For the past month, political processes, unprecedented in their scope and intensity, have been taking place in Armenia. It is difficult to remember a time period since independence, when society has taken part in such political and social processes and felt that their voice could actually impact those processes. What took place is a complicated social process and to understand it, a number of academic disciplines need to be involved. And more importantly, to understand all of this, as Francois Mitterrand once said, we need to give time time.
Many opinions have been and will continue to be expressed in connection with these recent events. Most of these opinions contain emotional layers, where the “revolutionary wave” has levelled everything, and as a result the appraisals based on objective academic foundations have been drowned out. Thereby, it is now necessary, that the academic community tries to understand what has taken place. It is from this viewpoint that I want to make several observations.
First and foremost, I do not agree with the idea, approach and entreaties that what happened was a revolution. There have been many revolutions throughout history, and what took place in Armenia so far does not fit into any classification of a revolution. All previous sweeping historical events, which later were coined as revolutions, brought with them fundamental structural and institutional changes. Meanwhile, Armenia’s “revolutionary leaders” have not placed such objectives before themselves. Experts can coin this as a “revolution of minds,” a “revolution of the value system and reevaluation of self-worth,” but in terms of historical classification and political models, what took place can be classified more like a change of government through a popular revolt, uprising or a rebellion. A revolution is a process rather than an event. The “revolutionaries” can call their steps a “revolution” however those steps cannot be qualified as a revolution. Merely changing the government, those in ruling positions or policies without making an attempt at fundamental change in institutions fall short of a revolution. Meanwhile, Marxist scholars treat revolutions with moral, and often descriptive, overtones. Some even look at revolutions as necessary to provide social progress and to overthrow entrenched ideas or institutions.
Typically, what happened afterwards in previous revolutions is no less significant. There is an initial period in which the new government enjoys wide popular support and any criticism of it is labelled as counter-revolutionary or reactionary. If the government fails in addressing short term issues and presenting long term objectives, typically, two scenarios are possible. A period of intense contention between the government and the adherents of the old regime. The next scenario is the struggle among revolutionary leaders who will contend with each other which may include a period of domestic ‘terror’ against opponents of the revolution.
The primary occasion for the cumulative dissatisfaction was Serzh Sargsyan’s decision to be nominated for the position of Armenia’s prime minister, however, the real and deep reasons were altogether something else. Armenian society was deprived of its right to change the government through elections. The authorities had oppressed the free expression of their will, and thus succeeded to further deepen their representation in all levels of state governance. As a result it had created a difficult situation, where the most fundamental rule of democracy – the free expression of will during elections – was distorted. And for this reason, the public took the step of replacing its ballot in the ballot box with blocking streets. In the end, it elected a new prime minister, who had the support of the street and the square but not the ballot itself. Constitutionally, this is a difficult process to explain and what is positive is that Nikol Pashinyan was a member of parliament. Otherwise, if he had not been a member of parliament, it is difficult to imagine what would have happened.
For decades, the authorities had ignored corruption that had become a cancer; it was considered to be a normal phenomenon for any country in transition. This was in parallel to the complex processes around the Karabakh conflict, which for years and at times moved forward rapidly and other times came to a standstill. The abuse of the security situation worked in favor of the authorities who used it to ignore the importance/significance of not initiating sufficient change. Society showed that this formula is not longer acceptable.
Of course, overthrowing of prior government, does not mean that the new government will easily resolve the issues facing the country. Coming to power is one thing, governing is another. Pashinyan understands the system though he has not been in it. He is well informed having covered the domestic political life of Armenia for 23 years. He has a considerable journalistic and since 2008, political experience. After establishing his own political party, it became clear that he does not have the quantitative human resources for a power takeover. And this was not the only obstacle, the system of governance and the rules of the game had made the formation of an institutional opposition practically impossible. And his coming to power cannot unreservedly be considered the conquest of the opposition.
It is more than two weeks now that he is heading the government. Society has great expectations from him and all his supporters want to see imminent changes. The people gave Pashinyan the mandate to change the government but there were no further instructions. It remains to be seen whether there should be public discussions as part of the process of writing the new government program, whether the government, that was the opposition a month ago, has a clear idea of the major primary and secondary issues facing Armenia.
It is very important for Pashinyan’s government to distinguish the different gains of governance and to condemn any manifestation of corruption and patronage. He has been given an opportunity to reset the system and we will find out in the foreseeable future if he is be able to achieve that. If he aims for elections in the near future, which will not be easy, then he and his team will need to consolidate all the capable human resource in Armenia and the diaspora in an effective manner and start forging ahead, domain by domain. The dividing lines between “ours” and “theirs” need to be avoided. There will naturally be slip-ups but the fine line between criticism and advice should be differentiated.
Those in his team and the government who lack experience should work hard on themselves. The government should not orbit around one person and government members should not assume that Nikol Pashinyan will always be covering up after them. Their lack of experience should be compensated by working 12 hours a day. Society in Armenia was able to achieve the possibility of change, but time will show if it will be possible to achieve tangible change or there will be a return to the state of disappointment. The stakes are high and Pashinyan and his government system have no right to make mistakes. Armenia cannot be turned into a political laboratory.