Righting Wrongs While Facing Enemies in the Region

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If you were thinking the Velvet Revolution was a colorful movement, the post-revolution period has become even more so. One can consider the situation entertaining if it were not so alarming.

The leader of the Velvet Revolution, Nikol Pashinyan, had been vowing all along that there would not be vendettas or a score-settling with the members of the previous administration, but the recent investigations and revelations are so dramatic that the public is becoming irate.

Almost two decades of lawlessness, looting, corruption and utter indifference toward public welfare have taken the country to the brink of a breaking point. As a result of those abuses of public funds, there has been a steady depopulation of Armenia. Through criminal negligence, this process has amounted to an existential threat to the country.

Although people in Armenia are enjoying the freedom brought on by the revolution, at the same time, they are enraged as security forces make new revelations and new arrests.

By some estimates, during the last two decades, the loss for Armenia’s economy has amounted to $30 billion, while the country’s foreign debt has reached $7.5 billion.

In a country where the majority of the people subsist under the poverty line, former President Robert Kocharyan’s family assets are estimated to be more than $10 billion.

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This anomaly could not last long and clearly it did not.

Now, no matter how much tolerance and brotherly love Mr. Pashinyan may offer or dispense to his fellow Armenians, public outrage is incredible.

The recent arrest of Gen. Manvel Grigoryan, a hero during the Karabakh (Artsakh) conflict who had previously won many accolades and positions in the army, has become a symbol for the bottomless corruption. He also served as the head of the influential Yerkrapah Union of Volunteers as well as a well-positioned member of the ruling Republican Party. At one time, he also served as deputy defense minister. However, over the years, he abused all the privileges to oblige his unending (alleged) greed.

After his arrest, the police discovered an arsenal of weapons in his primary residence as well as his summer home — even automatic weapons, hand grenades and army vehicles.

What is tragi-comic is that while young soldiers were defending the Karabakh borders with primitive weapons and their bare hands, General Grigoryan had been stealing the soldiers’ rations, army-issued clothing, fuel for tanks and medical supplies. The police have made a show of the heart-wrenching letters written by children to the soldiers serving on the front lines that had accompanied the canned food donations. All were discovered in the general’s personal zoo.

The police have also arrested General Grigoryan’s wife, Nazik Amiryan, and son, Karen Grigoryan. The latter, until recently, had been serving as the mayor of Echmiadzin, running a mafia operation and terrorizing the citizens in that supposedly holy city.

Another Republican Party Member in the Parliament, Arakel Movsisyan, has voluntarily surrendered his illegal cache of weapons but he remains under investigation. He is also one of the Karabakh war veterans known by the nickname Schemays.

The investigative noose is tightening around former President Serzh Sargsyan, with the brief incarceration of his brother, Alexander Sargsyan, known as Sashik. For many years, Sashik allegedly had been running an extortion scheme and thus had gained the nickname “50 percent,” meaning he extorted half of the income of any enterprise operating in the country. Police seized $1.7 million in cash from Vachik Ghazaryan, Serzh Sargsyan’s former security chief, who is the co-owner of the upscale restaurant, Yans, in Yerevan.

As the media are flooded with news of the discoveries, people are getting angrier and calling for revenge. They are after the mayor of Yerevan, Taron Margaryan, and other officials. At this time, Prime Minister Pashinyan is trying to control public passions. He vowed that he will never compromise in his fight against corruption, no matter what, but he assured the public that the due course of justice has to be applied to bring to justice all those responsible for past crimes and abuses. He was also shocked about the discoveries from General Grigoryan’s home but said “I will not prejudge him and will let the prosecution take its course.”

Ordinary people are more interested to see the criminals who have usurped more than their share punished but the political circles are pushing for more. They are demanding the plotters of the parliament murders of 1999 and the leaders responsible for ordering the shooting of demonstrators in 2008 be brought to justice. And all fingers are pointed at former President Robert Kocharyan.

Ironically, that will complicate the investigation further because the prosecutors have to rely on some witnesses who are former partners in crime. For example, the prosecution will end up getting into a plea-bargaining deal with General Grigoryan, who claimed to have incriminating evidence which he has used thus far as a bargaining chip against President Kocharyan.

During a recent interview, Gourgen Yeghiazariyan, the former deputy chief of the National Security Service, revealed that there has always been collusion between the highest levels of the Republican Party leadership and the criminal mob and has also described General Grigoryan as a small fish in the large criminal pond of Armenia.

At this time, Armenia is undergoing a national catharsis, which is a necessary process for healing.

To bring the Velvet Revolution to its rational conclusion, new elections have to take place, hopefully under free conditions, applying the revised electoral legislations, to endow the country with a new leadership.

The new administration’s goal should not simply end in damage control. It has to go further and meet the economic and political expectations of the people who overwhelmingly support the revolution.

Then comes the thorny issue of Armenia’s foreign relations. The country is at a stage of quasi-war and President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan is even reluctant to meet with Armenia’s new leadership, all along repeating his threats and intensifying border skirmishes. It is ironic that while the noose is tightening around Serzh Sargsyan, there is talk that his expertise will be needed down the road of negotiation.

The situation in the region is getting tenser. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s convincing electoral victory does not auger well for Armenia. He seems to have given up hope of joining the European Union and he will be looking toward the east, even if that entails some tensions with fellow NATO members. The formula of “one nation, two states” is working well for Turkey. That country’s foreign minister, Mevlut Çavusoglu claims that he also represents Azerbaijan, and that his colleague Elmar Mammadyarov can take leave at his pleasure

In addition, Turkish military aircraft have been spotted in Nakhichevan. To top all those developments, the director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Science of Armenia Prof. Ruben Safrastyan states that Nakhichevan has been featured on one of the recent maps as part of Turkish territory.

All those developments are behind the tensions rising on Armenia’s border with Nakhichevan.

Perhaps, it is time for the signatories of the Kars Treaty of 1921 to question whether Nakhichevan has changed hands or is about to.

As Ankara veers towards the east, Moscow will gleefully embrace the move to draw a wedge in the NATO structure and that could be at the expense of Armenia’s security.

Further deterioration of the region comes with the recent massive demonstrations in Iran, presumably for economic reasons. If Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his ilk have given up post-power the military option, it does not mean that they have given up on the project of regime change in Iran. It is a textbook case of regime change, as all those movements in Libya and Syria started with bread-and-butter issues, to force those repressive regimes to retaliate with force to provide an excuse to intervene. The Islamic leaders in Iran must have learned something from these cases to use caution.

As the storm clouds gather in the region, Armenia does not have the luxury of being trapped in an introverted psychological exercise. This national exorcising of old ghosts has to come to a halt as the law takes its course and more urgent matters need to be tended. Polarization is not in the best interest of the country. People have been traumatized and they rightfully look for retribution. But beyond that, the young leadership have to brace for extended dangers.

At this time, the wounds are fresh and raw to look for precedents of national reconciliation.

In South Africa, the Apartheid regime lasted from 1948 to 1994 and was a brutal regime of segregation. African National Congress conducted an equally fierce campaign which brought down the walls  of Apartheid, Nelson Mandela, was released from prison, he faced his nemesis, President F. W. de Klerk, and a new nation was born.

In the process, thousands fell victim. Eventually the truth and reconciliation committee was formed to rectify old ills. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was instrumental in the process of national healing.

A more recent example is Colombia, where 52 years of conflict with 220,000 casualties came to a resolution. President Juan Manuel Santos Calderon and (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army) FARC leader Rodrigo Londono (Timoshenko) met in Havana and worked out an end to the fighting which allowed former 14,000 FARC militants to become integrated into the police force and army.

Armenia’s precarious situation in the region and need for the speedy healing of wounds are imperative to restore the country on its course of revival.

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