Eurasian union? No way!

I really expect this will be nevertheless undone. The incumbent president and his party have lost any popularity in the past years and especially after the last elections. I think you can hardly find anyone in Armenia who’d believe those election were democratic.

The only thing that somehow backed up the “winning” president and his party were the statements of EU and OSCE observers saying the elections were not very bad at all (so angry local observers and activists that they even interrupted OSCE/ODHR press conference).

European counterparts will probably no longer backup Sargsyan, he has 0 popularity in his country, he hasn’t done anything successfully to improve the economy of Armenia, and there are thousands of people emigrating every week. I think soon after he gets back home he will see no other choice than resign.

Or he must start using harsh force to repress protest waves (indeed this seems very likely. Recently Armenian police was arresting teenager activists like there were terrorists; these activists were, by the way. protesting against “smaller” things, like transport fares hike or distortion of a national monument.

Even if Sargsyan won’t resign or call back his statement, “Russian empire” will face a intensive resistance in Armenia, every day, every hour. The overwhelming majority does not want to be part of the EurasianUnion or Tax Union. There is a generation which can’t accept the idea of a renewed USSR.

Update from Yerevan

A month after  the successful protest actions against public transport fare hike, there are still ongoing demonstrations in Yerevan and the situation seems to escalate the last couple of days.

Firstly, there is a sit-in strike in front of the Municipality Hall demanding dismission of two officials: Henrik Navasardyan (the Head of Yerevan Municipality Transport Department) and Misak Hambardzumyan (the Director of Yerevantrans CJSC). Then, lately these activists (most of them are youngsters) also joined the residents of Komitas Street 5, who protest against the construction of a new “elite” flat building.

Yesterday protesters managed to block the street for a while. What happened after that is difficult to describe. The police arrested 26 activists. One of them was severely beaten in the police car on its way to the police station.

A couple of hours later, another 16 activists were arrested, this time in front of the Municipality Hall. This rather small group of activists intended to perform a  play called “Story of a Public transportation fare hike” (where they would mock on Taron Marhargan, Henrik Navasardyan and Misak Hambardzumyan).

As I was there and have seen the scene, I think the police acted quit fiercely (they immediately started to arrest the activists after some of them tried to get on the stairs in front of the doorway of the Municipality Hall). A girl was arrested only because she played on her drum.

Later that night 2 of the activists were beaten by a group of strangers.

The very same day the police released a  statement warning that they are going to use “special measures” against activists who “disturb public order”.

Meanwhile activists have called the arrests a “mass repression”. Several activists call to prepare against the “special measures” of the police.

Riseup.net: Surveillance programs an existential threat to democracy, Encryption technology our hope for the future

Riseup.net makes a strong statement about state surveillance and says democracy, free speech & our future depend on open-source encryption. They are going to develop new encrypted email & chat services, and they need our support. Quoted from a recent newsletter:

It is a mistake to frame the recent US and European massive surveillance revelations in terms of the privacy of individuals. What is at stake is not privacy at all, but the power of the state over its citizenry.

What surveillance really is, at its root, is a highly effective form of social control. The knowledge of always being watched changes our behavior and stifles dissent. The inability to associate secretly means there is no longer any possibility for free association. The inability to whisper means there is no longer any speech that is truly free of coercion, real or implied. Most profoundly, pervasive surveillance threatens to eliminate the most vital element of both democracy and social movements: the mental space for people to form dissenting and unpopular views.

Many commentators, and Edward Snowden himself, have noted that these surveillance programs represent an existential threat to democracy. This understates the problem. The universal surveillance programs in place now are not simply a potential threat, they are certain to destroy democracy if left unchecked. Democracy, even the shadow of democracy we currently practice, rests on the bedrock foundation of free association, free speech, and dissent. The consequence of the coercive power of surveillance is to subvert this foundation and undermine everything democracy rests on.

Within social movements, there is a temptation to say that nothing is really different. After all, governments have always targeted activist groups with surveillance and disruption, especially the successful ones.

But this new surveillance is different. What the US government and European allies have built is an infrastructure for perfect social control. By automating the process of surveillance, they have created the ability to effortlessly peer into the lives of everyone, all the time, and thus create a system with unprecedented potential for controlling how we behave and think.

True, this infrastructure is not currently used in this way, but it is a technical tool-kit that can easily be used for totalitarian ends.

Those who imagine a government can be trusted to police itself when given the ominous power of precise insight into the inner workings of everyday life are betting the future on the ability of a secretive government to show proper self-restraint in the use of their ever-expanding power. If history has shown us anything, it is that the powerful will always use their full power unless they are forced to stop.

So, how exactly are we planning on stopping them? We support people working through the legal system or applying political pressure, but we feel our best hope of stopping the technology of surveillance is the technology of encryption. Why? Because the forces that have created this brave new world are unlikely to be uprooted before it is too late to halt the advance of surveillance.

Unfortunately, most existing encryption technology is counterproductive. Many people are pushing technology that is proprietary, relies on a central authority, or is hopelessly difficult for the common user. The only technology that has a chance to resist the rise of surveillance will be open source, federated, and incredibly easy to use. In the long run, decentralized peer-to-peer tools might meet this criteria, but for the foreseeable future these tools will not have the features or usability that people have grown accustomed to.

In the coming months, the Riseup birds plan to begin rolling out a series of radically new services, starting with encrypted internet, encrypted email, and encrypted chat. These services will be based on 100% open source and open protocols, will be easy to use, and will protect your data from everyone, even Riseup. This is a massive undertaking, made in concert over the last year with several other organizations, and will only work with your support. We need programmers, particularly those experienced in Python, C, Ruby, and Android development, and sysadmins interested in starting their own secure service providers.

We also need money. Donations from our amazing Riseup users keep us running on our current infrastructure. But in order to be able to graduate to a new generation of truly secure and easy to use communication technology, we are going to need a lot more money than our users are able to donate. If you have deep pockets and an interest in building this new generation of communication, then we need to hear from you. If you have friends or family who care about the future of democracy and who have deep pockets, we need to hear from them, too.

At Riseup, we have felt for the last few years that the window of opportunity to counter the rise of universal surveillance is slowly shrinking. Now is our chance to establish a new reality where mass numbers of people are using encryption on a daily basis.

If you have the skills or the money, now is the time to step up and help make this reality come true. Please contact waxwing@riseup.net.

Portrait of an Unborn Revolution

Portrait of an unborn revolution

While former presidential candidate Raffi Hovhannisyan entered the Presidential Palace to negotiate with the reelected president Serzh Sargsyan, probably thousands demonstrated on Bagramyan street shouting “Serzhik leave!”, “Raffi president!” and singing the anthem of the Republic of Armenia.

Sargsyan was officially declared winner of the presidential elections on 18 February 2013. International observers praised this elections as being democratic and well organized, but domestic observers, civil society representatives and opposition parties criticized them as not being fair and not democratic enough. They indicated that the ruling party, the Republican party of Armenia ― almost 70% of all municipal governors, as well many school principals, university rectors being members of this party ― (mis)used their administrative resources to get the incumbent president reelected. Irregularities and incidents of fraud were recorded by journalists and observers and actively shared on social media.

After negotiating with Serzh Sargsyan, Raffi Hovhannisyan called on the demonstrators to come to a next rally tomorrow (Friday) promising to unreveal the details of this negotiation and — as he phrased — the victory will be ours.

Many hope this means a long awaited revolution, while others are sceptical whether Hovhannisyan is able to act a a revolution leader.

Undemocratic Democracy

Of course, it is very difficult for them [= the other candidates] because members of the Republican Party today are leaders in more than 70 percent of local government bodies across Armenia. And no matter how much they say that this is due to the use of government resources, I can never agree with that. People there waged political struggle and got into leadership positions. And why shouldn’t they use their leadership — I mean their prestige — for their political party or for ensuring the victory of their party’s leader? ― Serzh Sargsyan (source: RFERL)

The problem with the Armenian Presidential Elections is not that Prosperous Armenia and ANC don’t participate. The problem is also not so much that there are no “alternatives”. Let’s take for instance Raffi Hovhannisian, Paruyr Hayrikyan or Hrant Bagratyan ― for me they are far from being the ideal presidential candidate. But aren’t they good enough to be alternatives to Serzh Sargsyan? Sargsyan isn’t the ideal president for Armenia either, is he? Proof? Here is one: all the other candidates have more likes on Facebook than the running president. He isn’t very popular indeed and yet few doubt that he is going to be reelected on 18 February.

So what is the problem then? The problem is, I think, our democratic system. I would prefer to call it an undemocratic democracy. That is to say, a democracy which allows candidates and parties being (re)elected even if few people like them, and which on the other hand makes it very difficult or almost impossible for people to change their Government.

(Photo: Araratmagazine)

And the problem, indeed, starts from municipal elections. The ruling party has much power and its candidates win in the municipal elections. Non-partisan or opposition candidates are mostly unable to compete. Then in the parliamentary and presidential elections mayors and aldermen of municipalities use their influence to assure victory for their party/sponsors.

It’s all that simple.

Many people were disappointed when Prosperous Armenia declared not to run for the presidential elections. I saw some tweeps writing on Twitter: this is going to be the most boring elections in Armenian history. Why were they disappointed? Because they hoped that if an “oligarch” would run for the elections or if he supported one of the candidates, maybe something could be changed. A little bit like the last elections in Georga.

But this isn’t the way I want to make a change in my country. I want a democratic system where it is very easy to change your Government or the ruling party. But where it is extremely difficult to win the elections if most people in your country don’t like you.

And for this end, we need much more than a “fair” voting process. We need to change our Undemocratic Democracy. Our democratic system must assure that no one ― members of local or national authorities, teachers, “oligarchs” ― absolutely nothing will influence municipal, parliamentary or presidential elections.

As long as that doesn’t happen this democracy causes more trouble than anything good.

Young people from Armenia and Azerbaijan talk about their concerns and hopes

First contact with Baku-team (Photo US embassy in Yerevan)

First contact with Baku-team (Photo US Embassy FB page)

In December Imagine Dialogue organized a DVC (discussion & video conference) in Yerevan and Baku. While lately I have been rather sceptical about peace initiatives in the Southern Caucasus, especially after the notorious extradition case of months ago, I think discussions like this can be very useful, so I would like to tell a little about how it went.

It was a 2-day seminar:
Day 1 — Yerevan-team would try to discuss and better understand the basics of conflict resolution and to make up a list of “concerns and hopes” for the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.
Day 2 — We would have a video conference with the Baku-team and introduce each others what our concerns and hopes are.

The goal of was simple: interaction & understand the other side. The participants were mostly students and young professionals. One of them was a student from Stepenakert, there was also an exchange student from Belarus. For me, it was the first time to attend to an event like this, I didn’t know the organizers or the other participants, except for — as I soon discovered — one: although I knew him only by his nickname, years ago I met him in the Armenian-Azerbaijani “wars” in the talk pages Wikipedia. It was very interesting what brought this recently repatriated diaspora-Armenian here.

I want give peace a chance, was his short answer.

And me? I was there just because I was curious and because I wanted to make use of the chance to have a chat with my eastern neighbours (something that is mostly impossible even on social media).

I was too sceptical to hope for more than a chat. But during the discussions of Day 1, when we tried to identify what needs are and to distinguish them from ambitions, peace making seemed at the moment easier than ever, at least it seemed possible. The only condition is to trust each other. Too bad that we, Armenians and Azerbaijanis, are doing the opposite. We trust each other less and less..

Anyway, after a lot of discussion and argue on the first day we, members of Yerevan-team, had two lists

Concerns

  • Possibility of a new war
  • Destruction of cultural heritage
  • Violation of ceasefire, skirmishes on the line of contact
  • Lack of interaction between Armenians and Azerbaijanis, a lot of hate speech
  • Lack of trust

Hopes

  • Maintaining peace
  • Recognition of Karabakh independence
  • Open of borders
  • Dialogue between the two people

Not everyone completely agreed with everythinng. For instance, one girl thought that listing “Possible new war” in our concerns would mean for Baku-team. that we were “afraid” of Azerbaijan, or that we thought our army was not strong enough to defend us. Also, apparently I was the only one who thought that “Recognition of independence” is not the best diplomatic formulation of what we hope. I thought it would be better to tell Azerbaijanis that we hope they will accept that the people of Karabakh have the right to decide on their future, or something like that.

Day 2 (Photo from US Embassy FB page)

Concerns of Yerevan-team (Photo US Embassy FB page)

Anyway, on Day 2 we were very curious about the Concerns and Hopes of Baku and it was time give them a Skype-call. I have to admit that we were all nervous: after the strict security measures of the US Embassy (where we were) it was more like we were going to make contact with aliens from a distant and hostile planet. But as it appeared, they were humans like us. Most of them were students, they were very friendly and very kind. Frankly I was surprised how warmly the Azerbaijanis greeted us.

So it was time that we would introduce ourselves and our lists of concerns and hopes. It was prearranged that we would not start a debate (our goal was only to understand the other side), we could only ask clarifying question if necessary and never challenge each other.

The concerns and hopes of Baku-team were like a reflected image in the mirror compared to our lists.

Concerns

  • People don’t believe that the resolution of the conflict is in their hands
  • Influence of a third state, e.g. Russia, on the conflict resolutions
  • Azerbaijani mosques and monuments in Karabakh are unsafe/destroyed
  • Mutual living of 2 nations in Karabakh
  • Resources outside Nagorno-Karabakh, e.g. Kelbajar, being illegally used.
  • The losses of Karabakh war, including Karabakh itself

There were a lot of “clarifying questions” from both sides. Like:

Yerevan: Can you accept Nagorno-Karabakh to participate to the peace talks?
Baku: In that case Azeri IDP’s should participate too.

Or:

Baku: Do you want Russia in the peace talks?
Yerevan: As part of the Minsk-group only.
Baku: Would you accept Turkey as moderator?
Yerevan: No, because unlike France, USA and Russia, Turkey is not neutral about the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, besides Turkey has no diplomatic relations with Armenia.
The Baku-team, then, added that they don’t want any country which has any kind of interest in the conflict of is influenced by lobbies, to be involved in the peace talks: neither Russia, France, USA, Turkey or Georgia.

Also, Yerevan-team was surprised to hear that Azerbaijanis had concerns about Azerbaijani monuments being unsafe or destroyed. A young student from the Armenian side very kindly reassured the Azerbaijanis that he had been everywhere in Nagono-Karabakh and he didn’t see destroyed Azerbaijani monuments there.

Baku-team was also surprised to hear that we had the same concern about Armenian monuments in Azerbaijan. There is only one Armenian monument in Azerbaijan, was the answer, the Armenian church and graveyard in Baku which are completely safe, so don’t worry guys!

When we introduced our concern about ceasefire violations, Baku-team replied that they shared this concern.

And now finally the hopes:

  • Change of political system in both countries: real democracy in both countries
  • IDP’s can return to their homelands and get their homes back
  • Dialogue between the two nations
  • Decrease of aggression

Of course, the Baku-team wasn’t really happy to hear that we hoped for the recognition of Karabakhs independence. I don’t think it makes ant sense to name the arguments of our and their side. But then I had the chance to say the last word: what matters for me, I said, is that people of Karabakh must have the right to make a choice since I consider it a fundamental human right to choose the state you want to live in. An then, I also added, what matters most is that we must be able to make our region a place where we can life together peacefully and be kind to each other as we are today.

Hopefully one day this won’t be an unrealistic dream.

P.S. I don’t remember the names of the participants from Baku, but if anyone reada this, please find me on fb/twitter/diaspora: I would really like to keep in touch and maybe see you again 😉

What you can’t expect from your government

We cannot expect a government to say to children: “You are going to have a life in a world full of mass movements, both religious and political, mass ideas, mass cultures (..). You are going to be pressured through all you life to join mass movements, and if you can resist this, you will be, every day, under pressure from various types of groups, often of your closest friends, to conform to them.

It will seem many times in you life that there is no point in holding out against these pressure, that you are not strong enough. But you are going to be taught how to examine these mass ideas, these apparently irresistible pressures, taught how to think for yourself, and to choose for yourself.

You will be taught to read history, so as to learn how short-lived ideas are, how apparently the most irresistible and persuasive ideas can, and do, vanish overnight.

You will be taught how to read literature, which is the study of mankind itself, as so to understand the development of people and peoples. Literature is a branch of anthropology, a branch of history: and we will make sure that you will know how to judge an idea from the point of view of long-term human memory (..).

To these studies will be added those new branches of information, the sciences of psychology, social psychology, sociology and so on, so that you may understand your own behavior, and the behavior of the group which will be, all your life, both your comfort and your enemy, both your support and your greatest temptation, since to disagree with your friends — you group animal — will always be painful.

You will be taught that no matter how much you have to conform outwardly — because the world you are going to live in often punishes unconformity with death — to keep your own being alive inwardly, your own judgment, your own thought…”

Doris Lessing, “Prisons We Choose to Live Inside”