Avetik Chalabyan

The fifth installment of a multi-part series, this article was originally published in Armenian by Mediamax on June 26, 2022.

Avetik Chalabyan’s legal representatives have published the co-founder of ARAR Foundation’s article penned at the Armavir Penitentiary Institution, where he is currently being held under trumped up charges.

I have presented the existential choice facing Armenia if it wants to bid farewell to Nikolism and the national catastrophe that it has brought upon the nation. I separately addressed the three main pillars of that election: the Armenian Regathering, Modernization and Militarization and presented why they are necessary in the region’s existing geopolitical conditions. After reading these pieces, an attentive reader will naturally ask two fair questions. Are these possible given our condition? Can we take such a heavy burden on ourselves and carry it successfully?

The answer to these questions is not unequivocal. The good news is that there are examples in modern world history that can serve as a real source of inspiration for us. For example, at the time of the declaration of independence in 1947, Israel was inferior to Soviet Armenia in terms of population and economy and had about half of its territory. Seventy-five years later, Israel has increased its territory by about 50 percent, has increased its population by eight times, and its gross economic output exceeds 12 times that of Armenia. The Jews are unique; they have a strong national ideology, and we Armenians are not able to repeat their miraculous achievements. But the example of Israel is not the only one. During the same period in the Far East, beginning with the devastation of extreme poverty and catastrophic war, South Korea and Singapore also made a dramatic leap in 70 years, multiplying their populations, modernizing their economies and strongly militarizing their countries (these two countries and Israel rank in the top 10 most militarized nations in the world). The latter deserves special attention, as traditional European political and economic thought opposes militarization toward economic prosperity, and at least before the start of the war in Ukraine, they argued that states should reduce their military spending in order to direct those funds towards peaceful purposes.

In that case, what allowed these three countries (as well as Switzerland and Japan before them) to break the traditional logic and make such an impressive leap? What can we learn from their experience, and how relevant is it to us?

I once wrote an article about South Korea that analyzed the stages of its post-war development and drew parallels with today’s Armenia. I would like to mention a few factors that played a significant role there.

  • Regardless of the change of government, there was a clear national consensus on modernization, progressive economic development and integration into the world economic value chains, done so consistently and aggressively.
  • Militarization was seen as an absolute necessity to protect against the threat posed by North Korea and Communist China. At the same time, it became a key impetus for the technological development of the country.
  • The state focused its budget on education and social mobility, not on social equalization. In doing so, it created a highly competitive environment within the society and incentives to learn and work.
  • The society’s aspiration to overcome the severe psychological trauma received during the Japanese occupation also played an important role in this process.

In the same way, if we study the histories of Israel and Singapore, we will see many similar factors (although in the case of Israel the issue of the restoration of the spiritual homeland was very important). There are certain patterns that are universal in nature and have allowed these countries, in significant dissonance with conventional logic, to take a leap forward, leading them to both population growth and improvements in citizen welfare and security. 

One of the most important issues to consider is that societies living in conditions of external military danger are mobilized, and its members are ready to do much more than those in peaceful conditions: work longer hours, solve more complex problems, consume less and instead invest their resources in the development of the state. When this goes on for decades, the results can be astounding.

The average economic growth rate in the world is about four percent, and in the last 50 years it has led to an eight-fold growth in the world’s gross economic output.

However, the countries that managed to ensure seven-percent growth instead of the average annual growth of four percent, have already grown 32 times in the same period. That is, they are four times ahead of the world average. Consider Singapore, where the per capita GDP is now 10 times higher than the world average and more than twice as high as the US average.

However, in order for a country to develop at such a high and stable pace, it must have a long-term, clear and flexible national strategy and national leadership capable of turning that strategy into reality. In this sense, Singapore is truly a classic example, as its “miracle” is connected with the long-term leadership of one genius politician, Lee Kuan Yew.

However, South Korea, Israel and other countries that performed economic miracles after World War II did not have such long-term leadership alone. Instead, they had a general consensus among the political forces on what is a priority in the long run and is not subject to radical revision as a result of political cycles and change of government, and have consistently moved forward in that direction.

For example, in the case of Israel, the key was that it is the Jewish nation-state and its existence is called to ensure the security of the Jewish people in its historical homeland, and all other issues are subordinated to that goal and addressed as much as possible.

In the case of South Korea, similarly, it was a priority to resist the communist threat coming from the north, and in the long run, to unite the divided homeland.

In this sense, it is crucial for today’s Armenia to form its own “National Pact,” that is, the clear, understandable and universal strategic goals that the Armenian state must serve in the coming decades and which are not subject to radical revision in the event of a replacement of political forces. The first step in that direction was taken on June 3 when the Resistance Movement submitted a draft statement consisting of seven points. Although the ruling majority did not accept it, it is very important that a number of extra-parliamentary political structures signed the statement; and this is the first necessary step on the way to forming a national consensus. The next step is not only to expand the scope of the structures joining the “National Pact,” but also to significantly deepen its content, replacing the logic of the “red lines” with long-term national goals and their worldview. Such a “National Pact” must, finally, answer an important question: what is the mission of the Armenian nation state in the historical homeland or for what higher goals should an Armenian be ready to suffer hardships and endure in his historical homeland?

Such a process can be undertaken right now, leaving the door open for all political and public structures and having a wide public discussion around the proposed “National Pact.” By the way, the Declaration of Independence is also an example of such a “National Pact,” but it obviously needs to be updated today. This entire process can be built by the logic of modernizing the Declaration of Independence and forming an updated national vision document for the next few decades.

Next, if we are to formulate and consistently communicate to our entire people the renewed Declaration of Independence, we must form a national leadership capable of implementing it over the coming decades. In our reality, most people think in terms of a person, regularly asking who will come “after Nikol.” In fact, this is a consequence of a fundamental institutional deficit, which we have not been able to overcome during the three decades of independence, continuing to see the solution of our complex problems in the arrival of the mythical “savior,” instead of strengthening the institutional foundations of our state.

They have never been strong, but now they have been radically undermined during Pashinyan’s rule, whose activities are aimed at subjugating the entire state apparatus to his own will, resulting in unprecedented simplification and loss of professional qualities (especially in the security system – Armenian Armed Forces, the Foreign Ministry and the National Security Service).

The future Armenian state must be able to restore its own institutional depth and raise the capacity of the state apparatus to a qualitatively new level. This is not possible, however, under the current Constitution, which gives dictatorial powers to one person (regardless of his or her governing qualities). This person, having been elected by the relatively poor and less educated segment of the population and having no real political counterbalances, will always be interested in reproducing his own phenotype by all possible means. As a result, the less educated segment of the society will dominate the educated and progressive one, blocking the development of the country and maintaining the country in the same crisis mode that we are in today. If we aim to exit this vicious circle, we must change the Constitution and balance the seemingly democratic mechanisms of power with strong institutional counterbalances, which are formed on the basis of meritocratic principles.

The modern world the United States, Great Britain, the European Union has long understood the need for mechanisms to balance the will of the popular majority with the deep knowledge of the educated and experienced minority. It has been a key stabilizing factor in the development of these countries. We must follow the same logic, trying to form solid institutions in the conditions of our national reality, which will represent the professional groups of public administration (military generals, diplomats, intelligence professionals, judges or other professional civil servants).

This can be done through the restoration of the institution of the President, who is elected by the Constitution and endowed with greater powers, by expanding the powers of the General Staff, strengthening the guarantees of judges, strengthening public control over laws adopted by the National Assembly or even creating an upper chamber. Today, however, it is important to realize that without such changes and constitutional reforms, Armenia in the foreseeable future will not have a leadership capable of effectively governing the country, and today by heroically removing Pashinyan from power, sooner or later we will return to the same broken state.

Finally, if we can regulate the constitutional foundations of our state and create a competitive political environment and legal guarantees for effective governance, we must take another important step to ensure the sustainable development of our state.

During the 30 years of independence, the cancer of our state organism has been materialism at all levels. From the laborer who despises his own country to state leaders, we are deeply rooted in materialism, the preference of our own narrow material interests over the public interest, our own homeland, and consequently the consumerist attitude toward our own life. It has penetrated and corrupted most of the state elite.

General Karekin Nejdeh wisely said that there is no greater evil for the nation than the materialistic leader. If we aim to get our state out of the closed circle of erosion and loss of sovereignty, we must finally be able to overcome the materialism rooted in us and replace it with a value system that puts professional and public achievements, good reputation and its contribution to the country’s development, above material wealth or continuous charitable work. In developed western societies, this is a widespread phenomenon. In this way, the accumulation of capital by the individual is balanced by adequate mechanisms of public benefit by him. If we want this to become a reality in our country, we must start by discussing the need for such a value system and how we can spread its elements with our actions.

If we create structures, be they entrepreneurial, public or educational, such values ​​must be the foundation, and we must follow them in our daily activities as well.

The political elite of our country must be formed on the same principle. Initially, those who have strong ideological aspirations and subordinate material well-being to their own political ambitions should be involved in political activities. For this to happen, the public must make strong demands on future politicians, examine their activities, analyze their past and naturally filter out those who prefer their own material interests and personal well-being, pushing them out of politics into areas of human life, where the pursuit of material gain is more natural and less harmful. The natural mechanism of this can also be the enlargement of the parties and the increase of their institutional transparency, as a result of which leaders with corresponding values ​​will appear in the leading roles.

This is a daily work that we all must undertake. Instead of waiting for the “savior,” this is a real way to consistently form a national leadership that is able to ensure the survival of our state and lead it to the future with a firm hand.

This concludes this series of articles. As I have written these pieces from the penitentiary, the content turned out to be a bit raw, and the form a bit less polished. However, I hope that many of you have at least thought about them, and the ideas expressed in this series of articles will be discussed and then implemented. In the meantime, I would like to thank you for communicating with each other through articles. It has given me great strength and added confidence to continue our journey together.

Ara Nazarian, PhD

Ara Nazarian is an associate professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Harvard Medical School. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a degree in mechanical engineering, followed by graduate degrees from Boston University, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Harvard University. He has been involved in the Armenian community for over a decade, having served in a variety of capacities at the Hamazkayin Armenian Educational and Cultural Society, the Armenian Cultural and Educational Center, Armenian National Committee of America, St. Stephen’s Armenian Elementary School and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.

Ara Nazarian, PhD