Category Archives: Internal Politics

Blatant Nepotism

Corruption is a well-known long-term problem in Armenia. While Armenia has been making incremental improvements, the amount of blatant nepotism, especially in the regions, is astonishing. Hetq recently publicized multiple instances of no-bid contracts being given to family members of the people in power. This obvious conflict of interest is exactly what Armenia needs to fight against.

In the first link, the mayor’s brother’s company got the no-bid contract because his company was “one of the biggest road construction companies around and best capable to get the job finished on time.” First, if you primarily give contracts to only one company, then of course they’ll be one of the biggest company. Second, even if they are the best to get the job finished on time, require documented proof, especially when there is a clear conflict of interest. Here’s the list so far:

In yet another setback, the police have not investigated another small town mayor six months after Hetq reported on the 1.2 million AMD spent on gas on a car that doesn’t run, among other petty embezzlements. The media can only do so much, it’s up to the police and prosecutors to act to stop this blatant corruption.

To end on a positive note, the Freedom of Information Center of Armenia (an NGO that I just recently learned about, but I believe does great work) helped organize the Open Government Partnership Conference here in Armenia. The Partnership is an international agreement between a number of states to “promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and use new technologies to strengthen governance.”

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Clarification: the need for Armenian Activism

I want to add some explanation to my previous post. I did not mean to say—and will never say—that the popular protest is over and that the situation is hopeless. What I meant to say is that the period of large popular rallies is past us. If the rallies were double (or even larger) the size they were, maybe rallies would have been effective, but that is simply speculation. What needs to happen is the hard work of institutionalizing the spirit of the opposition. Pre-Parliament is a great example of this, as is the Barev Foundation. I wish Raffi could have started building these institutions weeks (months) ago, instead of saying “I’ll announce my plan next rally.”

These institutions can form the bedrock for future change. These popular institutions can provide both the manpower and the skillset to do something big. Want to run for mayor in Yerevan? Fine, tap into this network to get hundreds of volunteers to pass out leaflets or go canvassing. Want to stop a polluting mining operation? Great, brainstorm with the intellectuals and elites to develop a strategy to force them to change their operations. Raffi was able to show that there are tens of thousands that will support and contribute to a strategy of change. Unfortunately, he never developed that strategy.

Developing the long-term strategy is hard but absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, a long-term strategy needs hope and commitment. Two things that too many hayastanci lack. Instead, too many of them are waiting for a leader to solve the country’s problems, while also waiting for a green card.

One great example from America’s history is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP’s) strategy to combat racial segregation in education. Racial segregation in education was legal in the US and the NAACP was able to make it formally illegal in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. But, this case was only the latest in a long chain of victories.  The NAACP knew that with a prejudicial Supreme Court, there was no hope to try for a grand victory, so they started with the smallest and least objectionable issue they could find. They argued that Missouri was violating black students’ rights by not having a single law school for blacks within its borders, and they won. They then argued that black law students deserved access to equally good law libraries and law professors, and they won. The NAACP correctly counted on the Supreme Court being more interested in the study of law than on perpetuating segregation. Finally, the NAACP could go after its big goal of general educational segregation in Brown v. Board and the Supreme Court had to rule in its favor because of the precedents of equality it had created for itself. This victory didn’t completely solve America’s racial segregation problem, but it was a huge step in the right direction.

Barevolution as a popular movement signified by rallies is over; barevolution as a demand for change is doing just fine.

The question for Armenians is what is your strategy to improve the country?

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Blood in the water and the End of the Barevolution

It’s been almost a week since the Inaugurations and protests of April 9—and my last blog post, apologies. The short of it is that, if the lack of tweets is any indication, the barevolution is next to dead as a movement.

After the significant criticism Raffi got from his own camp regarding the events of the 9th, he gave a long response on facebook. The core of his defense is that he wouldn’t engage in actions that could lead to bloodshed, and that he was forced to be “flexible” because of the people. The first argument is defensible while the latter is not. In any coalition, you’ll always have differing views; the point of the leader is to select a path that the people support and can follow. Otherwise, the coalition starts to break down at the critical moment. The brutal weather did make it hard to communicate his plan, but there is no reason he couldn’t have communicated his steps earlier. Overall, Raffi was stuck between a rock and hard place, but the people expect a leader to be able to navigate choppy waters.

CivilNet has a video that summarizes the rally of the 12th. Armen Martirosyan, Yerevan mayoral candidate and arrestee on the 9th, has a nice quote:

“[A] leader is not hiding behind black walls … but standing in front of the people with his  family … leading the way. A leader like him might make mistakes, he might fall back for a second, but a leader like him never falls down. A leader like him always stands tall and leads us to victory.”

Unfortunately, Raffi didn’t provide any concrete plan to lead the people in the upcoming weeks and months and primarily echoed previous statements. He told people to come next week to another rally, the norm at his events.

Without any stated plan, Raffi’s coalition is breaking apart. The youth activist crowd is willing to fight “leaderless.” Pre-Parliament is starting to organize its own rallies. ARF-D backpedals from its support of the movement. The ANC criticizes Raffi’s actions and handling of the day and dismisses all of his rallies as “never pos[ing] a serious threat” (to the Republican’s delight). Everyone can sense the blood in the water, and there are plenty of sharks in the opposition that would love to knock Raffi down a notch or two for their own personal benefit. With ANC’s recent reorganization, they have a good chance to steal the momentum away from Raffi/Heritage/Barev Yerevan.

One group that deserves special mention in regards to the events of the 9th is the police and how surprisingly well they acted. There are activists that criticize the police for what they did. Just looking at some of the videos from the day demonstrates the aggression the police showed, at the height of the conflict. Just a short time after the conflict, the Armenian Chief of Police Vladimir Gasparyan walked with Raffi to the Genocide Memorial and even went as far as praising Raffi and calling him a “peaceful person.” Maybe it’s because of that praise that the authorities were openly annoyed at the “leniency” the police showed the protestors. The Ombudsman Karen Andreasyan did ask for explanation from the police for their actions, but the explanation the police gave is actually fairly reasonable, for a police department and especially for a post-soviet police department. [Updated:] The Ombudsman points out concerns but seems generally supportive of the police’s actions.

Of course, it’s easy to be upstanding when you have plain-clothes cops ready to rough people up, as this CivilNet video alleges. The video is heavily edited but appears to show aggressive members in the crowd shoving protestors with impunity, while the cops do nothing. When called out about it, Yerevan’s police chief says in the video that they would never have cops in civilian clothes and to bring a written complaint to his desk the next morning. Unfortunately for him, Gasparyan decided that he needs a fall guy and dismissed  Yerevan’s chief of police yesterday evening.

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So what the hell happened today!?

I just got home from a long day of frustrated protesting. There was so much activity today and action, but the momentum wasn’t retained. The conclusion is bittersweet in that so many people seem committed to change, but so little came of it. Here is my best to give a recap of the events of today.

10:30am: A march of people from Yerevan’s regions gets hassled by the police.

10:45am: The student protest begins with students marching to Freedom Square. When the protesters arrived at the Yerevan State University Black Building, the guards locked the door, trapping the students (and me) inside. The rationale being that they need to protect the good students inside from the protesters.

11am: Raffi’s rally officially begins. This is Armenia, so it doesn’t really start until noon.

12pm: Raffi gives his speech. It was a speech similar to other speeches saying that he’s here for the people and that the people of Armenia are the ones with power. Also, Serzh Sargsyan should come and apologize to the people. The square is filled with people at this point. Rumor has it that Reuters estimates 12,000 people present.

1pm: At around one, Raffi gives his oath. It wasn’t the oath of presidency, but a “citizen’s oath.” Hetq has the details. Afterwards, he said there will be song and dance and to reconvene at 6pm. This is where I, thinking it was over, leave to go back to work, disappointed with the lack of content of his speech and how it sounded similar to all of his other speeches.

2-3ish: Raffi stayed in the square and people started complaining that he needs to do something. So, while half of the crowd has already left, Raffi starts leading a march in the city. He heads towards Haraparak and Tigran Metz, but suddenly switches directions and goes up Mashtots towards Baghramyan. This is where things get iffy because the police aren’t happy with the changed marching path. Some people are arrested.

3ish: At some point, Sargsyan has his inauguration where he says he will focus on emigration, unemployment and poverty (videos).

4pm: The police hold back the people on Demirchyan. Rumor has it, that it was done to give time for police to setup barricades on Baghramyan. They fall back within an hour.

5:30pm: A splinter group of protesters does a sit-in in front of the Presidential Palace and gets arrested. This news report says it happened at six, more notably, Zaruhi Postanjyan asked the protesters to go back to Freedom Square but they refused.

[Added:] 6pm: The crowd reconvened at Freedom Square where Raffi told the crowd that he would reveal his plan on Friday, the 12th. The crowd was angry and “booed and screamed” at Raffi to get him to do something. They convinced  him to march to Baghramyan.

6:30pm: Clashes occur with the police as Raffi starts leading people up Baghramyan. Raffi tries to push his way through the police, which leads to a madhouse. Raffi gets knocked down. Armen Martiorisan, Heritage’s candidate for Yerevan’s mayorship, gets roughed up by police and arrested and his nose broken (both visible in this video). [Incorrectly listed at 5pm in the original]

7pm: Raffi pulls his second WTF?? of the day by giving a short speech and asking people to go the Genocide Memorial. He leaves with most(?) of the crowd, but a large portion of the crowd refuses to leave. Many people are upset and feel like he is abandoning the people and the cause. [Incorrectly put at 5:30pm in the original]

8pm: Marshall Baghramyan metro stop was closed all day, so I walk to the protest coming from the North West. I’m able to get into the closed off center of the street and take some awesome photos (see below). I join the crowd at Baghramyan and Isahakyan.

8-10pm: Absolutely nothing happens as the people mill about. The crowd is constantly dwindling, decreasing from a few thousand to a few hundred by the end. Frustration with Raffi’s back and forth is increasing. Many people are saying that he, as a leader, failed the people.

9-10pm: The people are stopped in front of Baghramyan with Raffi talking to the head of police to allow them through. The police say no. Raffi then argues to let them walk on the sidewalk. It’s unclear if Raffi stayed with the crowd or was leaving and returning. Raffi doesn’t have a megaphone and the crowd couldn’t hear anything he said to the cameras, so there was lots of confusion.  Armenians have not yet discovered the People’s Mic[Incorrectly put at 7pm in the original]

Finally at about 10:30pm, the police allow the people to walk up the sidewalk of Baghramyan and open the street to car traffic. Almost certainly this came about from Raffi’s negotiation, but I can’t confirm. The plan was to sing the national anthem at the Presidential Palace, but no one felt like singing at that point.

Overall, many of the people I talked to are excited for the amount of energy and activism shown by Armenian people, while being frustrated with Raffi. Raffi did not have a plan for today, let alone a plan for the near future. While the people showed a lot of energy, that energy was lost by people waiting to see what Raffi would do and by his inconsistent comings and goings.
[Added at noon on 10 April:] ArmeniaNow has a good write up on the day. Also, my friend Ani has a (long) first-hand account of the day’s events from her perspective near Raffi’s family. She also has maps of the marching paths,  in case my description above is confusing.

The wall of cops at Baghramyan and Proshyan, stopping anyone from coming down Baghramyan.

The wall of cops at Baghramyan and Proshyan, stopping anyone from coming down Baghramyan.

The wall of cops at Baghramyan and Proshyan, stopping anyone from coming down Baghramyan.

The wall of cops at Baghramyan and Proshyan, stopping anyone from coming down Baghramyan.

The empty street of Baghramyan, between the lines of cops.

The empty street of Baghramyan, between the lines of cops.

A secondary line, in case the protesters get passed the first line.

A secondary line, in case the protesters get passed the first line.

A water cannon available to the police.

A water cannon

The main protest line. The police and the protesters were milling about here for hours.

The main protest line. The police and the protesters were milling about here for hours.

After sitting around for a while without going on, the police put down their shields.

After sitting around for a while without anything going on, the police put down their shields and relax a little.

The walk up Baghramyan and the police that followed the people up.

The final walk up Baghramyan, and the police that followed the people up.

[Edited for grammar the next morning. Edited again at 10:30am and again at noon to add extra content and corrections.]

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Hetq names Names on the Corruption at Nairit Rubber Plant

It looks like Hetq’s previous threat to name the corrupt agents that swindled millions of dollars from Armenia’s Nairit plant was ignored. Today, Hetq released the details on exactly who profited from the corruption, how they did it and what shell companies were used to cover it up.

What no one suspected, is that Hetq was working with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the organization that was unknown to the average person until two days ago when they released a data set on offshore money 10 times the size of Wikileaks. That leak covers years of financial info on the super rich that hide money in the British Virgin Islands. Included in the list are family members of Azerbaijani President Aliyev.

It’ll be interesting to see what other fun corruption and embezzlement by Armenian oligarchs comes to light because of this leak. It’ll be more interesting to see what the authorities do about it.

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Yerevan’s Municipal Election

With Raffi just finishing his hunger strike but still protesting the presidential election results, the Yerevan Municipal election is heating up. Even though the vote is over a month away on May 5, this is a good thing for Armenia as people need to care more about the political processes. The hottest topic is whether this will be a coup for Raffi and Heritage or whether the opposition is thoroughly crushed.

The opposition could not agree on presenting a combined list, but they are working together to prevent election fraud. Raffi has a large support base in Yerevan, so there is a great possibility that the opposition can win this election, (of course, it would have helped if they had a combined list…). But, with separate lists, it’s more likely that oppositional figures will get more lower level seats (I believe called the Council of Elders), but less likely they will nab the mayorship.

Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, people supporting Heritage in the upcoming election are getting harassed. The former rector of the Yerevan State Linguistic University has been summoned twice for interrogation by the National Security Service. His crime? No idea, nothing has been stated, but it is notable that he supports Raffi and is on Heritage’s list for the election.

Prosperous Armenia is trying to change the discourse of the discussion to practical tasks of the position. Their frontrunner, former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian of Civilitas, is focused on the practical tasks of ensuring constant water in the city and promoting a more business-friendly environment. In contrast, the Republicans view this election as an opportunity for the children of current national leaders to cut their teeth and develop into the party’s new guard.

Sadly, who wins at the polls and who actually wins power can be two different people. So, there is a big push to get election observers, both locals and foreigners. Without the attention that comes with a presidential election, it is much more difficult to get outsiders to observe the 469 precincts in Yerevan. With that in mind, there is a big push to get Diasporans currently in Armenia involved. Locals can be easily intimidated, but foreigners can stand up to intimidation (secure in the fact that their embassy will support them). If you’re here in Armenia and want to help, I’m happy to connect you. Either contact Transparency International directly, or email me (Gabe.Armas-Cardona@nyu.edu), and I’ll be happy to connect you with the organizers.

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“Leave Civilitas Alone!”

While it wasn’t said in so many words, that was the message the ambassadors of the United States, Germany and Switzerland as well as the honorary consul of Norway and Finland gave when they met with the Civiltas Foundation yesterday and called it a reliable partner.

As mentioned earlier, Vartan Oskanian, the founder of Civilitas (and possible would-be presidential candidate), has been investigated by the National Security Service for possible money laundering. While the ambassadors were not willing to call this investigation politically motivated, US Ambassador Heffern did say that “We (the US) believe that there is nothing to be investigated by the NSS or anybody else and certainly nothing of a criminal nature.”

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