Armenian NGOs, GONGOs and the plans to establish a Public Chamber

Discussions around the possibility of creating a Public Chamber in Armenia, like the one established in the Russian Federation, have been going on for more then a year now. For the Armenian case, it is assumed, that such a body would bring together mostly NGOs, but also businessmen, known public figures, etc. However, considering the huge number of registered NGOs in Armenia, there is no doubt, that such a Public Chamber would basically mean a chamber of NGOs. Supporters of this idea are arguing, that the NGOs would thus gain an effective platform of bringing the issues of public importance to the authorities. Critics on the other hand, are pointing to the fact, that of more the 3000 registered NGOs in Armenia (I’ve also encountered figures between 2500 to 4000), there are only several dozen, who do anything at all. Most of these NGOs are in fact Grant hunters, and do not represent anything or anyone. There are also a larger number of GONGOs – Government NGOs, or NGOs created by government officials, their relatives and friends and serve the distinct purposes of supporting their protectors or laundering government money intended for the civil society.

As a representative of Civil Society, I was contacted at the end of March with the suggestion to take part in a meeting, where the possibility of uniting Armenian NGOs around the need to stabilize the country and find solutions to the political crises would be discussed. Although I was warned, that the initiative is led by a couple of prominent GONGOs, I decided, that the challenges faced by the country at that point called for consolidation, not division, and took part in the meeting. Being a balanced and moderate person by nature, I voiced my concerns at the meeting, with the state of media, freedom of speech, and especially with the news coverage of Public TV of the developments in the country, which at that point had just come out of the state of emergency. While I was sure, that everything I said was reasonable and had no political content, I was surprised to find out, that on the large forum organized afterwards, I wasn’t invited anymore. Moreover, my concerns, sent to the organizers of the discussions via email, never found a response or any reflection in the announcement or document, adopted at the forum of NGOs who supported the initiative.

Yesterday, as one of the prominent bloggers of LiveJournal, Akunamatata_Ser was contacted by a Government representative and was asked to facilitate discussions in the blogs about the possibility and usefulness of the Public Chamber, echoed by Pigh, Mark Grigorian, Ahousekeeper and others, I remembered the developments above, and couldn’t refrain from commenting on Mark Grigorian’s blog. Yes, indeed, the first attempts of creating this “Public Chamber” have so far been quite disappointing, and there is a clear danger of establishing yet another money laundering machine, which will also have a distinct agenda of supporting all and everything our super-democratic authorities undertake.