Six-Hundred-Year-Old Dream Fading


By Edmond Y. Azadian

“Am I the last poet? Am I the last singer [singing the praise] of my country?” wondered the poet Vahan Teryan in the aftermath of the Genocide. It was a doomsday situation which led the poet to such a degree of desperation.

Armenia has gone through many catastrophic experiences throughout its turbulent history, but it has survived, sometimes miraculously, by the turn of unforeseen events.

Today the most optimistic people have only that mysterious force to pin their hope on. Otherwise the country is once again on the verge of that doomsday situation.

Finger-pointing, lamenting, expressing anger and frustration are no remedy for the situation. A sincere national soul searching would be a timely approach.

People have been wondering what happened to the long and arduous road to independence. Were the dreams and struggles of six centuries only to see Armenia free and independent in today’s situation?

After six centuries of dreaming, Armenians are abandoning their homeland in droves. The statistics are very depressing and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. At the dawn of independence in 1991, Armenia’s population stood at 4 million. Today it stands at 3 or 3.1 million. For a small country of 4 million, the loss of 1 million has a devastating effect.

Following the fall of Sukarno’s regime in Indonesia, General Suharto’s dictatorship massacred 500,000 ethnic Chinese in Indonesia. All-powerful China did not even raise a finger, because that was the politically-correct policy, but above all, the loss of half a million Chinese for a country of 1.5 billion is insignificant demographically.

Only during the first nine months of the year 2013 Armenia’s population has decreased by 10,000 people. A poll carried out at the end of December 2012 showed that 50 percent of the remaining population would leave if they had the opportunity. This statistic was conducted by the Institute for Political and Sociological Consulting under Samvel Manukyan.

According to this institute the causes of migration are many, chief among them the income gap, lack of confidence in the justice system and low public involvement. We have to add also the blockade and the impending threat of war.

There are conditions that are beyond the grasp of the Armenian government. Even if some miracle happens and the diaspora forces join the Armenian government to overcome those challenges, nothing could change the geopolitical map of the region, where Turkey and Azerbaijan have joined forces to strangulate Armenia out of existence.

The tenor of Azeri President Aliyev’s inaugural speech, as he took office for the third time recently, was that his country will continue isolating Armenia internationally. At times he has stated that Azerbaijan will wait to see Armenia further depopulated to be ripe for a take over. He claims Armenia to be part of Azerbaijani territory, perhaps based on the newly-discovered document that his grandfather was born in Yerevan.

Our ally and defender Russia has not been helpful in stabilizing the region to reassure Armenians to continue living in their ancestral lands. Adding insult to injury, Russia has opened immigration offices in Yerevan offering able-bodied workers to move to Russia’s scarcely-populated regions with job and citizenship offers. Thus, destitute Armenian families reluctantly take advantage of these incentives and depart permanently from Armenia.

One uncertainty which has plagued the Armenian people is the issue of Karabagh. Is Karabagh included in the Customs Union? Should war break out, does defense of Karabagh enter into the military agreement between Yerevan and Moscow?

Recently, some reassuring voices have been heard from the Russian side. Indeed the commander of 102nd Russian base in Gumri, Andrey Ruzinsky, has stated: “If the Azerbaijani leadership decides to restore the control over Karabagh through war, the Russian military will intervene in case of a war and Armenia will pay a price.” Without trying to interpret the last caveat, let us say that the warning carries some weight but it is not a substitute for a treaty.

Armenians believe that the Russian base is there for their defense, whereas Moscow has far more important strategic goals in the region; it intends to project its posture to keep the balance between Turkey and Iran and in the current situation to monitor the war in Syria. It is a  known fact that arming Armenia and Azerbaijan on the same level only exacerbates the situation rather than reduces the tension which is the main cause scaring the Armenian population away.

Returning to the domestic situation, the Armenian government can and must take some measures. It is said that investments in Armenia have dropped 65 percent. Diaspora-Armenian investments have dropped even more dramatically. Only the rule of law can correct this situation. How many Diasporan Armenian investors have to be beaten or killed to warn them to stay away?

In addition, taxation is exercised in an unfair manner. The tax authorities are tolerant of oligarchs while the full brunt of the taxes is directed at the middle or lower classes to discourage small businesses. The food monopolies have driven prices three or four times higher than prices in the region.

There is a 35-percent unemployment rate.

For a middle class family a vacation in Turkey or Georgia is more affordable there than any resort in Armenia.

Corruption is rampant and only the government can solve that problem, yet the government seems to be part of the problem more than part of the solution. With the youth leaving the country at such an alarming rate, one wonders who will defend the borders.

The current political situation is not conducive to tackle and resolve serious issues. For months now the political debate has been centered around an obnoxious member of parliament questioning the president about his gambling habits at a European political forum as if Armenia did not have any other problems. This is reminiscent of the Byzantine Court debating how many angels could fit on the tip of a needle while Fatih Sultan Mehmet was scaling the ramparts.

On the other hand, the opposition leader and former president, Levon Ter-Petrosian, is asking President Serge Sargisian to resign. But whoever replaces him will be soon surrounded by the same oligarchs who control and strangle Armenia’s economy. Any turmoil will deteriorate the situation even further. Influential print and electronic media are financed by foreign sources whose last worry is Armenia’s plight. That is why the role of media is more confusing than educating or guiding.

Incidentally, those oligarchs have moved their capital overseas to be the first ones to jump ship should a wreck occur.

No one has yet found or suggested a solution to these dire situations and this column is not presumptuous enough to offer a silver bullet.

Only when the government and the opposition come to their senses, realizing that the problem hurts both sides and needs a supreme and united effort to find a solution internally and fight external threats, will we find some stability in the country and hope for economic improvement and survival.