Crossroads, an Analysis by K.M. Greg Sarkissian, President of the Zoryan Institute
TORONTO, ON–(Marketwired – January 21, 2017) – On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Armenia’s independence from the Soviet Union, the President of the Zoryan Institute, Mr. K.M. Greg Sarkissian, has written an analysis of the current situation in Armenia, the difficult road taken during the last 25 years and suggestions for the country to move forward towards true democracy, rule of law and economic independence.
Vasgen Manukyan, an intellectual and theorist of the Karabagh Committee, [a dissident group in Soviet Armenia ] in his widely acclaimed article written in 1990 titled, “It is Time to Jump Off the Train,” described the scope, the depth and the prescience of what independence meant for Armenia.
“It is not incidental that just as we see opening ahead of us opportunities to make decisions regarding the future of our people and to benefit from them, there are people who see hopelessness and speak of a dead end. No, there is no dead end. There is a difficult road ahead, which has been traveled by many other nations and which leads to happiness. What is needed is cooperation, unity, intelligent calculations, and decisiveness…We must strive to achieve economic independence and sovereignty.” (Vasgen Manukyan)
Significant strides have been taken in bringing Armenia onto the global stage. However, as Manukyan predicted, the journey has been extremely difficult. In the few years preceding independence, Armenia faced many daunting challenges. There was the conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan over Artsakh, accompanied by pogroms in Sumgait, Baku and elsewhere. Some 400,000 refugees fled Azerbaijan to Armenia and Russia. A devastating earthquake killed 25,000 people and left 530,000 individuals homeless out of a total population of 3,100,000 or over one-sixth of the country’s population. Approximately 9,177,000 sq. meters of residential space was either totally lost or listed unsafe and 85% of the country’s economy was destroyed.
Then the Soviet Union collapsed. Armenia was quickly separated from a market of 300 million people. This former Soviet Republic underwent a severe energy crisis due to the Karabagh war, an economic blockade by Azerbaijan and Turkey, and the closure of the Medzamor nuclear plant. To survive winter, people were forced to devastate Armenia’s flora by cutting many trees for fuel, especially in urban centers. The price of food increased 50 fold. Bread had to be rationed. The population was left to improvise survival strategies, while simultaneously establishing the institutions necessary to govern a newly independent country.
These arduous challenges must be measured alongside the developing country’s successes in the last 25 years. On September 21, 1991, Armenia declared independence through a national referendum. Levon Ter Petrossian became Armenia’s first democratically elected President through a free and fair election, and the new country took its place among the other countries of the world. A new constitution was adopted; Armenia became a member of the United Nations in 1992; its army was strengthened and modernized; and new private educational facilities, including the American University of Armenia , helped raise the standard of education. Three Administrations have governed the country since, each one followed by a peaceful transition of power.
Despite being landlocked, lacking indigenous sources of power and blockaded by its neighbors, Armenia’s GDP has grown from 1.23 billion USD in 1992 to 10.561 billion USD in 2015, signaling its resilience and determination to survive and grow.
Unfortunately, Manukyan’s prophecy of the difficult road ahead has become a reality as well. During the last twenty-five years, there have been continuous political, economic and social challenges that have led to the emigration of over 1,000,000 people. The political challenges are epitomized in such incidents as the October 1999 shooting in parliament, where high ranking officials, amongst them deputies, the Minister of Urgent Affairs, the Prime Minister and the National Assembly Speaker, were killed. The peaceful protest of 2008 was met with police brutality suppressing the assembly of the people, causing the death of ten protestors and the wounding and imprisonment of hundreds. To date there has been no accountability by the police or law enforcement agencies.
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