Winds of Change

Zareh Ouzounian
Many thought this could never happen.
Yet we all WANTED this to happen.
The winds of change are finally blowing in Armenia.
The pre-independence years and the initial following years saw an Armenian people energized by statehood, excited by independence, and full of hope for a better future. And a lot was achieved, including winning a war against all odds. Anyone who had the opportunity of visiting Armenia in those early days of independence will remember that despite very dire economic conditions, there was “something” in the air, there was energy, hope, and excitement.
Unfortunately, the picture has changed since. The colors have faded. Despair has replaced hope. Our record in recent years is less than satisfactory when it comes to governance, transparency, democracy, environment, equal opportunity, and civic rights. These concerns, along with an exponential growth of corruption, and the lack of hope for change are the main causes for an unprecedented number of Armenians leaving their ancestral land, emigrating mainly to Russia, the Americas and Western Europe for a better life. If it continues at this rate, this hemorrhage will potentially pose an existential question for Armenia because demographics are such a fundamental sine qua non factor of statehood.
Even Azerbaijan president Ilham Aliyev alluded recently to this catastrophe, as reported by Naira Hayrumian in Lragir.am.  Armenia is losing its citizens to emigration to the tune of over 100,000/year!
However, alongside this bleak picture, there seems to emerge a new glimmer of hope. We are witnessing the birth of a call for a “New Order”. A significant number of Armenian citizens from all walks of life are starting to voice their refusal of the status quo. Several grass-root movements are emerging to reclaim their hope, their dignity, and their national and individual aspirations. Ecological, cultural, heritage, political reform (e.g. the Sardarapat Movement), civic rights, several groups are getting organized at the grass-root level with the stated objective of creating a more equitable, more harmonious, and more transparent society.
These various groups, also known as “activists”, or “civic rights movements” have been registering small victories, one small battle at a time. Their most recent success stories include the salvaging of the Trchkan waterfall from the construction of a power plant at that site, the preservation of green space in downtown Yerevan known as Mashtots purak, and the resignation of Member of Parliament Ruben Hairapetyan following the murder of an innocent man, Vahe Avetyan, in Hairapetyan's Harsnakar restaurant. Likewise, their sustained efforts have succeeded in creating a high-profile media exposure for the plight of the Teghout wild forest and surrounding villages facing extinction because of a proposed mega copper-mining project. The audience of these "civic movements “ is growing steadily, and their voices are getting louder. Their collective actions have the potential of initiating a real metamorphosis of the Armenian psyche, and possibly nothing short of a real Renaissance of the Armenian society.
These collective concerns, as well as the emerging new voices with their accompanying hopes and demands of a civil society, belong to the whole Armenian Nation, in the Diaspora as well as in Armenia and Artsakh. If we truly believe in the “One Nation” concept, we cannot stay on the sidelines of these proposed reforms. While it is true that change can occur only from within (Armenia), it is also true that the Diaspora can play a crucial role in the search for more transparency, justice, and accountability.
This is the time for the Diaspora to stand-up with our people, this is the time for the Diaspora to reflect and return to the very fundamentals that guided the creation of all our political parties, churches, benevolent groups, and other institutions. This is the time to refrain from political manoeuvering, influence-peddling and power struggles that have misdirected our Diaspora’s actions in recent years, thus becoming part of the problem. This is the time to think of new and more principled strategies to try and become part of the solution. This is the time to stop playing “small p” politics and to defend the principles for which all our institutions were created.
As much as these civic movements need the Diaspora, the Diaspora equally needs this metamorphosis. It is a symbiotic relationship. The Diaspora can only benefit. It will be re-energized and will become stronger, and certainly more credible as it embraces more transparency, more accountability, and more principle-guided policies. The alternative to this path can only lead to dire consequences for the Armenian Nation, within Armenia, and in the Diaspora.
This is the time to heed the call of the People.
This is the time to stand on the right side of history.
The winds of change may not blow again soon if we miss this opportunity.

Keghart.com, November 2, 2012

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