Political compromise is the work of patriots

Posted on December. 2. 2021

Demonstrations in Yerevan calling for the unification of Karabakh with Soviet Armenia (Photo: Ruben Mangasaryan, circa 1980s)

Most people who pursue public service believe their perspective on policy is essential. When accompanied with the interpersonal dynamics of political life, we sometimes find ourselves unable to compromise. It’s commonly referred to as partisan politics. Party loyalty is admirable, but it also contributes to legislative and governing gridlock. When does a parochial view begin to limit what’s in the national interest? The easy part is forming a view. The hard part is implementation. The only time in politics when compromise is not required is in a dictatorship. I always find it interesting when a politician wins an election by, say 52 to 48 percent, they declare they have a “mandate.” A mandate for what? To govern or to push their agenda? The mandate is that you have been entrusted in a democratic society to govern the entire population. They certainly have no issues with the 52 percent that supported them, but what about the responsibility to the 48 percent? Successful leaders know how to bring everyone along for the journey. That requires compromise without abandoning the national interests.

Some call compromise a betrayal to the ideals (the 52 percent), while others view it as a process of inclusion. At one point, we will all be on either side of that distribution, yet we tend to change our perspective depending on which end we reside. Patriotism involves always working truly in the best interests of the nation which requires us to closely examine the views of those who did not vote for us. It is challenging to find consensus, but with power of authority comes the responsibility to find solutions.

This is a theme that bears repeating for our dear homeland and the worldwide diaspora. We can safely make two assumptions about the political climate in Armenia and Artsakh. The first is that there is no greater priority today than the national security of the Armenian homeland. The other is that the instability of the political environment is weakening Armenia’s ability to address that priority. The climate of conflict is toxic. Endless arrests, investigations, political undermining and staffing changes only lead to the perception of aimless governing and bitter adversarial relations. How can Armenia improve the political landscape? Private and discreet negotiations between the parties are certainly important, but for too long the message of inclusion and compromise has been missing in public discourse. The public has been encouraged to take to the streets, use the media and express hopelessness to promote personal attacks and divisive rhetoric. Regardless of your perspective, it is difficult to defend this as helpful for Armenia’s future. Most of the attacks center around forcing the resignation of Pashinyan. This is the same tactic used prior to the June elections. Now with a “mandate” to serve, the same approach is wasteful. It creates more animosity and more division, further weakening our position. Can Armenia survive the turmoil connected to regime change? Our enemies view this as an open invitation to attack Armenia and further pressure the government to subscribe to unfavorable “peace.” Pashinyan’s people likewise respond with charges of past corruption from previous administrations (now opposition) which has the same negative impact. Is it that difficult to understand the futility of this approach or is patriotism now defined as synonymous with partisan positions?

Last week, we broached this matter with some suggested actions to break the apparent gridlock. It starts with the authority structure which is the current government. In this chess game, they have the first move. No one should be exonerating past corruption, but the country cannot endlessly continue a process that began in 2018. On the back of the Velvet Revolution, there was a place for anti-corruption. What began as standing up to the faces of corruption and a public cry for justice continued with political overtones. Exonerations added to this perception. The war of 2020 simply added to the feeling of anxiety that fueled public opinion.

The gridlock and political civil war are not in the interests of a sovereign prosperous Armenia. The answer in Armenia always seems to be demanding the replacement of the government. It has happened with the Ter Petrosyan, Kocharyan, Sargysyan and now the Pashinyan administration. Whether its street demonstrations, elections or other forms of pressure, the exit of one government has rarely improved the climate. Poverty remains a critical issue. Population migration is crippling, and now national security is threatening sovereignty. We have seen many leaders with different styles over the last 30 years in a variety of landscapes. One approach that has not been attempted is a comprehensive national reconciliation and political unity movement. The reconciliation is required to enable the healing caused by the bitter internal conflict. Political unity can only happen when there is a common “unifier.” In this moment of porous borders and “huns at the gates,” can there be any greater purpose than overcoming the nefarious intentions of our enemies? Many Armenians today have abdicated their impact by claiming that the future of the country is in the hands of others. We are all too familiar with Armenia’s dependency on Russia, but sovereignty starts with a spirit of self-determination. Once that is lost, the decline is significant.

What can Armenia do to protect its sovereignty? We can start by acting as one nation. Division always reduces the whole, and we need every ounce of the whole at this time. Political debate can certainly be an important part of the democratic process, but not when it is motivated by acquiring power or making change that does not inspire confidence. Armenia is at a point where the inability to find consensus and work together has become the major obstacle. In a divided political society, one group takes power and discounts the others. Change in this environment simply rotates the chairs with the same result. At the end of the day, this political process does little to improve the lives of the citizens.

Bold action is required to bring our nation together. But how? Pashinyan has spent considerable effort bringing charges against former government officials. The list is long. Supporters say it is tedious work because the problem is rampant. My observation is that this process has not been particularly successful. Some have been released, and others have been found innocent. On the other hand, this has fueled an opposition that views this as revenge. The truth has become almost irrelevant as the country sinks into civil conflict. Perhaps a conditional general amnesty is a better way for the nation. A good friend of mine who is active in Armenian politics suggested that rather than endless investigations, we should consider a “conditional amnesty” where individuals would compensate the nation in return for amnesty. These funds would be substantial and would be directed toward the national security of the nation. A conditional amnesty should be declared to relieve the country of the atmosphere of investigations and arrests that have gained a perception of political motivation.

Fortifying both sides of Syunik and improving armament and military research are just a few uses for this funding. The nation receives compensation for the past, and the individuals start with a clean slate. I cannot think of any more significant change to reduce the internal political conflict. We must find a way to put these conflicts behind us. Patriotic expression should be encouraged and valued. Let those who refuse to participate in a national reconciliation movement be isolated. This will take incredible will on the part of the political elite, perhaps more than they may believe they are capable of. We must also appeal to the egos of the elite. One possible opening to convince these individuals may be in appealing to their legacy. At some point, most influential individuals care about how they are perceived, remembered and how their impact is sustained. It will require all parties to subordinate their personal feelings and embrace a sense of national collaboration. Are patriotic values stronger than the cultural norm of disunity? This approach has the possibility of de-escalating the domestic political firestorm and focus our resources on the external threats instead of being dissipated in partisan conflict.

Pan-Armenian behavior has become prevalent in the diaspora as old wounds heal and the need for collaboration becomes essential. The lack of such in the homeland is a dark cloud hovering over our people and represents a significant threat. It has taken many painful years to come to this realization. Armenia needs a similar epiphany and the catalyst may be the national security crisis.

A wounded bird unable to fly cannot protect the nest. Most major wounds heal from the inside. The rhetoric expounded about patriotism and the homeland has little practical value unless it leads to recovery. An engine with cylinders misfiring is not very effective and will probably break down. The pain and suffering of the Armenian nation requires unprecedented action by the powerful to reconcile those in conflict and to restore hope in the citizenry. Are we expecting perfection? Of course not. Conflict is part of human nature. Civil discourse can be valuable as long as it does not impede decisiveness and stays below the threshold of dysfunction. No one should be above self-reflection. We should all examine our approach during this critical moment in our history. One of the greatest expressions of patriotism is to subordinate oneself to the needs of the nation. Our people will follow a path of reconciliation, self-sacrifice and the compromise required to survive.

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