Tag Archives: Diaspora

Transparency Resource Centre Updates and an Apology

Dear Readers,

I want to start with an apology. As I mentioned earlier, I am developing a new project for Armenia. This project has essentially taken away all the time I had allotted to this blog. While I value this blog, it’s unfortunately not something I can prioritize at the moment. I am still connecting with Armenian politics and hope to be able to comment more in the future, but for now I want to introduce my project.

Over the last year of being in Armenia, I recognized that there is huge need among the population. This need varies from humanitarian aid, youth organizations, agricultural investment, etc. If you name it, there is need for it somewhere in Armenia. One can respond in two ways, either that Armenia is a backward hopeless country and will permanently be in need of (primarily foreign) aid, or that Armenia is ripe for opportunity where those with almost any skills imaginable can make an impact. Considering my predilections, I bet you can guess which route I believe in. In fact, how much impact Diasporans can make and how all Diasporans should at least consider contributing to Armenia from within Armenia formed a core part of my talk at AGBU Focus’s Perspectives panel earlier this year.

What I can contribute to Armenia are my professional talents. There are people that are more passionate than I am, more knowledgeable about Armenia, more connected with the Diaspora or the Armenian government, but there aren’t many international law and human rights lawyers around who are determined to take on the challenges. So, I set about creating an organization that will promote Armenia’s civil society sector by increasing their efficiency and maximizing their effectiveness. The organization is called Transparency Resource Centre.

Transparency Resource Centre logo

There’s no need for a long introduction to Transparency Resource Centre here as Birthright Armenia recently put a description in their summer/fall 2013 alumni newsletter. For those too impatient to read through the beautifully laid out newsletter, I screenshotted the relevant part below. If you have any questions or are interested in contributing to the cause, post below or email me at Gabe.Armas-Cardona@nyu.edu.

Selection from Birthright Alumni newsletter summer-fall 2013

Selection from Birthright Alumni newsletter summer-fall 2013

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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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Filed under Elections

New Post on the Depopulation Problem of Armenia

I wrote up a post on the twin challenges of emigration and a low birthright for publication in Hetq. Today it came out: Reversing the Depopulation of Armenia: People Need Reasons to Stay.

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Filed under Social / Culture

Paros Foundation and Bad International Aid

The Paros Foundation, a fund focusing on providing aid to Armenia, recently donated 25,000 shoes to children in need. This will have a positive impact on the immediate living conditions of the children, a negative impact on the local economy, and potentially even a negative impact on the long-term conditions of the children.

TOMS Shoe Company was one of the first with the idea of donating shoes to impoverished areas. Like Paros, while TOMS has a noble goal their approach is ineffectual or even counter-productive. Thankfully for me, people have already criticized TOMS for their ineffective aid and those criticisms are easily available on the internet.

First, the issue isn’t that children don’t have shoes but that children live in poverty. Poverty will only be eradicated in the long-term through promoting local economy and effective resource distribution. Paros Foundation states that “some shoes will be purchased in Armenia [improving] the local economy” but they don’t mention what percent of the funds will go into the local economy or even what guidelines they’ll follow for primarily buying local. Also, there is no analysis of how much local cobblers will be hurt from a flood of shoes into the area. It’s possible that some cobblers will go out of business because of the lack of demand.

A second major issue is that Paros is creating dependency. It’s rational to not pay for something when someone will give it to you for free. When these shoes wear out in a year, it’s rational that the orphanages won’t buy new shoes in case Paros is prepared to provide thousands of new shoes again (assuming the orphanages raise enough money to do so). Paros can tell them that this is a one-time-deal and will never be repeated, but then they’re admitting that they’re just providing a band-aid to the real problem.

To not finish this post with cheap complaints, an alternative approach should be discussed. In the case of TOMS, providing cheap shoe-making material and free shoe-making classes would develop vocational skills, self-sufficiency and provide for more shoes in the area without promoting dependency. In the case of Paros, while giving kids shoes paints a lovely picture for the media and future donors, it could have used the donated money for some long-term project that produces long-term benefits.

When discussing policy choices, one often wonders about the multiplier effect: for each dollar spent, do I get more than a dollar of impact because of the multiplier effect? Green energy is often touted as having a high multiplier because of all the benefits that can derive from it. Here, Paros can look at what investments could have a large multiplier and do that (e.g. new water piping system, new community center, providing local schools with funds to hire more teachers, etc.). The problem is that these types of investments are harder to do and much less glamorous than simply giving kids shoes.

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Filed under Diaspora

Lesson Number 10 Million on how to Alienate the Diaspora

Gather ‘round children while you read about this beautiful tale of a nightmare scenario for a Diasporan that wanted to live in lovely Hayastan. The short of it is this person got swindled in every way imaginable by a private citizen, a judge, the police, and maybe even the President’s office. This story is almost Kafkaesque (yes I went there) in how powerless the Diasporan is described, especially with the possibility that the swindler can sue the Diasporan for an additional $40,000, which the Diasporan didn’t pay when the fraud came to light.

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Filed under Diaspora