Sunday, September 19, 2010

Is Revolution in Armenia from the Top Down?

On Sept. 17, the Armenian National Congress (the acronym in Armenian is HAK) held a rally in front of the Matenadaran (Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts). The “Congress,” as it’s sometimes abbreviated to in Armenian, is an opposition group and not an actual political party. The leader of the group, Levon Ter-Petrosyan (alternative spelling: Ter-Petrosian or Ter-Petrossian) was the first president of the independent Republic of Armenia (after the collapse of the Soviet Union) and then he was re-elected again in 1996, resigning in 1998.

Many of my friends and people I respect believe that if Ter-Petrosyan were president (again), things would change. But I’m a bit more skeptical: I mean, he had his chance. This isn’t some unknown individual we’re talking about. It’s a man who was elected president, not once, but twice. Why do you think a third term would change anything?

Photo: courtesy of Armenian National Congress website

The other thing that brings out the skeptic in me is how Ter-Petrosyan has achieved almost god-like status. He is revered like a saviour, a man who will bring the country out of the many messes that it’s in. He is seen to be a man of the people, but yet, I wonder: was that the case when he was president? I doubt it.

I want to say, listen, we all want change. Many, many people are unhappy with how the current government is running things. Yes, there are people still imprisoned for their views, yes, there’s corruption, yes, there’s poverty... but why are you so sure that if Levon Ter-Petrosyan is president, things will change, or at least get better?

I want to say, listen, I want a revolution too. But in the course of world history, when did revolution ever happen from the top down, from the government? Revolution comes from the people. It is grassroots-based. There are many examples in history to prove this and in other countries that have been worse off than Armenia.

I was talking with a good friend yesterday and she confirmed what I had suspected: it’s a Soviet mentality. The belief, the expectation that the state will take care of you. That things will only change (and get better) if you have good government. Someone in power who will make it all happen for you. But why would you think that a single (and in this case, I can use the accurate term here) Caucasian man make it all better?

I believe in the power of the people, not power attributed to a single individual (whether that be a man or a woman, Caucasian or not), but to a group, a collective. I didn’t grow up in a Soviet country. Sure, I had it easy: Canada has a well-developed (what some call) socialist system. To a certain extent, it can take care of its citizens. However, there were (and still are) things that need to change, need to get better. I have participated in those rallies, I have seen how the facade of the state easily breaks down, I have struggled for change. I don’t want to compare what “struggles” I’ve had or participated in Canada with the struggles here in Armenia, but the point I want to make is wanting change, wanting revolution is nothing new, and not exclusive to Armenia. The difference is in many other places and reviewing the histories of many other countries, change didn’t come from change in government (which Ter-Petrosyan and his followers are calling for).

Change comes with revolution and revolution comes from the people.

I’ve just started reading Thomas de Waal’s Black Garden. It’s interesting to read what transpired 10, 14, 16 years ago and trace the history to understand how we got here. (And this through the eyes of an “outsider,” someone who’s neither Armenian, Azerbaijani or Turkish.) Highly recommended reading for our times and for better understanding the South Caucasus. It’s also interesting, though perhaps not surprising, that the same players are involved: I’m reading the names of the same politicians who are still around today, in some form or another. Does nothing ever change?

What do you think? If you follow Armenian politics, do you support Ter-Petrosyan, Serzh Sargsyan, some other politician or no one? What do you think needs to happen for the situation in Armenia to improve?


  1. I share your opinion, and cringe when I see the devastating impact of corruption, and bad governance in the area,but being a foreigner, this puts me in an awkward position to start advocating for this. It's great that people like you, with a double background, can bring another perspective and analysis and have a legitimacy to impulse change (if and when possible).

  2. Hi Anonymous! Thank you for your comment. I don't know if being a foreigner should be a detriment for advocating for change; however, I can understand how a language barrier might be an issue (if that's the case). People from the "outside" can always act as allies and support causes that might not immediately impact them. I'm sure there are many examples of this in history too ;) Thanks again for taking the time to leave a comment on this post!

  3. Yes, I agree that Mr. Levon Ter-Bedrosyan, not once but twice had the opportunity to bring the change and fight the corruption. Need to ask what happened to Vano Seradaghyan and rest of the pack? They know that at this stage of campaign they are LIABILITY. If Levon Ter-Bedrosyan succeeds then it will be the same old story. The old gang will be back hungrier than before and people who made this possible will have no other choice than accepting another wave of corruption and human rights abuse. Change will happen only when every individual citizen of the Country becomes politisized, aware of its own power, be united, sick for justice, be him or herself free of corruption and deemand the same from the Leadership. Change starts from the bottom up.

  4. Thanks, RDB, I wholly agree with your comment: change starts from the bottom up and every person in the country should be aware of his or her own power ;)

  5. Earlier this week I had a long and interesting conversation with someone who suggested it wasn't only a Soviet mentality, but that it goes back to pre-Soviet times as well and specifically to religious institutions. He noted that the Armenian Church (and all orthodox churches) never encouraged people to think for themselves, to discuss or to question: What we tell you is the truth. He also mentioned (and I have heard this argument before), that this goes all the way back to Eastern-Europe not having gone through the Reformation and Enlightenment.

    When I read Black Garden, one of the first things that struck me was exactly what you mentioned: the same names are still a big part of the game.

    When it comes to being a foreigner advocating for change in Armenia, there is a barrier, more than just the language one. I am not sure if this is the barrier Anonymous is referring to, but over the years I have noticed that a certain group of Armenians thinks that non-Armenians are by definition unqualified to say anything about this country, let alone anything critical. This same group of people also tends to be a supporter of the motto "Don't hang out your dirty laundry for everyone to see."

  6. Thanks, Myrthe, for your comment (and apologies for not responding sooner!). I agree, there are barriers that people put up which dictate that if you're not from here, you can't criticize it. But I believe we have a right to be critical, more so because we live here. And because we too would like things to change for the better... Dirty laundry or not, we have to work together to make change, not isolate certain groups of people because they weren't born here. That's just counter-productive.

  7. Sometimes it's good for someone to get an external advice... and if it's good for a human being, it can also be good for a country...

    revolution always come from the bottom... and people from the government at the highest positions can't see or hear the bottom anymore... they just don't care because they live in a bubble, looking for their own interest...

    do your own revolution and the rest of the people will follow you if you're right...

    OK, I'm a foreigner, but no needs to be Armenian to understand that Armenia needs a profound change right now...