What Is Next for Armenia?

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People in Armenia continue to savor the fruits of the Velvet Revolution. They are virtually in ecstasy, after witnessing Nikol Pashinyan taking over the office of prime minister from Serzh Sargsyan on May 8.

Pashinyan’s ascendance to power was a cause for celebration, as was Sargsyan’s peaceful resignation.

No one is sure how long the honeymoon will last, however. Expectations are high and there is a sense of optimism in the air.

After overthrowing a hated regime, people are in the mood to continue the revolution by asking regional leaders (marzbeds) to resign and are also demonstrating at the Yerevan City Hall, demanding the resignation of Mayor Taron Markarian.

Demonstrations against and harassment of the president of Yerevan State University, Aram Simonyan, have sent him to the hospital. The leader of the Velvet Revolution has yet to control the demonstrators who may convert the peaceful revolution into a witch hunt, if it is not stopped now in its tracks.

The revolutionary mood seems to be contagious, as people in Artsakh have been demonstrating against the arbitrary beatings of ordinary citizens by plain clothes police officers.

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Behavioral science cannot be measured by mathematical rules, although its practitioners believe in the predictability of social developments.

Once popular masses are unleashed, the momentum may carry it out of hand.

Artsakh is at war and any destabilizing act may play into the hands of the enemy. That is why Pashinyan was alarmed and sent a message to the demonstrators in Stepanakert to calm down.

Pashinyan’s message in Armenia was powerful, to the extent of being magical enough to raise the entire population to rebellion. It remains to be seen if he can contain that revolutionary fervor to good ends since people are brimming with bitterness and rancor against the previous regime. His calls for brotherly love do not seem to have affected his followers on social media, where they post lewd remarks about the leaders of the previous regime. If left unchecked, that path may lead to serious polarization in Armenian society, which the country can ill afford.

He has promised that there will be no vendettas and he has taken some wise steps to prove that. For example, the police chief, Valery Osipyan was considered evil incarnate as far as demonstrators were concerned. In fact, Osipyan often verbally chewed out Pashinyan during his protests. However, the new prime minister took a chance on reappointing him to his former position, while making many staffing changes in the defense structures.

Osipyan himself, being a man of law and order, proved that he can serve professionally under the new leaders.

Topics: Armenia

Pashinyan has also been treading cautiously in the case of political prisoners. He freed people who had been incarcerated on solely political grounds. But in the case of the Sasna Tsrer members, where crimes were committed in taking over a police station and resulting in deaths, he deferred to the rule of law, stating the he was not in a position to break open the prison gates and to let out all the inmates. He relegated their cases to the courts.

The public is so frenzied that at this time, everything is viewed through a black-and-white filter. No one dares to step into a gray area. And in this atmosphere of polarization, the new government appointed by Pashinyan has to make judicious moves and choices.

The test for tolerance and fair play will come when the government begins to investigate the wealth of the oligarchs, paying fair taxes and exercising the rule of law. A test case has been the investigation of the oligarch Samuel Alexanyan (Lefik Samo). His Alex Holdings company has a monopoly over sugar and cooking oil imports as well as some other basic commodities. Alexanyan himself belongs to the Republican Party and thus far he has been one of the untouchables, as a member of parliament as well as ruling party member. If strict transparency is observed and Alexanyan gets a fair shake, that will be an indication that those oligarchs can continue their businesses and are discouraged from moving out their capital. Already, substantial amounts of capital have left the country in advance of the impending revolution and the uncertainty associated with it.

In the current atmosphere of intense hatred toward the previous regime, any legitimate investigation in the assets and dealings of major oligarchs may easily morph into a witch hunt, which Pashinyan has to avoid.

Since Henrik Ibsen’s play, “An Enemy of the People,” was published in 1882, the art of vilifying individuals and heroes has been refined and perfected to make more efficient the manufacture and dissemination of fake news. Social media today can make or break an individual or institution. Ironically, it works both ways. That same social media was instrumental in helping Pashinyan deliver his message to the people and guide his actions. If he can maintain that control, then the Velvet Revolution can achieve its objectives without going awry. If not, his revolution may be hurt by the same tools.

During Pashinyan’s campaign, the issues of foreign policy and security were hardly mentioned, because there were so many immediate priorities for the citizens — the low standard of living, lawlessness, depopulation of the country, desperation and isolation. Now that hope has been restored, the new administration has to face those issues as well.

As the potential of war lurks on the borders, very careful changes were made in the top brass of the military. But above all, the condition of the new draftees became a top priority to enhance the morale in the army.

As far as foreign relations are concerned, Pashinyan took the right stop by paying his first official visit to Russia, attending the sitting of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), where he was received warmly by Belarus’ President Alexander Lukashenko. Russian President Vladimir Putin received him with a humorous remark, asking him whether he arrived in Sochi from Yerevan on foot, a reference to Pashinyan’s march from Gyumri to Yerevan on foot. Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s reception was cool, perhaps to remind Pashinyan that nothing was forgotten and nothing was forgiven, because in the past, Pashinyan’s parliamentary faction, Yelk, had proposed that Armenia resign from the EEU, although at this time he has vowed to work within existing realities.

The prime minister’s visit to Georgia later proved to be momentous, as far as Georgian-Armenians were concerned, but Pashinyan’s statement about Armenian-Georgian relations echoed exactly what the former administration had defined: that there are no problems between the two countries that cannot be resolved. That means there are outstanding problems to be addressed, beginning with the collusion of Tbilisi administration with Turkey and Azerbaijan and continuing with the confiscation of Armenian churches in Georgia and ending with the discriminatory policies towards Armenians in Javakhk.

As far as Armenia’s enemies are concerned, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan responded with a new salvo of threats to the new regime, by advancing Azerbaijan’s army positions in Nakhijevan and threatening to hit Armenia’s heart in Yerevan, from army fortifications in Nakhijevan.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim stated that his country can negotiate with Armenia if the latter resigns from pursuing the Genocide issue, territorial claims and settles the Artsakh problem with Azerbaijan. Typical Turkish demagoguery; if those issues are removed from the negotiating table, what other contentious issue is left to discuss.

With the success of the Velvet Revolution, Armenian people are euphoric. But no one is allowed to forget that the country has yet to resolve its differences with its neighbors.

This time around, people are untied and they can take a united stand against foreign threats. Before, mothers were worried and they refused to send their children to the army “to fight for Serjik.” Today, unity is a tangible asset in the hands of Pashinyan and his government and can face any challenge as long as the revolution continues to be cloaked in velvet.