Officers of the Armenian National Security Service were very surprised at what they found after a raid on a house outside of the town of Etchmiadzin on June 16th 2018. Other than many rifles and a collection of classic cars, canned food produced for Armenian soldiers in the Armenian occupied Karabakh region of Azerbaijan were found on premises. According to the officers, the owner of the house used the military supplies to his liking and fed animals in his private zoo with the food intended for soldiers.  The owner of the property was MP Manvel Grigoryan, a former high ranking officer with clout in the country and a leading lawmaker of the Republican Party of Armenia that has dominated the country since 1999. [1]

 

This striking example presents a summary of how Armenia has been governed for years in a nutshell. The items found at Grigoryan’s house are important in understanding why Armenia has become a “country of protests”. What emerged from the property in Etchmiadzin offers clues as to why Nikol Pashinyan makes so much use of the discourse of anti-corruption and why it enjoy so much public support. The incident was also an opportunity for the Armenian people to see that people such as Grigoryan, whom they viewed as heroes for so long and who played leading roles in the massacre of Azerbaijani Turks, are actually “traitors and thieves”, as many expressed on social media.

 

Dissolution of the Old Order

 

The protests began by Pashinyan, an opposition journalist, to come to power need to be viewed from a few angles.  The protests had flared up after Serzh Sargsyan transferred significant powers of the president’s office to the prime ministry, with the intention of continuing to rule the country as prime minister after the maximum two terms in office as president, and led to Sarkisyan’s resignation.  However,  changing the prime minister was the first aim of the protests in Armenia, it was not the only one. The point Pashinyan is focused on is the complete dissolution of the old order and this approach targets, beyond the central government, figures in local administration and representatives of civil society organisations close to the former administration. With Nikol Pashinyan coming to power, a major anti-corruption campaign began in Armenia. Other than Marvel Grigoryan, his son Karen Grigoryan, who was the mayor of Etchmiadzin, was forced to resign and was arrested.  The investigations have gone as far as the bodyguards and family of Serge Sarkisyan. President Ara Vardanyan of the Armenia All Armenians Foundation also resigned after it was revealed that he made personal use of the money in the foundation accounts and gambled with it. The mayor’s office in Yerevan was occupied by protestors. As well as the mayor of Etchmiadzin, in Metsamor, the site of the nuclear plant that is a ticking bomb for the entire region, Mayor Robert Grigoryan was protested.  In places such as Armavir and Hrazdan, mayors with the Republican Party of Armenia, who had been office for more than ten years had to hand in their resignations following protests.[2] Older incidents have also come under investigation with Pashinyan. It may be remembered that protests had occurred in 2009 after the election claimed by Serge Sarkisyan on grounds of vote rigging and they were put down forcefully resulting in deaths. Now, years later, an investigation has begun in to the incidents and former President Robert Kocharyan was taken into custody. Given that elections are to take place on December 9th 2018 in Armenia, all of this appears as the parliamentary leg of the dissolution of the old order.

 

Pashinyan’s Tactical Resignation and the Coming Election

 

During the first round of voting for the prime minister’s office in the Armenian Parliament with 105 seats, Nikol Pashinyan did not get the 53 votes necessary to be elected, but in the second round he had received votes from Sarkisyan’s party to become prime minister. Soon afterwards, he offered a tactical resignation on the grounds that he did not have a parliamentary majority. By Armenian law, following the resignation of the prime minister, parliament has to elect his successor within two rounds of voting before an early election is called. With his resignation Pashinyan started the process of an early election. As parliament could not elect the prime minister, it set a date for an early election.   The general atmosphere in the country shows that in the run up to the election, the people are forming their expectations on economic grounds. As surveys readily show, action over unemployment, poor economic conditions and low pensions for retirees is the main expectation of the people. However, these problems cannot be easily fixed by Pashinyan.

 

The mayoral election in Yerevan served as a form of barometer for predicting the result of the upcoming parliamentary election. In the mayoral election held in October in Yerevan, comedian Hart Marutyan, candidate of the coalition “My Step” of Pashinyan was elected by 81 per cent of the vote and took office.  It was observed that no other party received significant support and participation was very low. Therefore, it will come us no surprise for the favourite, Pashinyan, to carry the general election and he will continue to govern with a parliamentary balance in his favour.

 

Pashinyan’s Statements: “The Same Mentality”

 

While Pashinyan tries to appeal to the people with statements on social justice, anti-corruption investigations and messages on social media, the “Karabakh Clan” losing power in the coming election will not quite be the beginning of a hopeful new era for Armenia. For this, more comprehensive policies are needed. It is clear for now that Pashinyan will not leave the Russian line and given the regional conjecture, he will not be able to provide higher economic welfare in the country. Having been left out of projects initiated by Azerbaijan and Turkey due to its unlawful occupation of Karabakh, Armenia is a state that can barely breathe in its region. So much so that Armenia ha naded over the protection of its border line to Russia and is too weak to handle even basic security issues. This has been voiced by Pashinyan himself. Speaking to the Eho Moskvı radio station, Pashinyan said that Russian border security forces were guarding the border with Turkey.[3] He also said that they were pleased with this.

 

As for Pashinyan’s statements about Turkey, the most widely stated in the media was that they could come to the negotiating table with no pre-conditions. The point, however, is that Armenia is the side that should accept pre-conditions. To this end Armenia needs to end its occupation of Karabakh, but Pashinyan delivered his mentioned statement in the occupied ancient Azerbaijani territory. In addition, his statement that they would not give up on their unfounded claims of genocide is the other deficient side to the approach to this process.  In conclusion, Armenia is likely to continue much the same and no change appears on the horizon. Without such change, no reform package for the Armenian economy will succeed, whoever proposed it.

 

Evaluation

 

It could be said that Pashinyan has completed the street leg of the Velvet Revolution and is continuing with the next step of redesigning parliament. There are two possible outcomes from the dissolution of the old order and serious risks that accompany them both. The first is that Pashinyan fails with the dissolution and his own system is thereby completely destroyed. The second is that after Pashinyan cleanses the government from figures attached to the old order, those replacing them will establish a similar structure.

 

As Pashinyan tries to strengthen his grip, only names and not the mentality will change and the old order in Armenia will continue. While the protests in Armenia were at first met with excitement in the West, Pashinyan’s statements show that there will be no radical change in foreign policy. Armenian statements on Karabakh and the alleged genocide show that the status quo will continue.

 

Pashinyan will win the Armenian election, but a win for Armenia does not seem to be in the cards.

 

[1] Armenia’s Post-Revolution Party Is Over, Foreign Policy, https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/10/15/the-counterrevolution-is-coming-to-armenia/ (Accessed: 20 November 2018)

[2] Armenia’s Anticorruption Wave Swells, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, https://www.rferl.org/a/armenia-anticorruption-wave-pashinian-markarian-grigorian-sarkisian/29328349.html (Accessed: 22 November 2018)

[3] Paşinyan: Türkiye Sınırımızda Rus Güçlerinin Olması Ermenistan İçin Önemli, Sputnik Türkiye, https://tr.sputniknews.com/asya/201807261034465341-pasinyan-turkiye-sinirimizda-rus-guclerinin-olmasi-ermenistan-icin-onemli/ (Accessed: 22 November 2018)

 

(This article was published in the December 2018 issue of The Diplomatic Observer.)