The country has also begun the year with a political season full of conflicts and scandals.
President Sargsyan transformed the friction with the leader of the opposition, Gagik Tsarukyan, into open conflict, when the latter threatened to hold large demonstrations and to demand anticipated elections if the government rejected the process of controversial constitutional reforms announced last October.
The only answer given was the arrest of some men close to Tsarukyan with their homes or businesses being searched. The Prime Minister, Hovik Abrahamian, asked the judiciary to verify the charges against Tsarukyan, who has numerous commercial business interests in Armenia, of evading large amounts of tax.
After Sargsyan and Tsarukyan had an informal, almost clandestine meeting, the leader of the opposition accepted less extreme counsel and withdrew his demands for anticipated elections, opting for a peaceful and political solution to the conflict. That which to many seemed a complete about-turn caused the opposition to become largely discredited, reinforcing the leadership of the president in power.
A parliamentary republic
The constitutional reform deeply desired by President Sargsyan will transform Armenia, at present a presidential republic, into a parliamentary republic with a prime minister who will hold all power and a head of state whose role will be largely representative. The Council of Europe has given its general approval and has affirmed that the reforms will reinforce the democratic base of the country and create the conditions necessary for instituting the rule of law and respect for human rights. At the same time, however, the Council gave a reminder that such reforms require a large consensus within society. It is at this point that problems with the opposition arise, according to whom Sargsyan intends to exploit the reforms to prolong his time in power, perhaps as prime minister, after his second presidential mandate runs out in 2018.
The question raised by the Council of Europe regarding the state of law and human rights is not a random one. It was only in the past month that the report on the state of the nation of Armenia, set out by the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Nils Muižnieks, was made. As regards the first point, the report states that there is a general problem of the subordination of magistrates, especially with respect to the President of the Republic, whose role is too great in the nomination and sacking of judges and that there is still much to be done to strengthen the independence of the judiciary.
However, it is in the field of human rights that Armenia has a long way to go. Muižnieks concentrated especially on the sad phenomenon of selective abortion. According to the report, there is a great imbalance in Armenia between male and female children. This is something widespread in the entire Caucasian region and also in the eastern Baltic states but it is especially so in Armenia.
Statistics indicate that parents tend to abort selectively according to gender, which suggests that boys and girls are not considered equal. This is confirmed by the lower degree of participation of women in political and public life. There is also the disturbing phenomenon of domestic violence, a problem that clearly has not been properly solved yet. There are even cases where the rhetoric of political exponents justifies domestic violence and police officials who aggravate the issue by blaming women. According to the United Nations, Armenia is the number one country in the world in selective abortions.
Armenia’s problems do not end here. There are increasing cases of police violence, abuses and confessions obtained by torture. Even though this is a problem common to other former Soviet countries, and especially those in the Caucuses, in recent years it has assumed worrying proportions in Armenia.
An unbalanced society
Perhaps the fundamental point is that Armenia is an unbalanced society. Going back to the time of the Soviet Union, Armenia was a flourishing country, with a sound economy according to Soviet standards. Today, 42% of the population lives below the poverty line, having to live on one or two dollars a day and populating the sector of absolute poverty. Barely 13% of the population can be said to belong to a well-off class.
These figures conceal one of the most common ills among former Soviet societies and that is the concentration of riches in the hands of a few. According to a 2007 study, the 44 richest people in Armenia owned more than 50% of gross domestic production. Moreover, two of the super-rich possessed 12% GDP, something around a billion dollars.
On the other hand, the economy of the country has suffered greatly from the effects of the global crisis, continually rated as having one of the lowest indices of competitiveness and growth. The rigidity of monopolies, the concentration of resources and endemic corruption are seen to be among the greatest obstacles to the economic development of Armenia.
The other face of the problem is that of the diaspora, spread among three continents, whose contributions make up one of the main sources of the nations’ income. It is estimated that almost two out of every ten families live on income sent from relatives living abroad. Those in Russia alone, who are by far the majority, send home almost a billion dollars annually, according to the Central Bank of Russia. These figures indicate how vast the phenomenon is.
The commemoration of the genocide has been and always will be a unifying moment for the Armenian population. For the descendants of those who fled persecutions and for those who were born and live in other continents, the memory of the “Great Evil” is an element of their past that can never be forgotten. (Danilo Elia)