What’s the influence of public opinion on decision-making on political issues of particular importance for Armenia?
Nearly all international projects supporting the attempts to seek the ways for Karabakh settlement have 2 ‘tracks’ – political talks and people’s diplomacy. Quite substantial funds are allocated for ‘track 2′, projects aimed at reducing the degree of enmity and developing contacts between the communities are implemented, but all the aforesaid yields an ambiguous effect.
In the countries with undeveloped democratic traditions, such as Armenia and Azerbaijan, ‘track 2′ obviously can’t be a driving force and can’t lead the political activity. Both, in Armenia and Azerbaijan, the public opinion is not determinant in decision-making. Therefore, those who hope that people’s diplomacy will lead the political talks and help find a compromise, seem somewhat naive.
At the same time, the situation in Armenia and Azerbaijan in this sense fundamentally differs from each other, though the ‘track 2′ designers, who either don’t think through the matter or try to maintain the notorious parity, persistently equate these two communities.
As a result, the Armenian-Azerbaijani joint projects, especially in the field of mass media and people’s diplomacy, that are funded by the international organizations with the best intentions, don’t bring a desired effect.
In Azerbaijan, people either refuses to be involved in the projects at all, or ‘generously’ agree ‘to spend money’, but on the condition that their participation will be out of public view.
In Armenia and Karabakh, joint projects and even pacifist propaganda don’t meet much resistance in the community, they are quite openly manifested and people involved in them are not subjected to persecution. However, due to the lack of progress in the political ‘track’ and confrontation on the other side of the border, the effect of these projects in Armenia is less visible. The ‘peacekeepers’ are oftentimes viewed as a marginal group of people, who are probably humane, but are far from realpolitik (practical politics).
In fact, there is a fairly wide array of views on the Karabakh conflict in Armenia, ranging from radical-patriotic to skeptical-negative.
There are essentially no closed topics in Armenia. This concerns not only the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but also, let’s say, the situation in the army. Unlike Azerbaijan, which has recently classified its defence information, Armenia publicizes nearly all information on incidents, casualties, human rights violations and litigations. This doesn’t imply that there are no human rights violations in the Armenian army, but the information is, by and large, publicly available.
What isn’t published officially, is compensated by NGOs and social groups, that can openly express their protest and make the information public. For example, the Office of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly, supported by the international organizations, periodically publishes reports on the situation in the armed forces, pointing to serious drawbacks. Whereas the mothers of soldiers, who were killed in non-war conditions, hold weekly protest rallies outside the government house, demanding justice and naming particular high-rank officials.
Nevertheless, a relative openness in Armenia isn’t a sign of super-democracy, since despite the abundance of information, it has no political weight and the public opinion has no influence on decision-making. It’s a peculiarity of Armenian ‘democracy’ – you can say whatever you want, but the governmental decisions are made based on other motives.
At first glance there is a great difference, but essentially they are much the same – the decisions are made by a narrow circle of people, with disregard for the whole range of opinions.
Though it’s true that in July 2016, this thesis was seriously challenged for the first time. A patrol police regiment was seized in Yerevan on July 17, and in their first statement, issued on the day of seizure, the rebels, the “Sasna tsrer’ group ( the Daredevils of Sasun), claimed that their campaign was aimed against the leadership’s defeatist policy on Karabakh. Long before the seizure, the group members had claimed that the Armenian authorities were going to make inadmissible territorial concessions, and that they would prevent such an outcome.
Those rumors were, to certain extent, confirmed by Serzh Sargsyan, who admitted that an agreement had been signed in Kazan, in 2011, under which, the Armenian forces would be withdrawn from a number of regions around the former Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Republic in exchange for recognition of Karabakh’s status.
On a side note, Sargsyan’s statement caused outrage only in certain patriotic circles, but it passed almost unnoticed by the political forces and public structures, that didn’t even consider it necessary to blame Serzh Sargsyan for capitulationism and demand his resignation.
Nevertheless, following the end of ‘Sasna tsrer’ case, on July 31, Serzh Sargsyan replaced the government and to some extent toughened the rhetoric on the Karabakh issue. Experts find it difficult to determine, whether it was the popular wave of support to ‘Sasna tsrer’ that acted on Serzh Sargsyan, or, on the contrary, the group became a good ‘cover-up’ for tightening Sargsyan’s positions.
But the ‘Sasna tsrer’ case has become a manifestation of radical popular protest, making it apparent that despite the seeming apathy and statements about inevitability of painful compromises, despite a wide range of opinions, there is a strong radical potential brewing in the Armenian community, which can manifest itself in case of any ‘compromise’ decision. And this potential will be crucial in decision-making.
These trends suggest that the situation in the Karabakh conflict, as well as in Armenia and Azerbaijan, is more and more resembling a powder keg. Unlike Azerbaijan, where a threat of international freezing of the conflict (while maintaining the status quo) may become a spark, in Armenia, any decision that suggests changing status quo may trigger a blast. And in this case it will be hard to figure out, where is the public opinion, state propaganda, and where is a trivial self-preservation instinct and realization of the national interests.
The opinions expressed in the article convey the author’s views and terminology and don’t necessarily reflect the position of the editorial staff