20 Years of Statehood
20 Years of Statehood

The Political Record

The Paradoxes of Independence

The difficulties the Armenians are encountering presently are not due to independence, but how they dealt with it. Everybody shares the blame, as Armenians have political shortcomings, which is normal, considering the lack of State tradition and the damages domination continues to exert on the collective unconsciousness...

The revival of a sovereign State, which represents a break in the contemporary history of Armenia, is coming to maturity this year. This change of paradigm forced the Armenians to not only understand the world in its entirety and reality, but also to comprehend it differently and start reacting in a way that is totally contrary to what took place during the twentieth century. Some time ago, Armenians were a community: then they became a Stateless Nation: today they are a State without powerful purpose: tomorrow, they will be a globalized State if one wants to be an optimist, or a province without nation, if one wants to be a pessimist.

Independence goes hand in hand with politics, since sovereignty is anchored in politics. What kind of relationship do the Armenians have with politics? This question has been haunting the sovereignty of Armenia for the past 20 years. And since the Armenians have no credible answer to give, these two decades can be summed up by 20 years of paradox.

20 years of post-Sovietism, 20 years of paradoxes: what are the facts?

Within two decades, Armenia did not free itself from its paradoxes. First, the geopolitical paradox: its sovereignty was restored within the full thrust of globalization, which is characterized in part by a transfer of sovereignty.

Second, the sociological paradox: the Armenian identity is becoming global, but the way power and its institutions are organized is still rudimentary. Dual citizenship was granted late (2006-2007). There are still secondary contradictions between Turkish Armenians and Caucasian Armenians or between Diasporan Armenians and native Armenians.

Third, the political paradox: in Armenia, there is no separation between Church and State, and the structure of the Armenian power remains faithful to the Soviet model. Elites have trouble renewing themselves and sharing power across generations. We have been hearing Levon Ter-Petrossian, Robert Kocharian, Serge Sargsyan, Raffi Hovannisian, and Vahan Hovanessian for more than 20 years now.

Seeds of renewal

The institutions are crude, the nation is crumbling and traditional or sectarian religion is riding over the deep crisis the country is experiencing.

Fourth, the strategic paradox: the military victory in Karabakh has had no diplomatic equivalent. Where are the equivalents of Monte Melkonian, Ashot Pegor and Shahen Meghian in the diplomatic sphere?

Fifth, the diplomatic paradox precisely: the right to self-determination has been sublimated, but the partner sitting at the negotiation table is Armenia, not the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Sixth, the economic paradox: the strong growth during the last eight years has been driving the development of the country, but there is no redistribution of wealth or a powerful purpose for the inhabitants who are exhausted by the cynicism and corruption.

Seventh, the social paradox: the sovereign State is not a Social state, as evidenced by the scores of Armenians who are leaving the country... and there is no social contract between State and society.

Finally, the cultural paradox: the Armenians have been waving their 3000 years of history and culture like a banner. But where is artistic creation today? The Armenians had experienced their golden age under Moses of Khoren and later Gregory of Narek. Today, they are in a desert stage, or a return to a stone age that is not even polished...

What kind of assessment can we make after 20 years? Progress is undeniable on the military, political and economic fronts. But both the elites and the population have not put an end to the logics of domination. The unhealthy spirit of the "millet" is still hovering and the Armenians have not symbolically broken with fez-wearing or hand-kissing...

And yet, this new paradigm for independence contains the seeds for collective renewal, since the Armenians are more than a State, more than a nation, more than a religion, more than a 3000-year-old civilization. And civilization rhymes with transmission. The Armenians must lean on their State, their religion, and their nation in order to transmit their civilization and spread it to the world.

For a New Era: Universalizing the Armenian Message

Universalizing the message revolves around four elements. First, the identity section: even without a protector State, Armenians have been able for centuries to preserve their identity and cultural heritage. The Armenians, in exile or in their State, know the meaning of endurance in space and time. It is up to them to transform the handicap of yesterday (a Diaspora without a State) in today's global world.

Civilization and globalization rhyme with the idea of transmitting the several-thousand-year-old Armenian heritage. The two concepts can be found in civil society, which is asserting its presence and its determination to participate in the decision-making processes. As Armenians from the Diaspora come from civil society, they also want to be heard. But for that, they need to get organized and be empowered, in line with the Armenian State.

Armenia has no interest in transforming its Diaspora into a tightly controlled tool. It is not because the State apparatus is pressed by the Powers that it must behave in a domineering way toward the Diaspora. Armenia must break with the saying: "Weak with the strong, strong with the weak."

The Armenia diaspora is the pipeline of Armenia. This means that it is unswervingly linked to the homeland while operating in a self-sufficient way. The identity divisions must be overcome through inclusion and no longer exclusion, in order to serve a State that protects the welfare of the Armenians in the whole world. The hayabahbanum (maintaining the "Armenianness") no longer applies in our 21st century. It coincided with the era of Stalinism, when Armenia was stifled and the Diasporan resources were exploited through traditional organizations which were more or less linked to Soviet Armenia. The hayabahbanum is devastating, destructive, exclusive and sterile. Within the Diaspora, to be Armenian is to assert one's biculturalism; it is not a defense against the outside world, which is judged to be decadent and anti-Armenian. Finally, it is true that Armenia has adopted dual citizenship, but it has also to take into account within its institutions and society the Armenian identity which originated in the Ottoman Empire, and not forget the demands of its own posterity.

The matter of security

Second, the security element: the Armenian question is multilateral, but is it international? Because of their history, Armenians are primarily concerned about their security but this is also due to what is happening in the South Caucasus.

The international community is indebted to Armenia and the Armenians, who must make it widely known and raise the question of their physical security in the Caucasus, like the mother of all battles. No compromise can be made about the security of the Armenian people and nobody is advocating that idea in a speech or a strategy.

The Magic Quadrant: Diaspora-Djavakhk-Armenia-Karabakh is based on security and primarily on the "Never again" (1915) and also on obtaining universal recognition of the Genocide and the compensations that follow.

In 20 years of independence, no initiative has been taken by Armenia on the international level in order to introduce a legal text on the recognition of the Genocide before the International Court of Justice at The Hague or the United Nations General Assembly. The Diaspora lacks an international text of legal standing, recognizing that what happened in 1915 was indeed Genocide. It is good that Armenia is talking about it, but it would be better if it could act by introducing a text before an international assembly, which would be a way of bringing into line international law and history. The three successive presidents of Armenia thus bear a heavy responsibility in this failure. Now is the time not only for recognition but also for compensation. If security is a priority, it is above all in reference to the defense of the Nagorno-Karabakh. Independence is a compromise, reunification is an objective. It is up to the Armenians to examine the reasons for their diplomatic inaction.

An innovative diplomacy

There is also a strategic element, with the implementation of an innovative diplomacy. Armenia must give priority to multilateralism as a way of integrating the international mechanisms and globalization. The more Armenia will take its place within international organizations, the more its integrity will be respected.

Several initiatives can also be launched, like, for instance, the Small States of Europe of a World Intergovernmental Organization of Arménophonie, modeled on Organisation Internationale de la Francophone. Diasporas can demand this from their respective governments. Armenia has neither oil nor gas, thus it must abound with ideas. If Armenia has no maritime access, it must give priority to technological invention.

New initiatives must then be taken concerning the Genocide, with a database of the victims of the tragedy, such as Yad Vashem, in Israel, where the names of the dead are inscribed on the walls of the Memorial. Other initiatives can be taken in favor of humanity, like the creation of a World Peace Center in Yerevan, with activities exclusively geared toward non-Armenian questions. But also the creation of a World Center of diasporas in Yerevan, or world meetings of Armenian experts in international relations in Armenia.

Finally, how could one explain the fact that there is no presence in the Diaspora of any think-tank from Armenia? The political and economic element: the stability and the modernity of a small State can be read in the complexity of its institutions.

In political sciences, there is a well-known rule, according to which the more complexity a State adds to its institutions and structures of power, the more the country can modernize and overcome the ordeals in order to avoid worst-case scenarios, like the ones on October 27, 1999 or March 1, 2008. This means that Armenia must break with the Soviet legacy in terms of institutional reforms.

New institutions are needed

If one examines the way power is currently organized, with a President of the Republic, a Prime Minister and a President of the National Assembly, it closely resembles the organization of the structure of Soviet power in Armenia: The First Secretary of the Communist Party—the Chairman of the Council of the Commissars—the Chairman of Armenia's Supreme Soviet.

Independent Armenia has added a national Constitution as fundamental law and added two executive ministries, Foreign Affairs (which was started in the Soviet era) and Defense. The complexity of power-sharing implies the creation of new institutions in preparation for a new Republic of Armenia.

It is the requirement for emerging from post-Sovietism: a Senate representing the regions with, let's say, senators from outside of Armenia, and a State Council instead of the current civil Council which has neither legitimacy nor constitutional status, and the elimination of the Vice-Ministers which are more the result of a trade-off between the forces of the coalition than a sign of governmental efficiency.

The Armenian government is akin to an ill-disciplined army, but smaller... And this political efficiency must be extended in order to attain a transparent economic system, breaking with the opacity of the current system, which is dangerous for the future and undermines confidence in the elites.

In order to have a transparent system, an end must be put to holding several mandates concurrently. There must be a separation between the elected official and the oligarchs; the status of the opposition must be reinforced; a large-scale "clean hands" operation must take place; the result of the votes must be respected and citizenship must be promoted. One cannot request the authorities to change their methods if Armenian citizens and the Armenians of the Diaspora do not change the way they approach welfare, the rule of law and order, and the way they share their common heritage. We are the State and it is what we make of it.

Developing our assets

Finally, in order to remedy the situation, one must concentrate on education. Armenia, like the Diaspora, must over-invest in education, in the tools of knowledge and openness to the world.

Armenia has the means to equip itself with the best schools: management, finances, new technologies, rights, international relations, and social sciences. Armenians do not lack skills, on the contrary.

Holding on for 3000 years without almost any State is of epic proportions in such a hostile environment; and we owe it to each one of us, in case a cross-cutting link is put into place among us, beyond the Genocide and the Catastrophe, and thus to the past. Armenia has reconnected with history in 1991 and opened the doors of the future. Armenians must realize that, first and foremost for themselves, and also for future generations, because, without memory, a people has no future, and without a powerful purpose, no hope of entering the 21st century.

Independence is achieved through freeing oneself from the contingencies of the past. Armenians must stop admiring or hating themselves: they must just like and respect each other. It is the price to pay for independence.

Originally published in the December 2011 ​issue of AGBU Magazine. Archived content may appear distorted on your screen. end character

About the AGBU Magazine

AGBU Magazine is one of the most widely circulated English language Armenian magazines in the world, available in print and digital format. Each issue delivers insights and perspective on subjects and themes relating to the Armenian world, accompanied by original photography, exclusive high-profile interviews, fun facts and more.