By Edmond Y. Azadian

Armenia attained its independence some three decades ago, and it has yet to find a way to successfully use that independence to further its goals.

Crisis after crisis have upset the country, hindering its economic recovery and forcing mass emigration.

The country is located in a very unstable region, requiring the utmost prudence to navigate through the extant political dangers. Additionally, two hostile neighbors are posing existential threats. Therefore, external dangers would have been enough to keep Armenians alert and ready to fight for their survival, but unfortunately, internal turmoil has come to exacerbate the situation. Currently there is extreme political polarization, in addition to the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic; the two have brought the country to its knees.

The Velvet Revolution, which took place two years ago, promised to end injustice and corruption in the country and to help it develop along modern democratic ideals. My Step, the party of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, which came to power with the support of 70 percent of voters, still enjoys an unchallenged popularity. Pashinyan himself promised to enforce “no vendetta” toward the previous regime. Yet, the momentum of the popular movement that he mobilized and rode to the country’s highest office, seems to have overwhelmed him.

In order to motivate his supporters in the current economic downturn, he has had to demonize the old regime and its leaders.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

After assuming power, he could no longer act as the rabble-rouser politician. To run a government apparatus, he was required to demonstrate statesmanship. Similarly, to deal with foreign powers, his journalistic style and populist activism had to be tamed. Therefore, he began to make adjustments in his behavior and policies, but the masses that followed him, continued to seek blood.

For the majority of those people, the former leaders have to be exterminated at any cost and they began showing impatience when their leader was not using all the tools at his disposal to publicly execute them. A segment of the masses was disappointed and began asking how long the velvet part of the revolution would last.

On the other hand, the members of the ousted regime felt threatened and reacted.

The growing discontent contributed to the polarization of the country. Animosities were personalized and that personalization was further aggravated by the rise of new parties that had no specific ideologies or political agendas; at best, they had the personal agendas of their founders. Therefore, what the country needed to do in order to recover was overlooked for the sake of seeking personal retribution.

A convenient target of the ire was the second president, Robert Kocharyan. Kocharyan was certainly no angel, but it is a fallacy is that his punishment would help improve the plight of the people one iota.

Another demonized individual has been Hrayr Tovmasyan, the president of the Constitutional Court. The Pashinyan government did not leave any legal stone unturned to oust him from office. Again, was that a matter of bread and butter for the average citizen? Certainly not, but animosities went beyond the national good, just to hurt those who symbolized the old regime.

Robert Kocharyan’s continued pre-trial incarceration on charges of overthrowing the constitutional order of Armenia was beginning to have foreign policy reverberations. President Vladimir Putin of Russia signaled more than once that he wanted to see his old friend released from jail.

With the upcoming World War II 75th anniversary victory celebration in Moscow on the horizon, Mr. Pashinyan felt that further tensions with Moscow would be more than what he could handle. Indeed, one by one, the heads of the former Soviet republics were excusing themselves from participating in the celebrations. Pashinyan also canceled his trip to Moscow.

No matter how much the administration denies that it does not exert any pressure on the courts, only this month the courts agreed to set bail for Kocharyan and the latter’s wealthy friends posted it and thus he was released. Also, the denial of an arrest warrant for opposition leader Gagik Tsarukyan signaled to Moscow that Yerevan will not pile up the cases that anger Russia.

Members of Tsarukyan’s party made a visit to the Russian embassy in Yerevan after he was stripped of his parliamentary immunity last week.

The focus on Tsarukyan’s misdeeds just surfaced recently. He had been a friend of the revolution and joined Pashinyan and entered the parliament with 25 members of his Prosperous Armenia Party. After his recent fallout with the prime minister, he called for the resignation of the government. He is crying wolf and accusing the government of a political vendetta.

Tsarukyan may have trampled some laws during the previous regime in terms of election fraud and tax evasion, but he employs thousands of people in an economy had pressed for investments. Prosecuting Tsarukyan will discourage other investors and entrepreneurs. But the people who have mobilized to devour the old talanchis (looters) as they are called, are blinded to the damage they cause to the country and its economy.

Overlooking all the problems facing Armenia, the government was mobilizing all its resources to hold a referendum on a new constitution on April 5, in order to get rid of Tovmasyan. The pandemic put an end to the referendum and they needed to come up with another route.

On June 22, the parliament voted to change the constitution after seeking advice from the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. But that will prove to be a Pyrrhic victory, because the move will go half way, leaving Tovmasyan still on the bench, only as a judge, not as its president. Indeed, three out of nine members who had served for more than 12 years will resign and be replaced by this new regime. New appointees will certainly refrain from electing Tovmasyan, who is slated to serve out the balance of his 12-year-term as president.

Tovmasyan held a preemptive special session of the Constitutional Court on June 22 to discuss the constitutionality of the charges Kocharyan faces.

The tone of the rhetoric in the news media and the vulgar exchanges hurled on social media are beyond comprehension. Polished discourse at this time can be only described as a conversation among people who have stuck their fingers in their ears.

The issue of a truth and reconciliation committee has been raised in this column more than once. Following the collapse of the apartheid system in South Africa, national reconciliation was achieved through that process. At this time, the divide in Armenia is so deep and the rhetoric so incendiary that there seems to be no room for dialogue.

For the government party, unless you express unadulterated adulation for the chief, you are a traitor. And vice versa.

All disenfranchised groups are banding together, without any ideology, to fight the government when Armenia can least afford that kind of instability and partisanship.

Pashinyan himself is trying to steer the country toward the middle of the road, but to no avail. He just recently replaced the police chiefs, heads of security and the army, because there was a rumor of a planned uprising. He has to balance domestic forces and realign the country’s foreign policy.

The members of the new government have been trying to push Armenia away from Russia, with no alternative in place.

Armenia is in a crisis and no peaceful end is in sight. Although President Armen Sarkissian only has a ceremonial role, his presence during the transition of the regime helped to prevent clashes between the two camps. That role today is needed more than ever. It is time for him to emerge as a conciliator.

The country can use some wisdom from President Abraham Lincoln who admonished that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: