A Public Address by
RAFFI K. HOVANNISIAN
October 5, 2005
Distinguished guests, dear colleagues:
In 1994, when we were founding the Armenian Center for National and International Studies, I saw the creation and consolidation of a mature civil society in Armenia as the key for solving most problems facing the nation. Indeed, at that time we already had a body politic that was the first to move against the powerful Soviet empire, defending the national integrity and human rights that were being violated in Artsakh. The decade past, however, has demonstrated that our people, which is capable of uniting against external danger, is often defenseless against its internal enemies.
Who are those enemies? First and foremost, they are unbridled and endemic corruption, legalized arbitrariness, growing poverty and the predictable consequence of emigration, as well as our shaken trust and a readiness to conform with lawlessness. All this, naturally, causes widespread disappointment, hopelessness, and finally public apathy and skepticism toward any and all reform.
A striking reflection of this is the current package of constitutional amendments. The people are uninterested in these changes, because for the ordinary citizen it makes no difference whether the present Constitution is violated or its revised version. The examples are self-evident, as under the guise of high talk about the states “eminent domain” and the rule of law, today in downtown Yerevan the authorities are forcibly evicting the residents of several historic neighborhoods without paying them appropriate compensation, thus for their own private gain infringing upon the constitutional rights to proprietorship and secure residence. They are throwing them out in order to build “elite” homes for the self-proclaimed “upper crust.” It is also a result of this very cynicism that scores of trees were cut down in the capitals most prominent public park and in their place a private but government-connected complex was constructed next to the Tomb and Eternal Flame of the Unknown Soldier, commemorating the quarter of a million Armenians who gave their lives during World War II.
Todays rulers, who are filled with scorn for their own people and heritage, are using the Constitution of the country for cheap propaganda purposes. A mere two years ago, the regime was intransigent in resisting societal and international demands for a real equilibrium among the branches of government, judicial independence, and the direct election of the mayor of Yerevan. In the end being compelled partially to fulfill those requirements, and that under pressure of a European commission, it now is aspiring to present itself as the bearer of European values and the opposition as the adversaries of democracy.
I would like to remind you that in 1991, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Armenia, I had the honor of authoring Armenias first application to the Council of Europe, which became the initial step in the countrys diplomatic approach to European Union membership. And today, as a citizen and public participant, I consider as top priority Armenias EU accession within the next 10-15 years, before all of our neighbors. And for that very reason we must steer clear of decisions that defame the country, against which there are no political, economic, or societal safeguards currently in place. Instead, let us work immediately to realize the systemic transformation of the nation and its horizons.
You all know how eagerly and seriously the draft European Constitution was recently being discussed by the European Union countries. People clearly understood that the destiny of their states is dependent on their will and the choices they make. Here, however, its exactly the opposite. The people are virtually uninformed about the proposed version of constitutional amendments, and therefore hold no confidence in the initiators of the reforms or the whole process in general.
These proffered improvements will remain a mere word game as long as the most basic and universal precept—the separation of executive, legislative, and judicial authority—has not become a reality. All this can be brought to life only by an administration that has received a broad public mandate through free and fair elections. Until that day comes to pass, the constitutional changes will simply be reminiscent of an unsuccessful attempt quickly to hide the cracks of an old and run-down building by means of “European-style remodeling.”
In aspiring for Europe we must not disregard our immediate region where equally essential processes are underway, but the authorities and their public or alternative news media ignore or are incapable of analyzing them. There is total silence, for instance, on the recent transfer of political power in Iran, which carries huge significance for the entire region and Armenia in particular. I would like to invite our peoples attention onto two circumstances. First, the organizational transparency of the elections overall and specifically in the tabulation of the results, which should be an important lesson for all of us. Second, the benchmarks of social justice and equality, which became the formula of triumph for the newly-elected president. This too is something to learn from, and the relevant conclusions must be drawn primarily by Armenias rulers, who tend to replace serious and measured contemplation about the causes and consequences of revolutions “of color” in the post-Soviet expanse with pompous declarations regarding seeming stability and the absence of danger. Political myopia and provincial arrogance already have created and still can cause great problems for our country.
If developments in Iran, no matter how unpredictable they might appear, are in the past, then we must pay closer attention to the parliamentary elections soon to be held in Azerbaijan. It is manifest that in that country the slogans of democracy will become more applicable within the context of the redistribution of proceeds from its petroleum reserves. Nonetheless, it is equally obvious that should the possible redistribution of power take place in Azerbaijan under the supervision of international observers and with their ultimate approval, then our country might find itself facing a crisis of not only economic, but also political and even comprehensive ideological isolation, with all adverse consequences accruing therefrom. By the example of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, the construction and operation of which were long cast in doubt by the authorities, they have proven their incapacity to make political calculations. And now the same story is recurring in the case of the Kars-Akhalkalak railway, as the administration responds to this new jeopardy of blockade by sole resort to soothing commentaries.
And what are the ways for the country to overcome this deadend? The means are clear: strengthening bonds with old friends and continuously working toward gaining new allies. I became convinced of this yet once more during my recent trips to Athens and Warsaw and throughout my meetings with Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, Lech Walesa, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Madeleine Albright, Manuel D. Barroso, and numerous other influential figures. The international conference marking the Solidarity movements 25 th anniversary was especially significant for the Western search for levers of influence in our region, with special emphasis placed on the Poland-Ukraine-Georgia formative axis. It would be our impermissible mistake to stay away from these strategic developments, always taking into account our vital national interests and sovereignty of state.
This summer the world was shocked by the attacks of terror in London. The voices of Armenia and Armenians were all but unheard among the many which condemned those violent acts. We must not forget that at the crossroads of the clash of civilizations, in the struggle waged for human values and liberty, the Armenians and Armenia have fought for centuries and earned a unique experience of checking evil and preserving identity. Today, on the other hand, the Armenian leaders ineptitude in taking our decisive say on the anti-terrorism front to the world and duly underscoring our commitment is sidelining the nation from global developments and is belittling the value and meaning of our casualties to the common cause. As a result of the passivity and narrowness of the authorities, the next in a series of chances has been lost for drawing the perfect parallel between the universal campaign against international terrorism and Artsakhs fight for freedom. It was the opportune time to remind the civilized world that, only a few years ago, the people of Artsakh who were battling for their right to live also had come face to face with Afghan mujahaddins and mercenary pilots bombing civilian targets in peaceful towns. By failing to present to the world the captured foreign mercenaries and the documents confiscated from them as hard evidence of our noteworthy contribution to the war on international terror, the mediocre official and his obsequious diplomacy once again turned out to be spineless.
And while abroad they were telling duplicitous tales about their own integrity, they failed widely to publicize the fact that during the Karabagh-Azerbaijani war the adversarys positions in Shushi were defended by the notorious Shamil Bassaev, who later on organized the pogrom of hundreds of innocent people in allied Russia. Not surprisingly, the heroic stand of Artsakh in the name of human rights and liberties, which once enjoyed worldwide support, has turned into a mere territorial issue being examined within the strictures of international bureaucracy.
The incapacity of petty princes became all the more vivid on the occasion of the 90 th anniversary of the Great Genocide. Once again, we are diminished to the role of a small instrument used in huge political games played for the benefit of others. What a painful resemblance to the not-so-distant past, when the Armenian Question receded from high international priority to become an unimportant wrinkle and ultimately a non-issue off of the worlds agenda.
On the contrary, we are able and obliged to take our own initiative regarding one of the main challenges to foreign policy, that is the reciprocal rectification of relations with Turkey, though this field as well has been monopolized by a small clique devoid of professional knowledge, political will, and strategic vision.
First, we have to state loud and clear that Turkeys aspirations to become a member of the European Union correspond with Armenias political interests. It is foreseeable that in its best-case scenario Turkey can only become an EU member in synchronization with the Republic of Armenia, and in the process it will have to undergo serious and irreversible reforms, confront its history, reject any imperial ambitions, and so forge a comprehensive resolution of all outstanding matters with Armenia. Enmity can and must turn into partnership: the past and present relationships between Germany and Russia, Germany and France, Germany and Israel, and the United States and Japan provide ample testimony on this score. In order completely to uncover and acknowledge the historical truth, we must support Turkeys pioneers, the growing intellectual movement which is the brave resumption of those exceptional precedents in 1915 and beyond when thousands of Turkish families, at the risk of losing their own lives, endeavored to hide and save individual Armenians from certain death. My grandmother owed her life to one such righteous family of heroes, who to this day remain unsung because of official Turkish denialism.
What are the available initiatives of peace? For instance, as a means of building mutual trust, Armenia might invite bilateral consideration of the idea of creating, under UN or UNESCO auspices, an international and demilitarized free economic and cultural Belt of Civilization around the medieval Armenian capital of Ani and the Biblical slopes of Mt. Ararat. In a short jump of time, this could become a focal point for world tourism which at once develops the presently desolate regions of the neighboring countries and generates a framework for unprecedented joint cooperation.
In this quickly-changing world, when the governed expect of their leaders a flexible mind, a consensus-building capacity, and a profound worldview, we simply do not have the right to entrust our nations destiny to those who have appropriated its foreign policy in the same way as they have done with the economy, turning one and the other into a shadow structure driven by personal gain. This mode of operation has made a mockery of the national interest, has alienated the countrys citizens from their authorities, and has shaken the foundations of our once-national solidarity. From the standard-bearer of democracy and liberty in the region, Armenia is now retreating to the backwaters of cynical authoritarian dominion.
In the life of society, as in nature, there is no room for emptiness. The more democracys measure decreases, the more dictatorships threat rises up. Monopoly is as perilous in politics as it is in economy. This past summer we became unwitting witnesses and victims of the destructive repercussions of such a cartel. I refer here to the telephone and computer communications network which carries strategic value for the country. This notwithstanding no appropriate lessons were drawn. What is more, with the same obstinacy, not to mention greed, and without broad and serious public discussion and oversight, the more important domain of electricity distribution is being re-alienated. Neither ArmenTels fiascos nor the recent power outages in Moscow and Los Angeles have triggered our sobriety. One might ask, “Why arent these absolute political and economic monopolies a topic of daily concern for the media?” Because after the shutdown of “A1+” and “Noyan Tapan” an indirect monopoly has been established in the public information realm as well, and this system of control pursues the purpose of keeping the country misinformed through the airing of rosy numbers that flatter the authorities or of seemingly fun, on-screen tastelessness. I already reflected on the exercise of monopolistic verticality in foreign policy. The conclusion is similarly simple: the weakening of democracy gives birth to monopoly, whereas monopoly strangles the economy, diplomacy, and ultimately democracy itself.
At the beginning of autumn Armenias economy equaled, at least through one indicator, that of the United States, the worlds largest. No, I do not mean per capita income, although the living standard of a few families in our country might even surpass the American norm. Together we achieved parity with America in gasoline pricing. Let us for a moment forget about the quality difference of the fuel and note that in both poor Armenia and rich America one liter of gas costs approximately 80 cents. Leaving its own oil reserves largely untouched, the United States imports fuel from across the world, Mexico to Kuwait. We, on the other hand, restrict ourselves to Russian petroleum which comes to us via Georgia, together with all derivative implications. Meanwhile, we all know that oil is almost ten times cheaper in neighboring Iran, and even after factoring in transportation costs it would remain far more affordable. Political impediments are surmountable as proven by the ongoing construction of the gasline from that country, and for this the authorities of the day are due credit. Hence, there is another explanation for this long-standing and precious dependence, and that is the maintenance of the very monopoly from which the same few presidency-connected families draw massive benefit at the expense of the country entire.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., former Justice of the United States Supreme Court, once commented famously, “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.” The United States grew strong thanks also to this civic consciousness. As for us, we pay taxes in a society that has found itself under the coercion of brute force. We pay taxes so they demean, neglect, offend, ridicule, and violate our will. Our lost vigilance does not allow us anymore to comprehend what is going on around us and why with the payment of our duties we are keeping a ruling class that treats us like subordinates. It is an authority that not only exploits, but also bequeaths its “key to success” to its heirs.
As the incumbent administration continues to pacify itself and the public with economic growth figures, prestigious international bodies confirm that more than half of the countrys national product, and thus of its taxation sphere, is hidden in the shadow, consequently circumventing the official budget and the citizens shares in it. In order to reveal the “power” of shadow economy, let us look at Georgias example, where without preliminary investments the state budget tripled in just one year owing to law-driven tax collection and a more equitable distribution of the national product. And naturally, though mistakes also were made, this was followed by ever-growing foreign investments, as a result of which our neighbor has surpassed Armenia despite its advantageous possession of a huge, patriotic, and prosperous Diaspora.
I was born and raised in the United States of America not by choice, but by providence. Still, by virtue of our generations destiny, I have experienced the joy of Homecoming and tasted both the splendor and the misery of our Home. It was with this aspiration that I left my life abroad and 16 years ago returned to the Patrimony together with my family. Thousands of diasporan Armenians are prepared to make their trek to Armenia and join in the building of our common home. According to expert calculations, the gross capital directly belonging to Armenians of the Diaspora constitutes nearly 500 billion US dollars. Both in terms of quantity and quality, if even one percent of that potential were to be invested in Armenia, the flourishing of our Homeland would be guaranteed and unprecedented. Instead, however, the powers that be are doing everything they can to cling to the frontiers of their special privileges, and to this day prevent opening of the road home for a nation whose two-thirds presently live beyond the countrys borders. The ten-year odyssey for my birthright of Armenian citizenship, the court trials, and the five-month statelessness forced upon me serve as agonizing testimony. Today, as our nations youth has undertaken a republic-wide signature drive demanding that my citizenship be recognized as of the first day, I declare: Armenia is not and must never be the monopoly of anybody or any group.
The extensive work of quality carried out by the Armenian Center for National and International Studies over the past eleven years demonstrates that, odds notwithstanding, Armenia is capable of claiming its place of desert and dignity among the family of nations, provided of course that it rediscovers itself as a civilizational contributor to the world and strives to unite the tremendous professional, intellectual, spiritual, and material resources of all Armenians across the globe, finally becoming a real Homeland for the whole Armenian nation. This is the most compelling universal factor for the development of our country, and it is the only avenue for Armenia to overcome the complex impasse it currently faces. On this path, the orders of the day are the imperative joining together of all that is good in our nation and, in the light of the Armenia-Artsakh Union of 1988, a second, Grand Union between Homeland and Diaspora—with Armenia at its heart and all Armenians holding its stakes.
Truthless talk and false slogans no longer have a place in state, national, and public life. We must not “work together” in words alone, all the while driving division and unilateral rule in reality. September 21 and all other public holidays must belong to each and every one of us, and from now on they shall be celebrated not among cliques and entourages, but by all, nationwide, and in a unity worthy of our Heritage.
Fantasy or feasibility? Life lies ahead.
Founded in 1994 by Armenias first Minister of Foreign Affairs Raffi K. Hovannisian and supported by a global network of contributors, ACNIS serves as a link between innovative scholarship and the public policy challenges facing Armenia and the Armenian people in the post-Soviet world. It also aspires to be a catalyst for creative, strategic thinking and a wider understanding of the new global environment. In 2005, the Center focuses primarily on civic education, conflict resolution, and applied research on critical domestic and foreign policy issues for the state and the nation.
For further information on the Center and its activities, call (37410) 52-87-80 or 27-48-18; fax (37410) 52-48-46; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com