Armenia’s Colorless ‘Revolution’


Edmond Azadian

Edmond Azadian

By Edmond Y. Azadian

Since the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine and “Revolution of Roses” in Georgia, pundits in the news media have been quick to assign a color to any social unrest in the former Soviet republics.

The recent demonstrations in Armenia did not attain the amplitude of a revolution to qualify for a color, although all the appearances were there to reach that level.

A country so distressed economically is prone to social unrest, which eventually may develop into a revolution. Inequality in Armenia and the disparity between the rich and the poor are the right elements to foment unrest. Just as there are “noveaux riches,” there are also “noveaux poors,” with the latter not poor because of a lack of education but because they are the victims of sudden reversals of fortune in the wake of the crumbling Soviet egalitarian society. The obscene demonstrations of opulence, as contrasted with the misery of the underclass, are heart wrenching. Former professors or scientists who were once assured by the Soviet system of a secure future have ended up in dumpsters, sorting through garbage to find food.

It was reported that the UASID provided $750,000 to the Armenian government to contribute to the campaign against corruption. To begin with, the campaign by the government to eradiate corruption is an anomaly. In a poor country, when the employees on all levels of the government are underpaid, they have to survive somehow, and to survive, they have to abuse their positions of power. The corruption there is like a pyramid and on all levels of government, the functionaries expect to receive their cut. The only time the campaign against corruption will succeed is when the top guy refuses his share. That will have a domino effect trickling all the way down.

Scarcity and deprivation will always fuel social unrest in a poor country and it will not be surprising to see people taking advantage of the discontent by assigning political complexion to any legitimate movement, like the one that took place in Armenia during this summer. Poverty is the tinderbox for social unrest.

On June 17, the Armenian government approved a 16.9-percent rise in electricity rates. That triggered a popular movement against the rate hike. The movement was labeled “No to Robbery.”

In the US, fluctuations in gas prices sometimes force motorists to pay up to 50-percent more at the gas pump. They all complain but that does not lead them to stage demonstrations or sit-ins because they can afford this new price. In Armenia, a 16.9-percent hike can mean a choice between having power at home or not. On June 22, the demonstrators moved to Baghramian Street where the Presidential Palace and the Parliament are located. Although 247 demonstrators were detained, the police waited to exhaust the members of the movement and defuse them eventually, when Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian announced that his government would absorb the price hike by selling the Vorotan hydroelectric power plant to an American company.

The events were closely observed by all major powers. Because the power grid is owned by a Russian company, there were attempts to present the movement as anti-Russian. Moscow, wounded by the Ukraine crisis, floated a fake document to implicate the USAID as the instigator of the movement. However, the US may not act as a disinterested party during such political developments. The State Department’s naked interference in the Ukraine Crisis and the involvement of the State Department in the appointment of  Arseniy Yatsenyuk as the new prime minister, as revealed by Wikileaks, does not leave any doubt that any disturbance in Russia’s “near abroad” is an opportunity to intervene and isolate Moscow.

Any country’s foreign policy is the extension of its domestic policy. No matter how much President Obama extends a conciliatory hand to Iran, Cuba, Latin America and even to Syria, he has to tend to a segment of the political spectrum dressed in patriotic garb and hoisting the slogan of “strong defense” looking for perpetual wars. Confrontation with Russia is Obama’s concession to arms manufacturers and merchants.

The fact that an influential newspaper such as the Washington Post referred to the Armenian demonstrations twice in one month means that political observers on this side of the Atlantic were not indifferent to what was taking place in a tiny country in a remote region of the world.

The first reference in that newspaper was an editorial on July 2, which was titled “Seeing conspiracies in Armenia, where none exits.” Included in the text was the following: “Mr. Putin’s propaganda apparatus, however, has been quick to draw conclusions. Russian media said the US Embassy had orchestrated the protests to replicate last year’s popular revolution in Ukraine. ‘You know, how the color revolutions and Maidan in Ukraine started,’ said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. That was a reference to the Kremlin’s favorite conspiracy theory: that the popular uprisings in Kiev and other Eurasian capitals were not spontaneous but meticulously choreographed by the CIA.”

Despite this sarcastic dismissal in its editorial, the Post published another article by Zhanna Andreasyan and Georgiu Derlugian in its July 24 issue, whereby the movement in Armenia was contrasted against the Ukrainian model.

At one point, the writers indicated that “a small group had tried to unfurl the European flag, like the Euromaidan, but it was heckled.”

Indeed, the leaders of the Electric Movement in Yerevan refused to politicize the protest and they blocked the participation of the veteran protestors. And to the displeasure of the authors, they have witnessed that a group from the protestors had accepted the presidential invitation for dialogue, because, as it turns out, they were interested in solutions rather than perpetuating a revolution.

Sooner or later, the government has to address the problems of corruption and economic woes, which go hand-in-hand. As long as people are deprived, any spark will cause a conflagration.

But for a country which is under blockade and under the constant threat of war, there must be a priority. In the first place, corruption in the army has to be eradicated. There must be an end to numerous “suicides” among young draftees, in order to boost morale. The army’s preparedness is the priority of the people, the government and all Armenians around the world. If and when a war breaks out, the army and the people have to be united in defending the country. It will be a historic catastrophe to lose a war.

And if war breaks out, no one will care what color or how colorless our revolution was.