By Hrachya Arzumanian
Recent opinion polls show that the 17+ political bloc has the support of several percent of the Armenian society and cannot claim any serious representation in parliament. The Armenian society does not accept the previous authorities and does not intend to vote for them. The same opinion polls show that most of the Armenian society does not accept other opposition political forces and politicians and intends not to participate in the elections in the absence of new and influential political and social forces, initiatives, and individuals. According to the principle of the previous and current authorities, the artificial division of the Armenian political field, the formation of an imaginary opposition is intended to hinder the emergence of influential socio-political forces capable of consolidating the Armenian society.
The decision to hold swift elections without making the necessary changes to the electoral legislation makes it possible to create conditions for the reproduction of power in a disoriented society. During the rally phase of the confrontation between the armed forces and the prime minister, the latter displayed its ability to resort to administrative resources. Such facts do not allow us to speak with confidence about the possibility of observing electoral procedures and rules during the election campaign and on election day.
The Armenian society fails to stop the deep political crisis and the slide towards a loss of state control, culminating in a national crisis. Hopes of overcoming the judiciary split in the executive branch when the armed forces issued a political statement about the need for the prime minister’s resignation, and early elections turned out to be premature. On March 22, the Prime Minister of Armenia appointed General Artak Davtyan as Chief of the General Staff and introduced him to the senior officers. The lawyer of the former Chief of the General Staff, General Onik Gasparyan, appealed to the Prosecutor’s Office, accusing the Prime Minister of ignoring the judiciary’s decisions.
Instead of looking for a compromise and a way out of the systemic crisis, the Prime Minister chose to deepen it by creating a situation where the Armenian society needs to formulate a point of view regarding the step taken. Did the prime minister violate the powers of the judicial branch? Did he have the right to appoint a new chief of the General Staff? etc. Likewise, on March 27, the Armenian Constitutional Court ruled to end the criminal prosecution of former Armenian President Robert Kocharian, invalidating the article of the criminal code under which the case against the second president of Armenia was being investigated. The decision of the Constitutional Court is final. Arman Dilanyan, chairman of the court, stated that Article 300.1 of the Criminal Code on “overthrowing the constitutional order” contradicts two articles of the constitution. The Armenian society is again forced to observe the confrontation in the executive power’s highest echelons with the involvement of the presidential and judicial branches.
On the eve of this step by the Prime Minister, the parliamentary parties agreed on the need for early elections scheduled for June 20. Besides the official date for the elections, there is currently no information on how the elections will be planned to be conducted. According to the Constitution of Armenia, the decision on the date of the elections is made by the Central Election Committee; therefore, the parliamentary parties’ decision should be regarded as political rather than legal. Otherwise, the parties run the risk of being accused of violating Armenian law. However, in addition to problems with the procedure for setting the date of elections, critical political issues remain, such as whether it is planned to amend Armenia’s electoral code, the necessity of which is said by almost all parties.
One of the demands and slogans under which the ruling My Step party came to power in 2018 was making changes in the law on parties and the electoral code. Among other things, the shortcomings of the electoral code explain the existence of over 90 parties today. As such, there is no way to talk about the effectiveness of the political system in Armenia. The changes were never implemented; moreover, there were no public discussions on how to reform the electoral legislation. Given the decision on elections in June, even if the parliamentary parties make any changes, the society does not have time to evaluate this step. Do they contribute to the electoral legislation’s improvement or decrease the transparency in the electoral process ?
Also, given the state of society focused on resolving critical and unresolved military-political and socio-economic problems, parliamentary parties’ intention to hold rapid elections raises questions. After the signing of the ceasefire declaration in November 2020, the public agenda included reasonable demands for the organization and the holding of early elections. A date was named – at least six months, preferably June – to prepare the process, including discussion and amendments to the legislation. However, the authorities chose a different strategy, creating conditions for the formation of an imaginary opposition in the political arena in the person of the 17+ political bloc and an imaginary choice between the current government and the bloc representing the previous government. The Armenian government’s false political agenda, formed in the context of a national catastrophe, led to the division of society around the imaginary internal political threat of the coming to power of the former authorities¹.
Elections. Thus, apart from the elections’ appointed date, today, there is no way to talk about the future election campaign conditions. From a disoriented society, the government seeks to extend its mandate in the context of an unfinished war and a pandemic. The government has a lot of leverage over the election results by changing the election campaign rules, postponing or canceling elections.
After the end of the phase of large-scale hostilities, the authorities’ actions led to the unfolding of a spiral of a deepening political crisis, which turned into a national one with an establishment of dual centers of power. Society and the state apparatus found themselves in a self-organized crisis of instability when minor influences can push Armenia beyond the edge of chaos.
Under such conditions, the instinct of self-preservation forces the society to focus on avoiding the red lines that can turn Armenia into a falling state when there is practically no opportunity to focus on the election process. A paradoxical situation is emerging where the society is solving the problem of stabilizing Armenia by avoiding or neutralizing the authorities’ actions that destabilize the society to facilitate the solution to the problem of the government’s self-replication.
Military security problems. The processes discussed above unfold mainly in Yerevan. However, Armenia has formed existential threats on its eastern borders, information about which the authorities are tightly controlling. Nevertheless, we can confidently say that the eastern borders of Armenia and the security of the eastern regions as a whole are ensured not by Armenian but by Russian troops, whose status in these territories has not been determined in any way. In fact, it is Russia that exercises control over Armenia’s critical regions, including those where international communications are planned to occur, according to the ceasefire statement of November 9, 2020. The Armenian authorities were either removed or have self-removed themselves from the task of ensuring its national security and protecting the population and state sovereignty of Armenia over its critical territories.
Presently, Armenia is forced to rebuild the territorial defenses system on its eastern borders under conditions of extended borders with Azerbaijan (almost twice longer than before) and loss of strategic heights and road communications. The failure of the defense system built by Artsakh’s Defense Army over decades with the involvement of significant financial and human resources makes it necessary to solve this complicated problem as soon as possible. Yet, despite this urgency, Armenia’s authorities decided to cut Armenia’s defense budget.
The entire military security system of Armenia needs radical reforms. Armenia needs to formulate a new defense posture that will be in line with the requirements of modern combat and the regional security environment. Armenia needs to undergo radical military reforms to preserve its state sovereignty. The reduction in the military budget under such conditions is extremely difficult to explain if we are trying to restore our combat readiness and implement radical reforms of the armed forces and Armenia’s national security system as a whole.
The statements made against this background that the Russian armed forces will assist Armenia in carrying out military reforms are surprising. Today, Russia also needs to carry out similar reforms, the need for which became apparent as a result of its participation in hostilities in Syria. Russia is currently seeking to modernize and reform its armed forces to counter NATO countries. The Russian military security system has not yet built up a response to this challenge and is in the process of formalizing and implementing it. The Armenian authorities’ decision to carry out reforms of the Armenian army with the involvement of Russian specialists, rather than with the support of Western countries, appears strange.
Foreign policy factors. Armenia’s internal political situation is further complicated by the official Russian authorities’ statements, right up to the Russian Ambassador to Turkey and the Minister of Defense, about the continuation of friendship and fraternal relations in the 21st century that developed during the signing of the Moscow Treaty of 1921. These statements are practically justifying the resolution of the “Nagorno-Karabakh problem” through military means.
Moreover, some controversial but influential Russian public figures of Armenian origin have publicly stated that Russia could not have allowed Armenia to win the Artsakh war, based on considerations of ensuring Russia’s military security. Such statements and behavior cannot contribute to the stabilization of Armenian society’s situation, given the volume of Russia’s military presence on the territory of Armenia and in Nagorno-Karabakh. There is a demand in Armenia’s society for the government officials to clarify the goals and objectives of the expanded contingent of Russian troops in Armenia.
Armenia continues to slide towards the state of a failing state, fraught with the threat of losing its state sovereignty. Armenia’s internal security environment is acquiring the features of a gray zone and operational environment for irregular hostilities. In such conditions, it isn’t easy to apply in Armenia the methods and tools of diplomacy and international law, which the Western countries intend to use in the region. The latter are currently forced to admit that Russia and Turkey are much more effective in such a security environment. Thus, the behavior of the Armenian government, which focused exclusively on the task of preserving and reproducing power, transferred a significant part of its functions of ensuring the state sovereignty of eastern borders and regions of Armenia to the victor countries, and by doing so, it has further deepened the national crisis. The Armenian society cannot feel secure under conditions of military blackmail by victor countries. Under prevailing conditions, the eastern regions of Armenia presently in a blockade and under the military control of the victor countries face the threat of depopulation.
Possible early elections in June will be held in a compromised security environment and public rejection of existing political forces. The Armenian society can be described as disoriented and in anticipation of a social and political force capable of offering solutions to national problems, especially those related to military security, sovereignty, and issues of Armenia’s socio-economic stability. Without the emergence of such a socio-political force, the upcoming elections held in unfinished war conditions, a pandemic, and a deepening national crisis will turn out to be illegitimate. They will not solve any of the deep problems found in the Armenian society and the Armenian state and will require new early elections.
- Arzumanian, Hrachya. “Prospects for Overcoming the Deepening Crisis of the Armenian
Statehood,” Ararat Institute for Near Eastern Studies, 15 March 2021. On-line access 24 March 2021. (https://araratinstitute.org/2021/03/17/prospects-for-overcoming-the-deepening-crisis-of-the-armenian-statehood/)
Hrachya Arzumanian, Doctor of Political Science, PhD in Computer Sciences. Academic Fields: Complexity thinking in Policy, Strategy, National Security and Military sphere. The author of ten books and more than 300 papers, articles and reports. Former Adviser to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Artsakh (2006 to 2020). The chief of branch on preparation of work of Security Council of Artsakh (2006-2008). The Chief of IT Service of Artsakh Defense Army from 1995-2001.