocracy did its high school turn with compare-and-contrast, and many Armenians wondered: “Is this the beginning of the end for Serge Sarkissian?”

Igor Morozov, member of Russia’s legislative upper house, said the Electric Yerevan protests were carbon-copy of the Kiev maidan, and would end in a coup if Sarkissian didn’t learn a lesson from Ukraine and draw the proper conclusions. Duma’s Valery Rishkin advised Sarkissian to keep an eye on US ambassador Richard Mills. Former Duma member Alexander Babakov detected the fingers of US Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland who had helped engineer the maidan. Pro-Putin scientists Sergei Markov said: “The attack on Yerevan was expected…there are probably a lot of fighters from Ukraine among the demonstrators and is being directed from external headquarters and the aim of protest organizers now is bloodshed.” Finally, Vladimir Yevsseyev, head of the Caucasus department of the Institute of Post-Soviet States, had no doubt the protests “desire to avenge Russia for the Donbass.” Other big names politicians such as Konstantin Kosachev and Leonid Slutsky expressed similar fears. The color revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan have ruffled the Russians.

 Editorial, 10 July 2015

The high and mighty fretted and fulminated, the punditocracy did its high school turn with compare-and-contrast, and many Armenians wondered: “Is this the beginning of the end for Serge Sarkissian?”

Igor Morozov, member of Russia’s legislative upper house, said the Electric Yerevan protests were carbon-copy of the Kiev maidan, and would end in a coup if Sarkissian didn’t learn a lesson from Ukraine and draw the proper conclusions. Duma’s Valery Rishkin advised Sarkissian to keep an eye on US ambassador Richard Mills. Former Duma member Alexander Babakov detected the fingers of US Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland who had helped engineer the maidan. Pro-Putin scientists Sergei Markov said: “The attack on Yerevan was expected…there are probably a lot of fighters from Ukraine among the demonstrators and is being directed from external headquarters and the aim of protest organizers now is bloodshed.” Finally, Vladimir Yevsseyev, head of the Caucasus department of the Institute of Post-Soviet States, had no doubt the protests “desire to avenge Russia for the Donbass.” Other big names politicians such as Konstantin Kosachev and Leonid Slutsky expressed similar fears. The color revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan have ruffled the Russians.

They were all wrong, although their concern was not difficult to fathom. Armenia, in the words of Kremlin spokesmen is one of the few friends Moscow has in the region. A rare Russian cool head was Ismail Agakishiyev of the Moscow University. He pointed that the maidan and Electric Yerevan were different situations, different relationship and in different economic and social contexts.

After two weeks there was still no evidence of a plot by outsiders or locals being manipulated by anti- Russia forces.  Paruyr Hayrikyan and a few anti-Russian Armenians tried to hijack—farcically—the “No to Plunder” protest but they were told to vacate Baghramyan Avenue where the demonstrators had established their base.

From day one the protesters had stressed that they had no hidden agenda. They were not aligned to any political party. They were not anti-Russian or pro-West. They became angry when the Russian media drew parallels between the protests and maidan. They repeated they were merely protesting the untenable electricity price hike. Sarkissian, an old fox, played the game well, except for one stumble. Aware that everyone was watching, he restrained the police, particularly the voluble and quick-to-the-trigger Vladimir Gasparyan, head of Armenia’s police and his deputy Valery Osipyan. The Sarkisssian mistake? He promised the state would subsidize the hike for needy families pending an audit. The callow “solution” was dismissed by the protestors: wasn’t the state budget the result of taxes? It certainly isn’t Sarkissian private kitty.

The Russian-owned Electric Networks of Armenia will be investigated and there will be an audit by international experts, Sarkissian said. Corruption, nepotism, excessive salaries and expense accounts, perquisites of the company executives will be investigated. As if he didn’t know that these were par for the course in a state where the government has more holes than a slab of Swiss cheese. Sarkissian was doing his usual imitation of the shady Capt. Renault in “Casabalanca” who was “shocked! Shocked!” by the gambling going on at Rick’s Café Americain.

At the end of two weeks the protestors, many of them professionals, went home. They had made their point.  Even if they wanted to achieve more they couldn’t because “No to Plunder” was unplanned. They had no leaders, structure, mechanism or funds. They were also painfully unqualified to run any country. Some had to return to work or to school. And they were exhausted.

But despite their “weaknesses”, they grabbed more attention and international media limelight than the several mass rallies organized by the opposition parties in the past few years which had attracted as many as 10,000 people. Those rallies were “tainted” because they were organized by pols that had lost the confidence of the people. As well, they were mostly attended by pensioners who are nostalgic for the Soviet welfare state. Electric Yerevan participants, who demanded an end to the looting of Armenia, were young, often professionals, and savvy about politics. They are the tomorrow of Armenia. Electric Yerevan electrified the country for nearly two weeks. Clubs, bars, cafes and stores shut off their lights and put up signs in support.

Sarkissian was lucky this time. What about next time, and the one after? Political analyst Ruben Mehrabian of Armenian Centre for National and International Studies was to the point: “The post-Soviet system of vertical corruption does not work anymore.” Homo Sovieticus Sarkissian is yesterday’s man in capitalist-oligarchic suit. His days and that of the 40 to 50 oligarchic families, who are choking their countrymen and threatening the very existence of Armenia, will have their hands full next time. The hike is a symptom of what’s wrong with Armenian governance. There are thousands of such daily injustices being inflicted upon the hard-pressed (30% poverty and GDP per capita of $3,500 annually) populace.  The hike was a demonstration of the government’s institutionalized corruption and greed. It’s just one example of the lack of transparency and accountability in the republic.

Apparently, Sarkissian and his oligarch acolytes live with the “after me, the deluge” motto. The deluge might arrive sooner than they anticipate. An observer quoted 19th century Russian writer Alexander Herzen’s words: “Activists operate on the principle of ‘we are not doctors, we are pain.’” The next wave of protestors might replace the “No to Plunder” signs with “Throw the Bums Out” signs, and have the desperate population behind them. As the song says: “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”

5 comments
  1. Impressive Editorial

    Impressive editorial. Although Washington's men tried their best to hijack this movement, demonstration organizers did an excellent job of keeping it free of Uncle Sam's mercenaries. After the lessons learned by Libya, Syria and Ukraine, this may be a sign that Armenians are maturing politically.

    As long as the Western powers are not allowed to meddle in Armenia's internal affairs through their NGOs, politicians, news media and activists, demonstrations can have a positive, evolutionary impact on Armenian society. Of course the trick is to keep Western interests out. And that is not an easy thing to do in this day and age. Therefore, if any protest movement in Armenia gets hijacked by the likes of Paruyr Hayrikian, Raffi Hovanissian or "Founding Parliament" mental cases, I would want Armenian law enforcement authorities to resort to any measure put an immediate end to it. Ultimately, what Armenia desperately needs today is a sociopolitical evolution, not a Western-sponsored revolution.

  2. Thousands of Injustices

    There are thousands of such daily injustices being inflicted upon the hard-pressed (30% poverty and GDP per capita of $3,500 annually) populace" you wrote in your editorial.

    This is a bogus statement. How did you figure it out? Provide evidence or you are just making things up. Hearsay is not evidence.

    Your figure (approximately) of 30% official poverty statistic is correct. But what does that mean? Do people have enough to eat? There is poverty in the countryside, no doubt. But you must have seen videos and pictures of smartly dressed young people lounging on Bagramian with apparently no obligation to go to work. So what poverty are we talking about?

    Your figure of $3,500 per capita is incorrect. It is $7,400 (2014 estimate, CIA Factbook).
    For comparison, next-door Georgia: $7,700 (2014 estimate, CIA Factbook).

    Yes, there is poverty in Armenia. Just as in pretty much all of the former USSR republics.
    Yes, there is injustice, oligarchs, and inequality.
    It is an abomination that Gagik Tsarukyan spends millions of dollars on a gaudy new church, while there are Karabagh War vets live in poverty. But there is inequality right here in U.S too. And there are war vets in US who are living in poverty, are homeless, do not get medical care.

    Armenia has been making steady progress since becoming independent. Despite the fact that just before independence it suffered a devastating earthquake which killed approximately 50,000 people, and destroyed Gyumri.
    Despite the fact that earthquake-devastated Armenia was practically abandoned by the crumbling USSR leadership.
    Despite the fact Armenia and NKR fought a devastating six-year war with Turkbaijanis/Turkics that destroyed much of Artsakh. Despite the fact Armenia had to absorb tens of thousands of fleeing compatriots from Turkbaijan.
    Despite the fact that the RoA with the tacit approval of the neocon West.

    With all the mistakes RoA’s three administrations have committed, they have done the one and only right thing that matters: they have kept the RoA and NKR safe from Turkic  invasion. They have added more strategically defensible lands to our homeland than we have had in centuries. How did that happen ? Who are the people who did it? People sitting in safe offices in the U.S or Canada or wherever and endlessly criticizing Armenian leaders?

    Our compatriots fleeing murderous Islamist terrorists in Syria can find shelter in Armenia in complete safety and security: how did that happen? Do the RoA authorities get any credit for doing anything right?
    Young people can have the luxury of singing and dancing on Bagramianready army in the region. Young people dancing and singing in complete safety in Yerevan forget that young guys just like them are being killed by Turks almost every week. Young guys should go to Baku and give the birdie to Turks and see what happens.

    The job of the Armenian Diaspora, particularly in the West, should be to weaken and/or eliminate states and entities that are an existential threat to the RoA and NKR. (just as the Jewish Diaspora is doing for Israel). Not promoting chaos in Armenia.

    1. Reply to Avery

      Avery, re the "thousands of daily injustices" in our editorial: When a country is ruled by a corrupt oligarchic cabal which considers the rule of law an alien concept it's evident that thousands of daily injustices are the fate of the country's citizens. The $3,500 is the World Bank's most recent estimate.–Editor.

      1. World Bank Stats

        Sir,
        The World Bank cites two numbers :
        A) GDP per capita, PPP (current international $).
        B) GNI per capita, Atlas method (current US$)
        I will also cite: C) CIA Factbook GDP – per capita (PPP):

        Numbers for  two Caucasus neighbors  from World Bank and CIA.
        1A: Armenia:  $8,138 (2014)
        1B: Armenia:  $3,810 (2014)
        1C: Armenia: $7,400 (2014 est.)
        2A: Georgia: $7,582 (2014)
        2B: Georgia: $3,720 (2014)
        2C: Georgia:  $7,700 (2014 est.)

        The reason I include Georgia for comparison is twofold:
        Like Armenia, it is in Caucasus and has no free cash gushing from beneath its soil.
        It has been showcased as an example for Armenia to emulate. Supposedly under Western-educated  golden boy Saakashvili all corruption was eliminated, there was universal Western style law and order, no oligarchs…and all the other (alleged) nice things about the West. [the numbers for RoA and Georgia are similar for years prior to 2014, e.g. Saakashvili years]

        So if Armenian leaders are so corrupt and Georgia’s are not, how do we explain the near parity of PPP in both countries?
        Maybe Armenia’s leadership is not as bad as some people make them out to be.
        What do you think: is that not possible ?

        As to “corrupt oligarchic cabal”  assertion, we have to  respectfully agree to disagree.

  3. Correct Assesment

    The editor has made a correct assessment of the disastrous situation in Armenia.What we have is a corrupt and criminal regime based on rigged and fraudulent elections; there is no need to explain any further. If things were so rosy in Armenia how come an average of 60,000 Armenians are voting with their feet and leaving Armenia per year? A very good factual editorial. 

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