Philippe Raffi Kalfayan

National Concord Plan Needed to Save Armenia

1440
0

By Philippe Raffi Kalfayan

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

Modern Armenia may be facing one of the most dangerous periods since its creation. This is due to the conjunction of concurrent factors: two years of divisive and hatred speech that results in today’s observed violence and totally divided society, on one hand, and the coronavirus pandemic crisis and its subsequent ineluctable economic wildfire for economies world-wide, rising international tensions and threats of global war.

Two years after the so-called “Velvet Revolution,” the country appears more weakened than ever, while it will be subjected to a terrible economic shock, with no significant assistance to be expected from superpowers. Borders will remain closed to migrants, countries will conduct protectionist policies and most dependent and poor economies may collapse.

The situation must be assessed immediately by all political and responsible forces of the country. Consultations must be held inclusively, and not limited to parliamentary forces. This unprecedented situation implies talking about domestic and economic issues, and then foreign threats. It requires exceptional courage to confront and manage the internal and external challenges.

The worldwide coronavirus crisis precipitates the moment to make radical changes in policy and elaborate urgently an emergency plan to face the situation. Armenia encountered such difficult times at the beginning of the third republic in the 1990s that it has some experience and may succeed in this new test if some conditions are restored.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

Anticipated Failures of Pashinyan’s Methods

It must be reaffirmed very strongly that the Republic of Armenia is a small country of about 2.5 million inhabitants, whose population is shrinking year after year, and which cannot afford to go through a revolutionary divisive process, wherein half of the population hates the other half. Unless one wants to destroy the country or imperil its future, this policy must stop.

In a landmark article (https://mirrorspectator.com/2018/08/23/pashinyan-needs-to-succeed-but-questions-remain-about-methods/), most of the present damages to the rule of law and social peace had been anticipated in August 2018. Warnings have been expressed further by the author about the unjustified assaults against the principles of the rule of law.

The obstinate claim by the Executive to continue a “revolutionary” process and the echoing of it by some isolated and radical forces in Armenia or from some individuals sitting in their cozy salons in France or the USA, are just irrelevant and irresponsible. One must wonder in what respect the fight against corruption, the necessity of which is not challenged, may serve to cope with the newly emerged dangers. The confiscation of alleged “illegal property” from some people aims more at bailing out the exhausted public finances of Armenia, whose government redistributes cash money to some categories of people. For the last two years, the investigation into alleged unlawful enrichment of former politicians or oligarchs revealed disappointments in terms of achievements; the results are not proportionate to the ambitious forecasts of the government and its related judiciary efforts. One may hardly avoid seeing that redistribution as political clientelism: a price to pay for continued support of the “people,” but a short-sighted policy which does not solve the fundamental structural reforms and investments that are needed to build the future. Solidarity is needed more than ever, especially for people who will suffer from the current crisis, while the shortage of public money should drive the government to invest appropriately and cleverly in order to reconcile the requirements both of the country’s emergencies and its future economy.

The Ruling Authority’s Strange Conception of Democracy

Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan gave a speech at the National Assembly on February 6, 2020 wherein he emphasized at its end (after arguing for the dismissal of judges of the Constitutional Court) that democracy in Armenia has no alternative and is irreversible. One can only agree with this.

Meanwhile, it must be said first of all that democracy is no longer the exclusive criteria of good state governance in the international public order. Fair and free elections don’t guarantee respect for fundamental rights.

In a report adopted by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly at World Summit Outcome in 2005, the Secretary-General of the UN noted that “while freedom from want and fear are essential they are not enough. All human beings have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.” Such dignity and respect are afforded to people through the enjoyment of all human rights and are protected through the rule of law. Democracy, development and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

For example, Turkey is a democracy but it does not respect the rule of law, and tens of thousands of political opponents are in jail. Israel is a democratic country but its “constitution” indicates that if every citizen has human rights, national rights in Israel belong only to the Jewish people (On July 19, 2018, after a stormy debate which lasted for hours, the Knesset approved the Nation-State Bill by a vote of 62 in favor, 55 against. Those against denounced this “apartheid” based fundamental law). We could mention multiple examples of that kind.

In the Armenian context, one may question further the current “democratic” practice.  Is the secretive decision to double the salaries of the ministers last year or the recent personal decision of the prime minister to raise the salaries of public servants, without referring to the parliament, the ruling authorities’ conception of democracy? For a man who built his credit on transparency and supposedly respect for democratic values, the “people” must be blind or deaf, as they were when they accepted bribes for votes in the past.

In the parliament, democracy has also a strange flavor: the majority does not accept any challenge or discussion about the draft laws. The ruling party has reduced to silence the Prosperous Armenia party (BHK), the second largest party in the Parliament, thanks to legal proceedings pursued by the Prosecutor General against one of the business lieutenants of Gagik Tsarukyan. Bright Armenia Party (LHK) members, who are apparently spared by legal proceedings, try to play their normal role of opposition force in the parliament, by challenging and discussing the draft laws. They are now targets of insults and provocations from the ruling party members.

The infringements on freedom of expression are not accidental. Official attempts to restrict it have gone unnoticed by the public at large. At the occasion of the coronavirus outbreak and in the aftermath of state emergency measures, the Republic of Armenia rushed to register on March 19 a derogatory statement at the Human Rights Committee in Geneva and at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, in regard to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to the European Convention provisions respectively.  Noteworthy is the section addressing the restrictions over mass-media, where it is clearly written that public dissemination, transfer of publications, information materials, interviews, reports on epidemics “must not contradict the official information and shall reproduce it as far as possible”; a genuine  Bolshevik formulation. Even if the Armenian media reacted in a very opportune and mature manner (the prime minister finally suspended the implementation of those restrictive measures on freedom of expression), the derogation is still valid until the state emergency ends. When one links this measure to heavy criticism by the government of mass media, supposedly belonging en masse to former governments’ members or protégés, then one must worry about the spirit and intent  revealed by that administrative measure, especially in the current rising climate of violence in political life. Among the few states that have declared such derogations (Albania, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, North Montenegro, Moldova, Romania, San Marino, and Serbia), Armenia is the only one to have derogated from the freedom of expression (see https://www.coe.int/en/web/conventions/full-list/-/conventions/treaty/005/declarations?p_auth=rEz0z5lP)

Government is the Primary Legal Guarantor against Violence in the Public Sphere

A vindictive and violent tone is present in official speech since August 2018. This behavior worsened month after month with a divisive policy between the good and the bad, and the revolutionary and anti-revolutionary. It resulted in the exacerbation of aggressive and extremist behaviors in society, among supporters and opponents of Pashinyan. It also materialized in breaches of the rule of law.

First, by alleging that the judiciary, the police, the National Security Service (NSS) and all the former executives appointed by the former governments are all corrupt, and secondly by alleging that seven judges of the Constitutional Court must be dismissed by any means, even anti-constitutional, because they are hindering the revolutionary process, although nobody explained how they could or do hinder it. Within the last two weeks, we witnessed two vice-prime ministers involved in street brawls (Alen Simonyan and Tigran Avinyan), and on May 8, a general brawl in the parliament, similar to the ones that we usually observe in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey; a shameful symbol in itself.

It must be reminded that governments and the rulers are responsible in international law for any speech or behavior inciting to violence, whatever form it takes. Arman Tatoyan, the Republic of Armenia’s ombudsman rightly recalled (on May 9) that persons holding public office and carrying out relevant activities should show restraint in their political or other terms and not allow themselves words that generate hatred and cause tension.

The violence is omnipresent and growing in Armenian society: still too many non-elucidated non-combat deaths in the army (13 since 1st January 2020), the tabooed domestic violence against women, the social inequalities violence, the recent violent campaign by MPs against the Catholicos of All Armenians, a recent bloody and open settlement of scores between rival gangs in the streets of Gavar, unexplained “suicides” of the former chief of police or NSS deputy director, and other assassinations due to feudal rulings in the provinces are reflective of that violence. The words and behavior of officials at executive and legislative levels are setting wrong examples for society. The prime minister used at least twice the language of violence against members of civil society. The first target was the “Sasna Tsrer” party members who were threatening to use force to push their ideas and the second the former Republican Party people. Whether it is proper to react is not the issue, but the tone and words of violence or threat of violence are.

Hence, Mister Prime Minister, you are wrong in accusing others of provoking or plotting, or in trying to find roots of provocations following the recent draft law “On Confiscation of Illegally Acquired Property.” I don’t say that your opponents are innocent and passive victims, but you should wonder if all this is not the result of your methods and own behaviors and words. As head of state, you are invested politically and legally with some obligations. The creation of such a climate of violence in the Republic of Armenia is your direct responsibility and you should have kept your head level for the last two years. You recognized your responsibility after the parliament brawl, and this is fair enough. It is time for retrospective assessment of your global politics.

This political crisis is now doubled by an even more threatening situation in the immediate future: the collapse of the economy and employment.

The Shock Will Be Terrible but Manageable If Society Is Reconciled

The international political and economic situation shows that the premises for a global war, both economic and military, are getting serious and closer. The coronavirus crisis accelerates this process. One must remember that the depression of the 1930s was only halted by increasing tension as the Second World War loomed. Major Western countries are getting heavily indebted to face the consequences of this unexpected world-wide pandemic crisis, and everybody knows that most countries will not recover the same level of economy soon, for economic growth models may change due to the alteration of consumption and working behaviors, but also because of the drastic reduction of international trade, travel and exchanges. Western countries will move towards re-localization of strategic industries and will keep their borders closed. Many countries’ economies will collapse, including the ones rich in natural raw materials because of low demand and low prices for the latter.

The economic shock will be terrible for Armenia; a landlocked and partly blockaded country, with a very small industrial infrastructure, will suffer most. Tourism season is jeopardized. It must be noted that many articles have been published recently in the Armenian press pointing to the dangers of the situation. Among others is the dark forecast of Andranik Tevanyan, who suggests that Armenia will be in a crisis situation because of coronavirus socioeconomic consequences at least until 2022 and that this will lead to security consequences (https://mamul.am/am/news/177731).

Armen Gevorgyan, the former Chief of Staff of Presidents R. Kocharyan and S. Sarkisyan, wrote a very comprehensive analysis of the upcoming consequences of the crisis for the Armenian economy and more importantly he proposed a very professional and pragmatic action plan, open to discussion (https://www.tert.am/am/news/2020/04/23/armen-gevorgyan/3270879). The positive attitude of Gevorgyan, while legal proceedings are ongoing against him, is constructive and worthy of a true statesman.

He further adds that “there are very few people in Armenia who know the strategic issues of the country and can imagine their possible solutions.” In other words, he creates a positive environment and calls for a debate in society (he mentioned some names who already contributed to it) and he firmly believes that whatever the controversial atmosphere in Armenia today, Armenia has the human resources to cope with the inevitable economic recession.

Irresponsible Reconsideration of Strategic Alliances

It is rather distressing to watch some politicians and political forces in Armenia bet on the support of the USA or Europe to get rid of Russian influence. It is foolish and suicidal to continue thinking in that direction, more than ever. At least one political party is maneuvering openly toward a divorce with Russia. Their connections to Washington are not a secret but one should wonder if those people still possess their minds. They are the same ones calling for the continuation of the revolutionary process by using more radical methods against the former rulers.

The international politics of the USA is the major threat to peace and international order. The US executive, which fears to lose its leadership, continues even more insistently to play with fire, conducting a new type of war with China, refuses multilateralism, and challenges all international institutions, starting from the UN ones, including international jurisdictions. President Trump used his veto to prevent Congress from tying his hands for engaging in wars. The US delegation refused on May 8 to adopt the Security Council resolution for cessation of any military hostility until the coronavirus crisis ends. In other words, the US is preparing very obviously hostile actions in the Middle East, but also in other regions of the world. Venezuela experienced it already. Iran and its Middle East proxies are clear targets, in order to secure the announced annexation of Palestinian West Bank territories by Israel.

The international public order, as conceived after the Second World War, thanks to the UN Charter, is broken and that’s why the world is becoming dangerous.

At the doors of Armenia, its neighbors Turkey and Azerbaijan, which are in a troubled financial situation, are also increasing their threats against Armenia. The remedy is well known: if you have domestic issues, nothing better than a war. In the middle of this global crisis and shortage of financial means, no significant help could be expected by remote Western partners.

Turkey, which is financially exhausted, is coming back to the US fold, as Edmond Azadian rightly commented recently in his column (https://mirrorspectator.com/2020/05/07/us-turkey-relations-gradually-warming-up/). It was to be expected sooner or later. Russia is and remains its historical enemy.

Russia is and must remain the strategic ally of Armenia, not only because the country’s economy and security depends on it, but because the history of this alliance is resilient. One must not forget that the Russian Empire in the 19th century was empowered by the powerful European countries to protect the Armenian populations. The Western countries, which tried to implement new autonomy measures for the Armenian provinces in the Ottoman Empire at the eve of the 1915 genocide, fled the scene when the First World War broke out. We all know that these countries denounced the massacres and deportations but did not do anything to stop them, except Russia, which engaged militarily in the eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire. In the negotiation process over the NKR dispute settlement, the leadership of Russia is not disputed. Neither the USA, nor France, questions that matter of fact. Reconsidering the alliance with Russia today is just irresponsible and not an option.

In order to be respected as an equal partner by Russia, and to put an end to vassalage, Armenia must be reliable in good and bad times and respect its word. Recent attacks against Russia for wrong reasons are not acceptable. The Russian economy is on the verge of collapse too, and Gazprom, like other oil and gas companies, has dark prospects in the short term due to brutal price and demand collapses on the energy market. To speculate that the Gazprom price increase is political retaliation is unfair, since Armenia was privileged so far by prices greatly below market, and one must remember that. The announcement that Armenia will not renew its loan agreement with Russia for the maintenance and upgrade of the nuclear plant came out as another surprise move from the Armenian side. Does Armenia have another partner for that? One can doubt it, since the European Union has always made clear in all its partnership agreements that Armenia must cease all operations at Medzamor.

The NKR Settlement Strategy Must Be the Object of a National Concord

As for the recent speculation concerning Lavrov’s statement about the Minsk settlement process, it must be said that present and past Armenian authorities never explained to the “people” the real meaning of agreements in the framework of the Minsk process negotiations over Nagorno-Karabakh. No one can doubt that Armenian diplomacy is discussing and putting forth new proposals for the integration of NKR representatives into the negotiation process and for drafting a new agreement privileging a one-stage and final settlement of the dispute, where the physical security of NKR Armenians is the key objective. However, the phased-approach settlement, currently stressed by Azerbaijani and Russian authorities, is a reality. In fact, the principles were agreed upon and they clearly plan a phased process and a self-determination process, in the meaning of international law, i.e. respecting the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. This is a fact. I have concluded one year ago that the Minsk process must be stopped by the Armenian authorities, if the principles on which it relies do not correspond any longer to Armenia’s and NKR wishes (https://mirrorspectator.com/2019/03/07/the-minsk-process-behind-the-words-and-principles/.) This kind of decision is serious and cannot be taken without national unity and consensus.

The risk of global and regional war is real, and if war is to burst out again between Azerbaijan and Armenia, which seems to be the option envisaged by the Azerbaijani side, then it is better to withdraw from the current process, premised on the Madrid principles, recognize the independence of NKR and engage in the annexation of at least one corridor. In any case, that kind of decision requires thorough discussion and clear approval from all political forces and former national leaders. The poor performance of Armenian leadership in the duelling with a well-prepared and very self-confident President Ilham Alyev in a discussion held on February 15, 2020 in Munich is rather worrying and revealed uncertainty in the strategy, bad arguments, and defensive stance. It is not granted to everyone to have the right caliber and stature to conduct such a difficult negotiation process alone, especially when one has to navigate between many contradicting and adversarial conditions.  Dealing with the upcoming military provocations and threats will also require adequate responses

That remark advocates once more and definitively for a complete and immediate change of prime ministerial politics, all centered at present on anti-corruption and witch-hunt. President Ter Petrosyan wrote an opportune article in March requesting the suspension of parliamentary investigation into the early April 2016 war and suggesting calming down the political hostility between today’s ruling team and the two former presidents’ teams, because of the current pandemic crisis.

My suggestion goes far beyond this message, because the situation requires exceptional measures and initiatives. The social and political instability and violence, the inevitable economic collapse and the real threats of war with neighboring Azerbaijan advocate in favor of a national concord.

Without interference in the daily management of the government, my modest suggestions are:

  • For President Armen Sarkissian to convene a consultative meeting with the three former presidents, the prime minister, the NKR authorities and any relevant political parties or experts in order to discuss and conclude an agreement for the conclusion of a pact of national concord on strategic and security issues that include our alliances, the NKR issue and the threats of war.
  • For former Presidents Ter Petrosyan, Kocharyan and Sargsyan and Prime Minister Pashinyan to accept sitting together around the same table.
  • For Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to form a commission of experienced people, who offer assistance for the drafting of an emergency action plan to reduce as much as possible the effects of the pandemic crisis over the economy, and avoid major social chaos and a new massive emigration flow (when borders will be opened again).

Everything should be undertaken to stop the ongoing domestic self-destructive process, and on the contrary bring all political forces to agree on security fundamentals in this very troubled period.

May 11, 2020

[Philippe Raffi Kalfayan, based in Paris, is a lawyer, lecturer in International Law and a former Secretary General of FIDH (International Federation of Human Rights). He is a regular columnist for the Mirror-Spectator.]

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: