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Opinion | Armenia stands at a dangerous moral crossroads

17 March 2021
Illustration: Mariam Nikuradze/OC Media.

The increasingly vicious contest between Armenia’s government and the opposition threatens not only the country but Armenian identity itself. But the country’s quiet, non-partisan majority might yet save it.

The reality in Armenia is terrifying. As a socially and politically active citizen of my country, I have never been so scared in my life. 

The true reason for my fear, however, is not the fact that there may be ‘No Armenia’ by virtue of this current political crisis, as the country’s opposition constantly keeps asserting in their panic-inducing campaign to dislodge Nikol Pashinyan from power.

No, at the core of my fear is this single question: ‘When all this fighting for power, influence, and dominance comes to an end, what kind of Armenia will we be living in?’ 

Is it going to be a new Armenia that learns from its experiences and uses them to tackle the present crisis and transform government policy both foreign and domestic? Or Is it going to be a return to pre-revolutionary Armenia — a country in the grips of an oligarchy, that, this time, has the advantage of ruling over a morally oppressed population doubled over with grief and trauma and unable to fight for their rights anymore? Or perhaps yet, it will remain Pashinyan’s Armenia, trapped in a fog of unanswered questions and haunted by the unpunished culprits responsible for the catastrophe that was this recent war.

Old Regime entitlement 

The main opposition, led by justifiably not-so-popular candidate Vazgen Manukyan, refuses to accept Pashinyan’s offer of snap elections. Calling themselves the ‘Homeland Salvation Movement’, they have continued to insist that Manukyan become a transitional prime minister before elections are held.

While it would appear that their refusal is based on a mistrust of Pashinyan and his willingness to carry out free-and-fair elections, the reality is a little different. For all the misery Pashinyan has brought upon his people, they know for a fact he would still win with a landslide.

But they have a second, implicit and all the more dangerous reason for rejecting elections. They, the country’s former pre-revolution authorities, do not want them because they consider themselves entitled to choose not only the interim government but also the government that follows. They consider their voices and opinions more important — and more legitimate — than those of their compatriots. 

The Homeland Salvation Movement cannot or does not want to listen and understand that the public is so sick of them that they are ready to reelect a Prime Minister who lost a war.

This entrenched sense of entitlement and arrogance is one of the biggest reasons there will never be enough public support to elect them to lead the country once again.

Slinging mud

The absolute cynicism of what is happening right now can be seen in the way that Pashinyan and the main opposition communicate with the public. Each, through their time in power, has managed to gather a certain group of diehard supporters. 

Now, instead of trying to speak to the Armenian nation at such a fractious and dangerous time; instead of calling for unity, tolerance, and understanding and offering a space for joint action to tackle the grave challenges still facing the country; instead, the authorities and main opposition choose to speak exclusively to their own supporters. They use ever more extreme rhetoric, whipping these supporters into a frenzy of hatred towards their political ‘enemy’, all in the selfish desire for just a second more in the political limelight.

The toxicity of the whole narrative has created a vicious social division, where the main opposition presents itself as a crowd of ‘educated patriots’ fighting against ‘Pashinyan’s hypnotised followers’. 

Pashinyan, on the other hand, describes all opposition as being ‘bought off’ by the old authorities, ignoring not only that they may have legitimate grievances, but that as Prime Minister, he is accountable to all Armenian citizens, not just his supporters or those who voted for him. 

Meanwhile, as both sides continue slinging mud at each other, a large chunk of the population, people a lot like me, are stuck at this crossroad of this moral decay. 

The middlers

We, those of the forgotten middle, are absolutely numbed and puzzled. Neither of these opposing political forces does anything substantial to speak to us because they do not care much about change, all they care about is either keeping power or returning to it. 

Meanwhile, the ‘middlers’ are the only ones demanding true accountability, which involves a plan, a crisis exit strategy, and a team that would lead that effort. While we know that the current government has terribly failed in all three of these metrics, the opposition has done nothing to persuade us that they can do any better. 

Much like the 2018 revolution, of which I was a proud and active participant, the narrative of the opposition is focused on the vilification of one individual and one party — ignoring much more deeply rooted factors.

Those standing in the crowds listening to Vazgen Manukyan speak who genuinely believe that removing Pashinyan will put everything back on track are surely in for a rude awakening. They, just like us three years ago, are wrong to believe that rejecting a political figure is enough without an accompanying critical national self-examination and a consciously directed moral conversion. 

As US General Douglas MacArthur said in 1951, ‘History fails to record a single precedent in which nations subject to moral decay have not passed into political and economic decline. There has been either a spiritual awakening to overcome the moral lapse or a progressive deterioration leading to ultimate national disaster’.

Everyone in Armenia should be conscious that the miraculous roadmap does not constitute either removing Pashinyan from power or storming the National Assembly building. The truth is, this constant myopic ranting accompanied with toxic political theatrics is neither tolerable nor constructive anymore: and this is the real threat to Armenia and our national identity. 

Military drills are being held by both Armenia and Azerbaijan and despite claims made to the contrary, the tripartite peace agreement signed on 10 November has not brought a stable peace. This is not the time for domestic instability, or for such reckless selfishness from those who seek to lead the country into the future. 

Who can save Armenia? 

It is undeniable that Armenians need resilience to overcome the overlapping and truly colossal crises we face. 

An identity is a moral compass for any nation to hang on to. If our politicians take a Machiavellian approach in which ‘the end justifies the means’, this will only grind it down. It will push the moral boundaries further and further, justifying one ideological regress with another, bringing us to the edge of the abyss.

I love my country endlessly and I want the people in Armenia and in Nagorno-Karabakh to live the life they have been longing for. A life that is free, prosperous and happy. But that can only be achieved if we, young people stuck in the middle of this moral decay, take on the role of devil’s advocate.

Instead of choosing a side, we should seek to bring those sides together through a long and difficult process of forgiveness and reconciliation. We need to be tough and realistic about the challenges we are facing, but never desperate. We also need to think exclusively with cold heads, and not with blinding emotionality.

We, ‘the middlers’, need to demand solutions and accountability from both the authorities and the opposition, instead of just handing them unconditional power.

But we must also look inwards. We need to teach ourselves and the people around us, our families, friends, and colleagues that hateful speech is destructive. Instead of endlessly spitting venom, all our energy should be directed at finding solutions to the growing mountain of problems that we have no choice but to face collectively.

The fact that we have fallen into the trap of populism once does not mean that we have to fall into it again just for the sake of the balance. No one will save us if we don’t do it ourselves.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of OC Media’s editorial board.

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