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What’s Changed in Armenia One Year After The Revolution?

We have a portion of society here that wants to live well but isn't prepared to work for it. That's why the prime minister (Nikol Pashinian) is struggling at times to do his best -- because people are unwilling to help.

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Radek, shepherd in the village of Lernavan
Radek, shepherd in the village of Lernavan. RFERL

There’s no future in what we do. Selling sweets next to a highway? Until when? If there was a factory here, I could have a decent, stable job.

When the revolution was happening, we didn’t know much about what was going on. We had a sense that things were about to improve. But so far we don’t see any changes. Our roof has a problem and we heard there’s an initiative to fix all the damaged roofs in the villages. It’s a new law, apparently. We don’t know if it’s true or not, but we really hope the government will carry this out.

Some days we sell our sweets or fruit and my kids get to eat; other days nothing and they go hungry. At times they don’t even have shoes to go to school in. Why should we work on the side of the highway? We need factories here. If there was a factory, we’d have a stable income, like in the old days.

Hayk Simonian, math teacher in the village of Bagaran​
Hayk Simonian, math teacher in the village of Bagaran​. RFERL

I don’t think anything has changed in the education system yet. I can see our new government doesn’t know where to start to make the situation better. I can’t say it’s bad, it’s just very confused.

They ask for a lot, but they don’t give us the tools we need. Until recently we only had one computer at school, but every day the teachers had to enter their assessments online. Nineteen teachers, one computer, a lot of work and very, very slow Internet. What the hell?

I can tell the government about these problems, but they can’t do anything because they don’t have the resources. That’s why they should be focused on the quality of teaching, not paperwork or online record keeping.

A lot of the kids don’t have a target in life. They’re lost. That stems from education: If you have decent schooling, if you understand the world around you, you want to be part of that world. I want to give the kids a sense of purpose.

Artak Simonian, priest in Echmiadzin
Artak Simonian, priest in Echmiadzin. RFERL

A revolution is like a stormy tide. It brings jewels and lost rings, valuable watches, etc. But along with this treasure, a lot of trash is brought in too. The people are still excited because of the waves of this tide — everyone is ready to change their lives. But now we have to wait for the tide to retreat before we can see what’s left. Is it trash, or is it treasure? Right now, it’s too early to say.

Here in Echmiadzin, though, we feel the changes. Each region might have had its own Manvel, so the city feels the benefits of the revolution very deeply. Now people feel happiness within themselves. (Editor’s note: Manvel Grigorian is a prominent retired general and lawmaker arrested shortly after the 2018 events who is now facing multiple charges including extortion.)

Astghik Khachatrian, barista in Yerevan​
Astghik Khachatrian, barista in Yerevan​. RFERL

We were very excited when the revolution was happening. Now, for me personally, I would say I’m very disappointed. Nothing has changed.

I expected the nepotism to end. The new government needs to enact something to allow young people to fulfill their potential regardless of the connections they might or might not have.

I want to see a prosperous Armenia. I want to see people satisfied in their jobs, not this constant slog with tiny rewards. In Armenia this is very common. I know people in the ministry who take their papers home and work into the night, but they get paid so little.

Ruzan Avoyan, fruit seller in Gyumri​
Ruzan Avoyan, fruit seller in Gyumri​. RFERL

Gyumri is a poor town. It’s very hard to sell things here. It’s the same as always; if you don’t work, no one will help you. The revolution was not a failure, but let me put it this way: A revolution is like getting an empty new house; you still have to fix it up and furnish it. Only an idiot would think a revolution alone will solve everything.

I was caught outside in the earthquake with my kids. (Editor’s note: That 1988 disaster leveled most of Gyumri and killed some 25,000 people.) All we were left with was the clothes we were in. So I took the initiative and built my own house. Some locals are still waiting for new houses to be given to them while living in temporary shelters. Men saying, “Give me candy”!

Why should the government do that? God gave you a brain and a tongue. Use them! The government doesn’t have any money, so stop expecting it.

 

We make money from our animals up here in the mountains, so we haven’t really been affected economically. In the Soviet period, there were factories here and we had work. Nothing else matters. People will be able to live a decent life if they have stable jobs. I have three women at home. I support all of them; they just do housework and work in the fields because there’s no employment for them. We’re not closed-minded, we want our women to earn and develop their careers too.

Varujan Harutyunyan, farmer in a village near Yeghegnadzor
Varujan Harutyunyan, farmer in a village near Yeghegnadzor. RFERL

Before the revolution there were almost no opportunities for the small players in the export business; it was a monopoly. Legally, nothing has changed. But the antimonopoly laws are actually working now.

I love farming because you see the results of your labor — if you work hard, you make decent money. I can bring in $1,000 a month if I push myself.

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I think of the country as a family: If everyone in the household is working, then that family will succeed. But if there’s no will to work, then the family will fail. We have a portion of society here that wants to live well but isn’t prepared to work for it. That’s why the prime minister (Nikol Pashinian) is struggling at times to do his best — because people are unwilling to help.

People say there’s no work in Armenia. I disagree — people are just picky. Don’t sit around waiting for something, just get to work. Do what you’re good at and the income will come. If everyone could grab all the opportunities they had, we could have our dream country. (RFERL)

Next Story

Is China Heading Towards Another Cultural Revolution?

Not only did Lam lose all credit amongst the pro- democracy camp having described the June 12 protest as a "riot"

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China, Cultural, Revolution
Meanwhile, Chief Executive Carrie Lam's counter-mobilisation strategy is reduced to maintaining radio silence. Pixabay

What started as a demonstration by 12,000 citizens against a proposed legislation for extradition of criminal undertrials to China has escalated into a daily assembly of over two million protesting against Chinese ainterference’ in Hong Kong, an examination of police brutality under the gaze of international press and a demand for full democracy. Meanwhile, Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s counter-mobilisation strategy is reduced to maintaining radio silence. Not only did Lam lose all credit amongst the pro- democracy camp having described the June 12 protest as a “riot”, she has also lost support of the pro-Beijing (dare I say anti-democracy?) section of Hong Kong having suspended the extradition bill that triggered the protests. Additionally, there have been anonymous accounts of the Hong Kong police expressing resentment at being forced to play a violent role in what should have been a political debate.

Meanwhile, Beijing has been content to signal its superior capability to use force (Hong Kong law allows for the administration to call upon the People’s Liberation Army in tackling issues of “public order”). Many are disconcerted by the restraint being exhibited. Particularly following the incident last week where a group of demonstrators broke into the legislative house, vandalised the official emblem of Hong Kong by blackening out the name of mainland China, it was widely believed that the PLA would be called in to quash the protests. However, this has not materialised. Why? I believe, Xi Jinping has been learning from networked mobilisations around the world. Arguably, Mubarak lost Egypt the day he let loose his militia on horseback – scattering protestors in Tahrir Square – killing a dozen people. Despite the internet shutdown, the incident was broadcast live across the world – voices against his regime grew to a din and the rest is history. While there is no threat to Jinping’s presidency, the threat of economic sanctions and perhaps a trade exile against China motivate him to avoid a modern Tiananmen.

Hong Kong 2019 – A networked movement

Much like the 2014 Occupy Protests in Hong Kong, the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street Protest in New York, Hong Kong 2019 has relied heavily on the internet for mobilisation and organisation. Such anetworked movements’ leverage platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp to achieve quick amplification and scaling, set in place informal decision making structures allowing real-time tactical moves, and organize logistics. The protesters in Hong Kong have exhibited organisational capabilities that can be traced to learnings from the failed 2014 Occupy Protests. A 20- year old student leader says, “During the Occupy protests, most of us didn’t think about protecting ourselves, we used Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to spread messages. But this year, we see that freedom of speech is getting worse in Hong Kong,”.

China, Cultural, Revolution
What started as a demonstration by 12,000 citizens against a proposed legislation for extradition of criminal undertrials to China has escalated into a daily assembly of over two million protesting. Pixabay

Since 2014, WhatsApp has introduced end-to-end encryption. Along with other P2P clients like Signal, Telegram and Firechat it afforded organisers the ability to communicate with large numbers in a more secure forum than public Facebook groups and Twitter handles. Complimentary offline measures such as using disposable cell phones, transacting in cash, purchase of single-fare tickets on public transport and even simply keeping faces covered during protests has helped prevent surveillance and thwarted counter-mobilisation efforts.

In addition, as identified by Zeynep Tufekci in her book Twitter and Tear Gas a key feature of radically networked movements is that they are often aleaderlessa¿. The informal and horizontal nature of the mobilisation means no individual(s) can claim formal leadership over the protest. Unlike the 2014 movement which was quashed through arrests of leaders, while the 2019 movement has witnessed numerous arrests of prominent figures, mobilisation hasn’t been impacted. As such, while activists and organisations such as Joshua Wong and CHRF have thrown their weight behind the cause, by design no individual has claimed leadership of the movement.

The State’s response

Early statements of the Hong Kong Administration such as a memo dated June 9 described the protests as “an example of Hong Kong people exercising their freedom of expressiona”. However, within three days, the rhetoric and force employed by the Administration radically altered. Rubber bullets were fired at protestors and Lam termed the congregation a “riot”. To date police action has resulted in four deaths, 230 injuries and over 560 arrests.

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In addition to these measures on the ground, the Administration has taken steps online. Attempts have been made to individually penetrate channels of communication and intercept or corrupt information flows. On a macro level, the Administration has sought to spread misinformation amongst protestors – Lam’s announcement that the extradition bill is “dead”, while merely suspending it, is a classic example. In addition, the founder of Telegram, Pavel Durov has stated publicly that he believes recent outages were results of DDOS attacks by “a State actor”. However, I believe Beijing’s counter-mobilisation effort go deeper.

By emphasising the discolouration of the national emblem as an act of “radicalisma and a “threat to national sovereignty”, the State owned media has been instructed to whip up nationalistic fervour amongst citizens of mainland China. After an image of the Chinese flag thrown in the ocean surfaced online, the propaganda machine swung into overdrive -starting the hashtag #TheFiveStarRedFlagHas1.4BillionProtectors. The hashtag caught on – finding support from celebrities like Jackie Chan, while former Hong Kong chief executive Chun-ying announced a reward of 1 million HKD for information about the “culprit”.

Creating imagined enemies out of protestors is a tool of psychological warfare that could easily turn into an intra-ethnic conflict. And we are already seeing the first signs of this – A Chinese man assaulted pro-democracy protesters in the Hong Kong Airport. The incident was given a political spin and reported as evidence of growing radicalism in the protesters. More such reports have emerged. Perhaps the most alarming is the report from the University of Queensland in Australia, where a peaceful march in support of the movement in Hong Kong was attacked by pro-Chinese students. This was followed by an online doxxing attack against protesting students. Most tellingly, the Chinese consul-general, Xu Jie, has praised the “patriotic behaviour” of the attackers.

These are not isolated incidents. Xi is attempting to enlist the citizens of China in his attack on Hong Kong by playing on nationalism. He hopes to incite violence amongst the well organised pro- democracy protesters, giving him the moral authority to send in the PLA. Has Xi found the perfect tool to foil the surge of networked protestors or is China heading towards another Cultural Revolution? We will know soon – and it may set a precedent for counter-mobilization around the world. (IANS)