The Emerging Civic Movement in Armenia: Trends and Actors

Main speakers:
Gayane Shagoyan – anthropologist, Yerevan State University;
Tigran Khocharyan – blogger;
Alexander Iskandaryan – Political Scientist, CI Director;
Moderator: Tatev Sargsyan, Caucasus University

Gayane Shagoyan, spoke about the importance and necessity of the civic movements. She stressed that these movements frequently present themselves as the third, alternative power, which is neither a government nor an opposition. Although they do not aim to gain power it is clear that they still influence politics.

According to Shagoyan civic movements manifest themselves in the spheres where the institutions fail to satisfy society’s needs. Consequently, their existence already speaks of the issues the country is facing. Simultaneously, this is a massage to opposition indicating that these issues are not included in their strategy.  At the end of her speech Gayane Shagoyan said that she is supportive of the emerging civic movements since they are the proof that we have an educated and conscious group of people who realize citizen’s rights and responsibilities and who are ready to take action to defend them. 

Tigran Khocharyan, unlike the first speaker, was much more critical in respect to civic movements in Armenia. He even doubted their very existence. Khocharyan clarified that when speaking about civil movements one must always bear in mind the phenomena of money laundering through grants, which according to him is being done by the majority of Armenian NGOs. Another issue of the Armenian NGO sector is the monopoly of certain actors who normally get the main amounts of money.

One of the reasons of his negative attitude towards civic movements is the rejection of any kind of interference of outside forces into Armenian politics. Khocharyan also wondered why the Armenian environmentalists use double standards in their work and never attack companies with American capital. Overall, the speaker believed that the process of civic movement formation in Armenia has not yet begun.

The last speaker, Alexander Iskandaryan, was neither pro nor against civic movements in Armenia. His goal was to present the scientific vision of the phenomena and start a discourse on the subject. Iskandaryans started with giving quite a high mark to Armenian civic movements, saying that they are perhaps the most developed once on the whole post-soviet space.  According to Iskandaryan the most crucial aspect of this phenomena is that for the first time in the history of modern Armenia we see the rise of the «new leftists», the movement that started in Europe and the USA in the second half of the XX century and has finally made its way to Armenia. The process is yet very new, the actors themselves don't even realize that they belong to the leftist ideology, but Iskandaryan believes that the prospects are high and it will be very interesting to see what it will evolve into.

The issue of the debates and speeches of the speakers caused great interest in the audience. The guests made several remarks: when speaking about civic movements we should be more concerned about their financial instability; analysts should make fewer generalizations and address each case separately; yet young groups of activists clearly lack unity and solidarity, etc. Guests also posed several questions to the speakers: can the Dashnaktsutyun party be concidered as «new leftist» movement; what is the role of women in modern Armenian civic movements; what is the general estimation of civic movement development perspectives in Armenia, etc.

At the end of the debates speakers stressed the importance of the dialogue between activists and those who pose against their efforts in order to assure the development of both scientific discourse and civic movement itself.