By Philippe Raffi Kalfayan 

From the outset, I wanted to make clear that my analysis and opinions are based solely on the defense of principles and are not related to partisan interests. This point of view has led me to take personal public positions: against the constitutional reform of 2015 in which Serge Sargsyan sought the post of prime minister in early 2018, after serving as president. I launched an international petition in support of the peaceful demonstrations in April 2018 and praised the strategy that allowed then Member of Parliament Nikol Pashinyan, a longtime vocal opponent of the regime, to come to power.

Very early (mid-August 2018), I raised an alarm about the unsuitable revolutionary method used by the new prime minister, supported by an authoritarian and divisive discourse which relied on challenging the rule of law. Since then, I have regularly denounced the repeated attacks on the rule of law and the Constitution. It is in the name of these principles that I consider that the Pashinyan chapter must be closed.

The policy of hatred and division advocated by the prime minister is one that a small country cannot afford for objective reasons, including the outbreak of an intergenerational conflict. Yet, he continues the process of destroying traditional democratic institutions established since independence. The fight against corruption was beneficial for the electoral elections of December 2018. It could have been the basis for a transparent and public questioning, through the establishment of a truth commission, of the unjust enrichment of former members of the government. Pashinyan has made it, on the contrary, a means of extortion, or worse, blackmail, to silence any political opposition. In any event, it has resulted in an autocratic trend.

Pashinyan is hostage to his personal obsessions and is unchecked as he ignores all the constitutional safeguards. He has concentrated all power and has eliminated any opposing voices. A position of power without a system of checks and balances makes one easily blind, deaf and arrogant. It leads to a dangerous position not just for Armenia, but for Armenians.

The assault on the rule of law and its institutions in Armenia is comparable to that of Poland. On May 25, the European Parliament published a draft interim report denouncing unprecedented breaches of the rule of law in a EU country. The report denounced the usurpation of the powers of constitutional revision by the Polish parliament, the use of expedited legislative procedures, and total control of the judiciary by the Executive. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the former president, rules the majority party at the Dieta (the Polish Parliament). He is the real power behind the government and controls the National Assembly, all layers of Justice, and Public Media.

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Political change is the only way to envisage a gradual development of Armenian democracy. However, the prime minister does not seek it, and he does everything in his power to destroy any political opposition on behalf of the “people” without having received a mandate for it. In my last article (https://mirrorspectator.com/2020/05/11/national-concord-plan-needed-to-save-armenia/) I called for a pact of national concord, justified by economic and national security threats ahead of us. The prime minister did not care. He crossed the red line, as did Sargsyan when he ran for prime minister after constitutional reform despite contrary signals. This Pashinyan chapter must therefore close.

The Rule of Unlawfulness and Irresponsibility

The political and social situation in Armenia is appalling. Its leader has divided the country like never before. The rule of law no longer exists, a de facto single-party parliamentary regime (because it controls 2/3 majority) adopts unconstitutional laws to take control of the last institutional power guaranteeing the rule of law, the Judiciary, although no situation occurred to indicate that the justices have misused their offices or hindered judicial reforms.

The next target will be the media. As reported in my last article, the law on the state of emergency has given birth to official restriction of the freedom of information, worthy of the finest pages of Bolshevism. While the law has not been implemented yet, the recent summons of journalists by the National Security Services (SSN) and the official threat of eventually implementing it are signs of tension again, mirroring the nervousness of the Executive.

The government of Armenia anticipated this situation from the start of the COVID-19 crisis: it disseminated among international institutions a statement for derogation from the rights and freedoms protected respectively by the European Convention on Human Rights and by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights from March 16, 2020 and this exemption is renewed regularly every month at the request of Armenia. It is the only country among the 47 in the Council of Europe to have dared to abrogate media freedom.

Even worse is that the Executive does not assume its responsibilities. The pandemic is progressing in an uncontrolled manner across the country, while the government does not question its point person, Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan and his crisis management strategy. Instead, the blame is put on the “people” and on the political opposition and media sponsored by the opponents. Beyond the absurdity of this accusation (as if opponents care less for their loved ones), the behavior of the “people” is the excuse. The latter’s opinions were to be used in a referendum for the adoption of constitutional amendments, but ultimately the prime minister, who continues to claim his legitimacy on behalf of the people, does not seem to have enough confidence in the loyalty of the very same people to go through with the referendum. The excuse is the pandemic. Proof of this fear to assume responsibility is the example of the Amulsar gold mine: the situation has been in a persistent vegetative state for both environmental protection advocates and investors.

The failure to impose a new framework for the settlement of the Karabakh (Artsakh) negotiation, while diplomatic pressures to resolve the Karabakh conflict are getting more insistent, is not masked by self-serving statements. The excuse this time is easier to spot: Azeri President Ilham Aliyev. Pashinyan is directly calling on the “people” of Azerbaijan to blame Aliyev.

Prime Minister Pashinyan’s approach to “neutralize” former President Robert Kocharyan and the Constitutional Court illustrate to what extent his mode of governance has little to do with legality. Advisory opinions have been requested from the European Court of Human Rights (on the government’s alleged retroactive application of the law aimed at convicting Kocharyan for the attempt to forcibly overthrow the regime) and the Venice Commission (on the legality of the amendments aimed at putting an end to the mandate of some judges of the Constitutional Court). Despite strong pressure from the Armenian government, the conclusions of those consultations are not sufficiently assertive in the way the Armenian government hoped; hence, the latter is taking radical measures even before the Armenian judges in office can use these opinions to form their decisions. This explains the rush by the authorities to have a single party in parliament adopt (it has the quorum necessary to do so) a law with immediate effects to change the composition of the Constitutional Court, depriving the Armenian president of its power to promulgate the law for the occasion, bypassing the control of constitutionality of the said law, and not respecting the due administrative process to notify the concerned justices. Realizing the latter mistake, the Parliament hastily adopted new amendments on June 30, but this time the President indicated to the Parliament Speaker that he will not sign the adopted amendments.

All these unimaginable and open violations of the constitution deepen the crisis and show the mediocrity of the ruling executives. It is an incredibly humiliating situation for Armenia vis-à-vis foreign observers and a weakening of foreign policy, where democracy is a component of Armenia’s diplomatic sales pitch.

Pashinyan has adopted paranoia: he no longer has confidence in anyone, and his circle is narrowing steadily. We are witnessing an incredible turnover among the department heads, ministers, Army staff officers and ambassadors. And his cabinet is not spared, either. Nobody knows whether all those executives are sacked because of corruption or because of alleged sympathies towards former ruling circles. The circle of trust is almost reduced to the family, and the latter intervenes more and more in Armenian public life.

Parliamentary democracy no longer exists. The majority party does not accept any challenge or discussion of bills or criticism of the government and they have enough members to adopt any desired law without the participation of minority opposition blocs. The opposition parties have boycotted the Parliament for the laws amending the Constitution and the Parliament has become a notary for the Executive.

There is an open attempt to silence the Prosperous Armenia party (BHK), thanks to legal proceedings initiated first against one of Gagik Tsarukyan’s commercial lieutenants, then against that latter when he dared to demand the resignation of the prime minister. The coincidence of the proceedings has not escaped anyone. Since this is not enough, the prime minister has started threatening all political forces who may be tempted to challenge his power in the future or who criticize his policy in the management of the health crisis.

The Republican Party has been the first target, and more surprisingly the ARF has become the victim of a rant strangely reminiscent of that of President Levon Ter Petrossian 28 years ago, from an era that was thought to be over. Furthermore, the speech reveals inconsistent: the ARF is quoted as being nothing and with no political future, and promised to end up in the dustbin of history, on one hand, but obviously still influential enough to justify an all-out attack.

The Role of the Diaspora

The diaspora has relapsed into passivity. The same people, cautious at the idea of supporting the peaceful protests against Sargsyan two years ago, are now in the opposite camp: they turn a blind eye to the excesses of Pashinyan. Let’s not talk about those who have a very partisan conception of human rights and freedoms. We can no longer hear them. Others openly express their partiality: the deaths of March 1, 2008 would require the conviction and the incarceration of a head of state but the the members of the commandos of “Sasna Tsrer” who killed three police officers would not deserve to be tried and imprisoned.

But the most important element of the analysis lies elsewhere. The Armenian nation is attacked on several fronts by Turkey as never before. These threats are serious because Turkey operates in freewheeling manner, without brakes. Its neo-Ottoman ambitions are unsurprisingly verified. Turkey has managed to impose its will on both the United States and Russia, after having humiliated Europe and NATO. It intervenes militarily in several countries in defiance of international law (it is not the only country in this case). The Kurds are the first victims of this approach.

Regarding the treatment of Armenians, the strategy is twofold. First, Turkey intends to intensify its official activities against the international recognition campaigns of the Armenian Genocide in order to improve its image. The recent announcement of a new operative structure for this purpose is nothing new. Such structures have existed since the 1960s, often in discreet or even secret form. What is new, however, is the institutionalization of the structure and the mobilization of substantial academic and legal resources for its operation.

The second front is that of Karabakh. Turkish support for Azerbaijan has taken on a new tone, in line with its policy of military intervention and its desire for political unity with the Turkish peoples of Central Asia. Turkey has made it clear that if Azerbaijan takes military action to regain its claimed territory, then Turkey will support it. The proven links between Turkey and certain branches of Muslim fundamentalism, including certain jihadist groups (the new leader of Daesh is Turkmen), may pose serious risks.

Hence we come to the link with the internal situation of Armenia. It is trivial to say that the internal division weakens the diplomatic and military defense of Armenia. What the diaspora does not see or refuses to see, in particular when it relates to its structures acting for Armenian affairs (recognition of the Genocide, penalization of Genocide denial, independence of Artsakh, etc.) is that all these actions will never succeed without the Armenian state and its diplomacy acting in unison and in communion with the diaspora. Today, this consciousness and awareness are not yet a reality, neither in Armenia nor in the diaspora. The current accepted scope of the Armenian Cause by the Armenian State is limited to support for diplomatic action in favor of international recognition of the Genocide. It is not specific to Pashinyan, but nothing changed for the better since he came to power.

I have advocated since the beginning of the 2010s a radical change of strategy concerning the Armenian Cause. There is no doubt in my mind that the resolution of certain components of the Armenian Cause, in particular the question of collective reparations for the Armenian Genocide and the settlement of dispute between Turkey and the Armenians, relies exclusively upon the Republic of Armenia. There is no solution without the leadership and active participation of the Armenian state in the resolution of these problems. Turkey and its supporters clearly agree with this viewpoint.

Contrary to popular belief, the diaspora is less essential for the resolution of these questions but more useful for the institutional and economic strengthening of the Armenian State, in particular through its representative or lobbying structures. The diaspora is a unique asset that very few states possess. One fact is certain: the fate of these two entities is mutually dependent.

That is why I consider it a priority to solve the domestic political crisis and consolidate the state around a pan-Armenian policy. The more time elapses, the more chances for reparation claims vanish. For two years there has been no discussion with the diaspora about all those strategic issues and we must deduce from this that there is no interest. The only campaigning relates to the call upon the diaspora to provide economic and financial support to Armenia, but without any trade-offs on the political plane. This is the retrograde policy of old times.

A recent editorial in a French Armenian online publication wonders whether the diaspora should interfere in the political life of the Republic of Armenia. The partiality of the reasoning proved that, by failing to tackle this question globally, the intention is precisely to prevent voices speaking for or against Pashinyan. Meanwhile, an earlier editorial in the same paper unhesitatingly advocated the pursuit of the revolution!

Considering the interdependent fate of Armenia and the diaspora, we need to make sure the rule of law governs Armenia, regardless of whoever or whichever party is in power, since the advancement of major issues relating to the Armenian question depends on the will and policy of the Armenian State. I propose that specific duties are conferred upon the diaspora to intervene in Armenia’s domestic politics to put an end to this self-destructive situation, which at the same time paralyzes pan-Armenian affairs.

Paris, 30 June 2020

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