When People Are Fed Up

Policy Forum Armenia, 25 July 2016

Perhaps since the takeover of Bastille in Paris in July 1789, much of the humanity has chosen non-violent methods for settling political discourse. On the one hand, times were changing and the use of arms looked increasingly uncivilized even while dealing with oppressive and corrupt regimes. Besides, people knew they will fall anyway, despite a few attempts here and there to “expedite the process”. On the other hand, the development of democratic governance across the world in the subsequent centuries provided examples of smoother and much less costly transition opportunities.

Fast forward Armenia in 2016…

At early hours of July 17, a group of gunmen attacked a large police compound in Erebuni district of Yerevan and took several police officers hostage. All hostages were subsequently released within days in a show of good will, including a general, deputy police chief of Armenia, and a colonel, deputy chief of Yerevan police. One senior police officer was killed in a shootout, having reportedly fired nine bullets at the attackers despite repeated warnings to cease fire.

Policy Forum Armenia, 25 July 2016

Perhaps since the takeover of Bastille in Paris in July 1789, much of the humanity has chosen non-violent methods for settling political discourse. On the one hand, times were changing and the use of arms looked increasingly uncivilized even while dealing with oppressive and corrupt regimes. Besides, people knew they will fall anyway, despite a few attempts here and there to “expedite the process”. On the other hand, the development of democratic governance across the world in the subsequent centuries provided examples of smoother and much less costly transition opportunities.

Fast forward Armenia in 2016…

At early hours of July 17, a group of gunmen attacked a large police compound in Erebuni district of Yerevan and took several police officers hostage. All hostages were subsequently released within days in a show of good will, including a general, deputy police chief of Armenia, and a colonel, deputy chief of Yerevan police. One senior police officer was killed in a shootout, having reportedly fired nine bullets at the attackers despite repeated warnings to cease fire.

In a written statement, the attackers—political activists and “freedom fighters” from the war in Artsakh (Armenian for Nagorno Karabagh) calling themselves the “Daredevils of Sassoon” per a medieval Armenian heroic epic poem—mentioned that they were left without options to channel dissatisfaction with the handling of the country’s affairs and achieve a meaningful change in the country’s governance. Every single nation-wide election in Armenia since 1991 has been considered fraudulent by independent observers, with the one in 2008 leading to 10 deaths of protesters daring to question the outcome. Policy Forum Armenia’s research since 2008 confirms this.

Demands of the gunmen are straightforward: (1) release of all political prisoners, including their leader Jirayr Sefilian (Lebanese-born highly decorated field commander of the first Artsakh war) and (2) resignation of Serge Sargsyan and his regime.

The statement issued by the Presidential palace on the 5th day of the events in response to these demands read much like an ultimatum of someone, who has difficulties grasping the new reality on the ground. It essentially said to the gunmen: “Lay down your arms and you will be tried by the country’s laws and Constitution.” Although some senior members of the junior coalition partner and a key Sargsyan ally in suppressing Diaspora dissent—the socialist ARF-Dashnaktsutyun—criticized the use of force by the group, few took them seriously, coming from a party that has been charged by an Armenian court for preparing to assassinate country’s first (and only) legitimately elected president in 1993.

International response to the police compound takeover has been strong. Both the US and the EU condemned the use of force by the attackers while at the same time calling on the regime to exercise restraint in handling the situation. The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the takeover of the police base and called on the authorities to “unblock the situation as soon as possible, release the hostages, carry out a full investigation of the incident and punish the responsible persons”.

In the meantime, the public support for the gunmen has been gaining momentum despite the regime’s intimidation tactics, mass arrests, and use of force. A committee has been created—consisting of opposition politicians and independent intellectuals—to coordinate the activities of protesters in coordination with the attackers (who have cut a deal with the police to have communication with the rest of the world). The outpouring of support from Diaspora communities—largely spearheaded by the Armenian Renaissance network—continues, with rallies (albeit still small) held in some cities abroad. This is turning into a significant challenge for Sargsyan (and his ARF propagandists), something that he cannot easily resolve without putting his political career and/or life on the line.

The regime has moved full force—including using tear gas, stun grenades, and hundreds of plainclothes officers—to suppress the protests that erupted in Yerevan. Over 200 activists are reportedly in police custody following the clashes with riot police and protesters on July 20. The leader of the Founding Parliament (FP), the political wing of the “Daredevils of Sassoon”, is in hiding with a case pending against him. Another senior member of the FP, Garo Yegnukyan, has been arrested and charged with aiding the gunmen. The Transparency International Armenian Anti-corruption center has asked for a cease of all foreign funding to the Armenian police amid evidence of serious abuse of power and brutality.

Events in Yerevan demonstrated a clear disconnect between the rhetoric of Serge Sargsyan’s administration and the reality on the ground. The disastrous economic and social policies conducted by Sargsyan administration (which nevertheless made a few on the top very wealthy) and constant promises for political reform followed by a series of fraudulent nation-wide elections, altogether fueling the belief that nothing can be changed in Armenia via political discourse. Moreover, the dissatisfaction with the handling of economic and political affairs of the country (which are seen as the main factors behind Armenia’s crippling emigration) was recently exacerbated by the discovery of massive embezzlement of funding within armed forces during the 4-day war with rival Azerbaijan in April (which ended with minor territorial losses for the Armenian side), creating a serious dissatisfaction with the regime’s handling of nation-wide affairs.

The events also revealed an apparent disconnect between the army and police in Armenia. The former has been increasingly nervous about the Russia-orchestrated plan to hand over the territory liberated by Armenia in the 1991-94 war back to Azerbaijan (as issue mentioned repeatedly by the gunmen in their statement), in what is widely believed an attempt by president Putin to lure Azerbaijan into the Eurasian Economic Union. The police, on the other hand, is believed to be primarily concerned about the growing internal instability and continues to remain loyal to the Sargsyan regime, which has provided them with all perks, including overblown size, relatively high and stable salaries, and ability to go unpunished for rampant abuse and (highly profitable business of) covering up corruption by high-ranking officials, among other misdeeds.

In Conclusion…

In his endorsement of Policy Forum Armenia’s report on “Corruption in Armenia”, Daron Acemoglu—the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recipient of the Bates Clark medal in Economics, and author of “Why Nations Fail: Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty”—said:

“Some say that Armenia is doomed to fail economically because of its geography or location in the world. But like so many other countries around the world and throughout history, its failure is due to corruption, unscrupulous politicians and weak institutions. It’s not lack of opportunities but squandered opportunities that are at the root of Armenia’s ills, and it can make progress only by confronting this fact and holding accountable those responsible for the failures.”

Armenians have not had their Bastille—they have been too busy confronting external enemies for pretty much as long as they existed, without paying much attention to the enemy from within. This might just be their chance to have it, a chance to break the vicious cycle of squandered opportunities and the continuous fall into oblivion by standing tall and calling for better governance and independence from a foreign rule.

Regardless of whether or not these events will directly bring about a political change in Armenia, one thing is clear: maintaining the status quo in Armenia for Serge Sargsyan and his Diaspora partners will be next to impossible. The 30-odd heavily armed and experienced fighters surrounded by thousands of sympathetic civilians in downtown Yerevan are unlikely to go away (without creating a mayhem for the Sargsyan regime) and may just become the trigger for both political and foreign policy reform that citizens of Armenia have been longing for.

Mr. Yegnukian is also an Executive Board member of Policy Forum Armenia.

11 comments
  1. Latest Communiqué by Jirair Sefilyan

    "Dear People, I am letting you know that during the past 3 to 4 days negotiators, whom I recognize as being reputable and respected, have visited me after having met Serzh Sargsyan. The negotiators have visited me twice and have telephoned me once and have conveyed that Serzh Sargsyan has not changed his stand that the boys have to lay down their arms and after which a meeting can take place between he and I.

    I have similarly conveyed my stand that I also remain true to my stand that my meeting with the boys is to find a political middle-way. I first need to meet with the boys and after which I only will meet Serzh Sargsyan as a result of which the boys could lay down their arms. I am continuing to insist on my stand.

    Serzh Sargsyans’ stand is having grave consequences to our people for which I am hurt much. As a nation we are on a boat that Serzh Sargyan desires to sink as evidenced by his not agreeing and resorting to inexcusable methods against the people. In spite of all these and in spite of the regime’s brutality against the Sasna Tzrer and the Armenian people, I remain open for cooperation to stop the bloodshed. Consequently Serzh Sargsyan shoulders the responsibility of all that is happening in the Republic of Armenia.

    June 30, 2016, Vartashen.  

    Pass it to those close to you."

    1. Beloved President

      Read carefully the speech of our beloved president, and please go home as soon as possible. The citizens of Armenia can solve any problem. "Armenia is not Lebanon or Syria" GO HOME.

      Nicolai Romashuk Hairabedian

      1. Going Home

        Nicolai,

        Undoubtedly it's the Armenians living and making a living in Armenia who live the consequences of the governance in Armenia. Should you by your reference to "going home" be implying for the rest of Armenians to keep silent and let the Armenians in Armenia resolve their issues, then you also are not living by what you advocate. Your posting indicates that you live in Netherlands and hence you also are one and the same with Armenians living in Beirut or Aleppo. I wish I was brought up in a way that I could just do that and would view the unfolding of events in Armenia no differently than viewing what goes on in Somalia. Unfortunately, I cannot and I feel compelled to devote time and effort and respond to your comment. 

        Driven by a feeling of patriotism, Armenians repatriated en mass  during 1947. It is said that they helped increase the population of Armenia to a level to maintain Armenia as a distinct state within the Soviet Union and not a mere Soviet territory. However, the repatriated Armenians experienced hostility instead of hospitality. It appears that feeling hostility is pretty much entrenched in Armenia and its leadership as evidenced by President Sargyan reference to Aleppo, Beirut and Yerevan. Surely President Sargsyan had no intention of meddling in the internal affairs of Syrian or Lebanese governments.

         

        1. Birthday Present

          Dear Mr. Garabed,

          If you had read my comments carefully, you would have come to the conclusion that, Armenia is tired from these foreign agents, non governmental organizations, hooligans, brother killers, sectarians, secret organizations etc.
           
          Can you imagine, if one of the policemen who was killed was a brother of mine or yours, that we were going to defend these gangsters and tell the people that it's normal to kill a policeman and let them unpunished or give them soft punishment and so on, as you know, killing is not allowed in our religion,[…]

          1. Imagine, killing innocent policemen, remember that was not an accident.

          2. Imagine if there were no peace talks going on between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan declares war and attacks us, we lose the war and the whole Artsakh territories, 200,000 Armenian refugees seek shelter in Armenia, please count the material and the immaterial costs, can we afford that?
           
          3. These idiots and gangsters are so sure that we are going to win the war and that all that weapons worth of millions will be offered to us for free of charge as Birthday present.

          4. What an unbelievable sick mentality.

          5. If we can't help Armenia, we shouldn't destroy what we have, we must be realists and accept that we are a poor country, we can't support millions of Armenians with jobs and income and find a way to live and exist like at the time of the Soviet union.

          Nicolai

  2. Freeing Armenia

    No one is above the law, not in Armenia and in no other place. People who never nailed anything on a wall in Armenia during the Soviet era, while the Armenians were working hard to make Armenia a better place, must stop interfering in the internal affairs of Armenia, specially foreign agents and sectarians. Please leave Armenia as soon as possible.

    Some hooligans, with no plan B are trying to free Armenia. They think they have the right to throw mud on the president or on any other high-ranking official. This is shameful.

    "Soviet" Armenians must understand that Armenia is bankrupt: it has few natural resources and no outlet to sea. That's why until Genocide rehabilitation take place, Armenians of Armenia will suffer and depend on charity.   

    Nicolai Romashuk Hairabedian

    1. Servile and Misguided Attitude

      Mr. Nicolai Romashuk Hairabedian, judging from your words you seem to have landed on planet earth just yesterday. The people who rebelled against the corrupt and thieving authorities of Armenia are not hooligans, but individuals who love their country and want to raise it from the abyss that it had fallen into. 

      Armenia is not "bankrupt", as you have noted. Otherwise how can few oligarchs get extremely rich, while 99% of the population live in abject poverty?

      Additionally, stop supporting the parasite leech named Serzh Sargsyan who does not have in him a shred of national pride and human decency, and whose only role and function is to be an obedient slave to foreign masters. 

      1. Anti-Christian Rebels

        Yes, Mr. Onnik Kiremitlian, I still find the members of Sasna Dzrer a bunch of anti Christian criminals and gangsters.
         
        1. They killed our Armenian compatriots.
        2. Committed murder.
        3. Cursed.
        4. These hooligans burned and destroyed police cars. Who is going to replace them? Not you, not them… the Russians, of course.
        5. None of their demands was accepted: they are in prison and empty-handed.

        Please don't fool the Armenian people. Just accept that Armenia is a bankrupt country.

        Of course I try to understand you. You can't help what you believe. Do you belong to the same group which sold its soul to the devil?

        Mnas paryav.

        Nicolai

        1. Armenia Concentration Camp

          Mr. Romashuk, Armenia has become a large concentration camp for its inhabitants, where government members are no better than the worst Nazi criminals. Suppose prisoners in a concentration camp rebelled, as a result of which they killed prison guards and destroyed property in order to save their country and nation. Would you consider such prisoners criminals and blame them for their actions?

          Also only people who support Serzh with his criminal gang and oppose "Sasna Dzrer" belong to the group who sold their souls to the devil. Are you one of them? You better ask Garegin II about the devils, with whom he is in constant contact. Are you also in contact with him? If not, then you should cease using such religious terminology and stop presenting yourself as a devout Christian. 

          Sasna Dzrer has the backing of all Armenians (except the ones like you).

          1. Bunch of Gangsters

            I respect and support our leaders, specially our President Serje Sargsyan and, of course, our spiritual leader, our cathilicos and spiritual leader of all Armenians Garegin II.
             
            Now I am very sure that people like you, who contributed nothing to our beautiful homeland, sold your soul to the devil and are doing your best to create chaos in our country to destabilize it and prepare it for the devil to come and destroy it for good. As you can see, most of these enemies come from outside Armenia, although in Armenia there are also a bunch of foreign agents who have nestled there plus the sectarians like the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses, the Pentecoostal movement, etc. waiting for this moment.
              
            As if it's not enough that we are daily losing our brothers and sons on the front, these gangsters killed also two Armenian policemen. These gangsters and their supporters, like you, must be punished according to the law.
             
            Armen Rustamian is saying we have to learn from this tragedy. Good morning, Mr. Rustamian. If you still didn't learn any lessons from the attack on Bank Ottoman, then you are a bad student and will never learn. Go home.

            Nicolai Romashuk Hairabedian

          2. You are still lecturing on demons

            You are still lecturing on issues such as demons and patriotism. 

            Resistance to evil is the right and duty of every individual. The regime in Armenia is evil, so it must be put to end by hook or by crook.

  3. Lack of Humility

    What is common in posts regarding issues of interest to Armenians? Whether points of views through articles, comments made on articles, replies given to comments…?  It is lack of humility.                                                                            

    Each is a prophecy of not only knowing better, diagnosing better, treating better, preventing better… but each lacks the humility to tolerate any dissent. Dissect each and every one and you see that each feels omniscient as Moses or Jesus or Mohammad to their respective faiths.

    Aren't there alternatives to each option? Isn't there any common ground?                

    To all I say: if you call your store BEST JEWELERS that does not mean there are no better jewelers. And we don't lack circles who are more Papist than the Pope in representing themselves as leaders of the elite, of the learned, of the select,  of the rich, of the impoverished, of the rulers, of the demonstrators, of Armenia, of  Diaspora, of Europe, of Karabagh, of anything, and of knowing everything about everything…

    Each finds a slogan, a historic connotation, a cause to best serve Western Armenia, or Eastern Armenia or Karabagh or the Diaspora…But possibly only a few realize that this race called Armenians is not a hostage to a sect or a faction. Please have    some humility in magnifying who and what you represent. Armenianess is not an ownership to barter or bargain with. And when you represent a thought, if you are Tavit, the other can be Vartan, or Hayg, or Aram… Armenianess is the conglomeration of all, and not your property to buy and sell the way you want.

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