The Root of Democracy Problems in Armenia is Indifference

While only 15 years of democratic development might not be enough to build a vibrant democracy, “…the processes going on in our country are heading towards distortion of values and return to modern feudalism, which might be irreversible…“, speculates Bekaisa at her blog and defines the attitude of indifference by those who understand the negative tendencies, but who “DECIDE to keep silent and refrain from action” as the root of democratization problems in Armenia.
While people like Ahousekeeper in response to Bekaisa‘s post doubt the very necessity of building democracy in Armenia by questioning the validity and quality of democracy in the USA, David_sand, Narjan advocate strongly for democracy.
The discussion is still on, and I suspect, the influence of the Russian model of “sovereign democracy” has a lot to do with the fact, that in Armenia today anybody would be willing to question the importance of building democracy.

Artur Papyan

Journalist, blogger, digital security and media consultant


  1. I always find it funny when people look at other countries — especially those were personal and economic freedom is 100 years ahead of Armenia — even if there has been some decline since 911 and say Armenia doesn’t need democracy.
    It’s very simple, whatever the faults of Western democracies , you just can’t compare Armenia with Europe or the U.S. In fact, Armenia is veering towards authoritarianism, where human rights are not respected, where corruption is ky rocketing, and where the future of the country is at stake.
    Still, on the other hand, the question perhaps is not whether democracy is necessary for a country — or maybe Armenia thinks itself more like Azerbaijan than Europe, I don’t know — but whether Armenians are ready for democracy. That seems to be more to the point here.
    Still, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, perhaps, so let’s examine the situation of the Baltic Republics and compare them with the South Caucasus and determine which model is best. Until then, most intelligent young people think of leaving Armenia so I guess they already decided.

  2. Onnik,
    I don’t subscribe to the “whether Armenians are ready for democracy”. I don’t subscribe to “every nation deserves its government”. These are meaningless expressions to me.
    A big chunk of the US population in 1775 did not want independence from UK. Furthermore, it was a very real possibility that George Washington could have been proclaimed a king after getting that independence. The way the US actually went was NOT so much due to the Americans being “ready for democracy” as to the outstanding leadership of Washingtons, Jeffersons, and Madisons.
    At the same time, I agree that, say, a tribal, deeply superstitious (i.e. religious) and xenophobic society cannot embrace liberal democracy, no matter the genius of its leaders.
    But the Armenian society in the late Soviet Armenia was in principle advanced enough for progressive reforms. The beautiful popular movement of 1988 is a clear proof of that: people were ready for dignity, for cleaning up (after “Karabakh” the next slogan was against corruption!), for European standards. With those hopes they elected in free and fair elections (!) the first government. People can do only so much. In NO country in the world, even the most democratic one, they can monitor the government 24/7 and recall it the moment it strays away. So, PLEASE do not conveniently shift the blame to the people from those m…..f… who consciously betrayed that historic trust, who became very UNtransparent to their own people, who carried out so called “liberal” reforms on their backs, who consolidated their power in the authoritarian manner (repeatedly using brute force when there was a popular threat to their illegitimate regimes), and who NEVER since gave the people chance to exercise their will in free and fair elections (not in 1996, with Levon Ter-Pederastian, not in 2003, with Robert Kochvorian, not in any other elections). What could people do? Revolution? And if not, then they are not “ready for democracy”?? Give me a break!

  3. […] While only 15 years of democratic development might not be enough to build a vibrant democracy, the processes going on in our country are heading towards distortion of values and return to modern feudalism, which might be irreversible … – more – […]

  4. Well, let’s face it. The Armenia today is not the same as that of Soviet Armenia. Many of those people are gone, or old and not in positions to influence matters, and the generations that have followed which remain don’t resemble them at all.
    Of course, others simply see no alternative, but the reality is that many are starting to see an “alternative” in the form of the Prosperous Armenia party.
    It’s a different Armenia, the mindset of the people is different, and you can see that especially among a youth who remain apathetic and who’s intellectual and educational standards as a whole is considered lower than that of their counterparts in 1996.
    Yes, of course, we can argue who is to blame for this situation, but it doesn’t change the fact that most Armenians don’t care about the democratic process. However, I would be more than happy to be wrong in this case.

  5. Friends, let me bring an important third dimension to your conversation. Armenian people are as good as any in terms of being ready for democracy. The Armenian society was and is in many ways similar to the nations of the Baltic states and Greeks who are all perfectly functional democracies. Let me remind you once again, that Greece, Spain, Portugal were totalitarian states still back in 1980’s!
    So what is the reason, that countries starting from equal position (Armenia and Estonia for example), are at such different standpoints today? Is it because of the people? Is it because of leadership? None of them, or should I say, there is no single factor? 
    I think, that you are both exaggerating the factors you are speaking of. People of Armenia can in no ways be judged with the same criteria as the people of UK for example, because there is just too few of us: only 3 million! 3 millions do not make a market factor (taxes in Armenia make less then 20% of state budget revenues), 3 million do not make an attractive export/investement market (no developed country in the world is interested in the Armenia market). Markets on the other hand, are the root of the modern democracy – liberal democracy was created in Britain to accomodate the new economic paradigm, to make sure that those who paid taxes don’t get upset with those who spend them. European Union, the symbol of democracy in the world, is essentially a single market – it is first and foremost an economic union. And even today – it is not much more then just an economic union.
    Democracy, is not a human dream – it is a practicality. The political elite (tribal leaders, kings, roman senators, dictators, ceasars, monarkhs, tsars, emporers, presidents, prime ministers) have always been and will always be distanced from the people. They have always been and will always be corrupt. There is no good political ruler! Whether elected or not, any ruler in essence is the same.
    Political leaders need power, and they seek power, and they always find it. Armenian rulers always have to consider the following questions: “Who has the power?”, “Who can give or take it from us?”, “Who can create conditions for us to gain more power, or loose what we have?”.
    Power in Armenia rests with:
    a/ Embassies of Foreign Countries (US, Russia, UK, etc) and international donor organizations (IMF, World Bank, MCC) because they provide the largest chunk of money which goes into the economy and the state budget which translates into power for the rulers of Armenia. This group of power (external forces: embassies and donor organizations) also open the door to trade and investment without which even oligarchs can’t survive, and I would say, that this group of power represents about the third of all power exercised in Armenia. The only reason why it doesn’t completely dominate the Armenian politics, is because it is not a uniform group, but rather, a very conflicting one, dragging power from one direction to the other. For illustration purposes, let’s say they have 30% of power in the country.
    b/ Oligarchs – rent providing economic subjects, also largest contributors to the economy and the state budget (state budget=power, power=something to rule on=preconditions for having rulers). To make my point, let’s say they represent about 20% of power in the country.
    c/ people at large – 15%
    d/ Beurocracy / state institutions (a horrible force) – still largely a remnant of the soviet system, beurocracy has an enormous power, and is also the easiest to talk to and step into a deal with. For illustration purposes, let’s say they represent 15% of power in the country.
    e/ Security services and military – 15% (it’s all for illustration purposes, remember? )
    f/ Other economic subjects – medium business, Diasporan investors, etc.
    With only 15-20% of real power in the country, people in themselves can do nothing. Opposition, that relies only on people rioting in the streets will get nothing: there is not enough power in the people in Armenia, so stop blaming them! The current government of Armenia is doing a fantastic job of making all the real power bodies happy, and they also try to address some needs of the people (we are still a welfare state, we have some sort of free Medicare, roads are ok, there is relative peace and economic growth) The government in Armenia is acting exactly as it should, and the type of opposition we have will act the same way. Anybody who realizes, that people have no power compared to the join force of oligarchs (who are easy to manipulate), beurocracy and security services (who are easy to control) and other economic subjects who are easy to scare with the help of beurocrats, security services, etc, they will naturally never want to address the needs of the people. On the other hand, if say Aylyntranq comes to power tomorrow (which is never going to happen), the joined forces of oligarchs, beurocracy and some sections of the external influence, possibly also military, will crush them. We need to speak about the accountability and institution in this country, we need to speak about giving more power to the people, we need to speak about minimizing the power of external actors. Only after that, we will have the necessary preconditions for a government to be interested in people’s affairs.

  6. Onnik,
    I agree with you on the description of the present situation. And I don’t think you will argue with me “who is to blame” for it. Show me a single country in the world where the ordinary people are able to see through all the machinations of political elites and at all times keep them in check. This is impossible. The case in point – 75% popular support of Iraq war in the US in 2003! Outright lies, massive propaganda, and constant instillation of fear did their job for the country priding itself on being the first modern democratic republic. (And I absolutely do not accept the ludicrous argument that Americans somehow are more stupid than any others.)
    The blame is squarely on the first leaders of independent Armenia for what came about and what you see now (and it is not pretty – from civil society point of view, I absolutely agree). [The subsequent leaders share that blame as well, since they just continued and perfected the same authoritarian mode of ruling.] It’s a monumental blame. It’s high treason, it’s a betrayal of real democratic aspirations of my nation. It’s a subsequent perversion of those aspirations and ideals and very serious discrediting of concepts like “democracy” in the minds of ordinary people, which could and will bode ill for Armenia for generations…. Ehhhh…..

  7. I only visited Armenia once prior to Kocharian coming to power. That was in 1994, and I only spent 2 days in Armenia — the other 10 days were in Karabakh. Therefore, I can’t comment on what the internal political situation was like then, but yes, I’ve often wondered if the current system in place is simply a continuation of those days. No doubt the foundations of the system derived anyway from the Soviet era, but without any checks and balances, were created then and merely continued.
    Certainly, there was no real coup d’etat or change in the system initiated when LTP was forced out of office by Vazgen Sarkisyan and Kocharyan, and it there wasn’t any particular change in the way governance was undertaken. Okay, so most, but not all, of the ARF-D fellas were released from jail, and the party was allowed to operate again, but other than frustrating the Karabakh negotations, was there any other change?
    Like I said, I didn’t step foot in Armenia after my initial visit in 1994 until June 1998, so am not in a position to say for sure, especially as there was little reliable information from Armenia reaching the Diaspora, and few international publications or journalists cared about the internal political situation as opposed to Karabakh. Nevertheless, if this is the case, it would appear that the negative consequences of this continuation in the system passed on from LTP to Kocharian is having it’s most adverse of effects now.

  8. Yes, Onnik, your perception is 99% correct, in my opinion (which is NOT typical of Diasporan attitudes at all; I credit it to your usual sober and objective outlook).
    Here is a VERY interesting (especially to you as an outsider in the 1980s and most of the 1990s) “international publication about the internal political situation”, just as you wanted.
    Ian Bremmer & Cory Welt, “Armenia’s New Autocrats”, Journal of Democracy, v. 8.3 (1997), pp. 77-91.
    Read it carefully and compare with what you know after 1998. I know you will appreciate it! (And I don’t give my opinion in order not to influence your perception of the article.)
    I get the full text of the article from here, but it probably would not be available to you since this is internal to UW, I guess. Still, try:
    If no luck and you don’t want to get to the AUA Library (where they must have Journal of Democracy, I presume), I can Email you the contents of the article just by copying and pasting, if you provide me with your Email address.

  9. […] The Root of Democracy Problems in Armenia is IndifferenceWhile only 15 years of democratic development might not be enough to build a vibrant democracy, the processes going on in our country are heading towards distortion of values and return to modern feudalism, which might be irreversible … […]

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