Young Man Leaves Australia, Joins Armenian Armed Forces

There are stories that show the exceptional devotion to the Armenian homeland among a new generation of young Armenians who realize that the future of Armenia is their responsibility and is a matter of their individual contribution to the future of the nation. This is one of those stories.

Tigran Petrosyan is a young man who lived in Australia for five years and recently repatriated to Armenia. He is currently serving in the defense units of the Armenian Armed Forces. He is stationed in Artsakh.

The following is theGampr’s translation of the Razm.info interview.

Razm.info spoke with Tigran Petrosyan, an Armenian repatriate from Australia who is currently serving in the Armenian Armed Forces in Artsakh.

TigranPetrosyan

After living in Australia for five years and receiving a college education, the 20 year-old Petrosyan chose to return to his homeland and establish permanent residency there. Thereafter, he was drafted into the army as is required by law.

Razm.info: You’ve decided to return to Armenia and live here. What is the reason behind your decision?

Petrosyan: After living outside Armenia for five years, I felt like something was missing; I didn’t feel happy, although I had whatever I needed: I studied at a good university, I had a good job. But after thinking about it long and hard, I decided to return to Armenia, live here, and start a family.

I didn’t have any legal issues [in Australia or Armenia]. Rather, I decided on my own to return to my homeland. My conscience is at rest, I feel better – better even than in Australia. And, in all honesty, my life here is better.

Razm.info: And had you thought about serving in the Armed Forces?

Petrosyan: Yes, of course. I had thought about it and was ready to serve. I had never given any thought to skipping military service. If I had, I wouldn’t have even returned.

Razm.info: How long before you started your military service did you return to Armenia? Did you see any changes [in the country]?

Petrosyan: I returned in the summer of 2013. About 4-5 months later, I was drafted into the military. As far as changes, yes, of course there were actual changes. I think that after my military service, I’ll see even more of them.

Razm.info: After living in a foreign country for so many years, how was the process of getting used to being called to military service? How were you able to adjust to the lifestyle change?

Petrosyan: Although I was gone for about 5 years, even abroad I tried to live as an Armenian. That is, I didn’t cut myself off from my roots. So, my return wasn’t a shock but the years away had surely left their mark.

The pre-military service preparations and tests took a bit long. In a few instances there were some mix-ups and confusion which were a result of my expired passport. In the end, after the bureaucratic hurdles, I was able to leave for my service.

Razm.info: You are now a military service member, you’ve given the soldier’s oath. How do you feel?

Petrosyan: I’m very proud and happy. A soldier’s oath has a special place in any man’s life and I’ll remember [mine] for a long time.

Razm.info: What are the main difficulties of military service?

Petrosyan: Honestly, I’ve been here for a few weeks already but I don’t have anything bad to say – I haven’t yet encountered any serious issues.

I like the food. I’m especially pleased with our uniform. I’d like to start shooting exercises as soon as possible. Until now, there have only been positive emotions on my end – again, I’m really happy. The only yearning I have that I’m reminded of often is that for my family since I’ve been away from them for so long; that feeling is always with me.

Razm.info: You said you liked the food in the Army. What’s your favorite?

Petrosyan: I think I’d say my favorite is the bread and cheese we’re served for breakfast.

Razm.info: And how have you adjusted to waking up early?

Petrosyan: In Australia I’d wake up around 5:00AM so here it’s a bit more humane (smiles).

Razm.info: Which weapons [or, military equipment] do you like the most?

Petrosyan: I love cars and my expertise is in that area so naturally, I’d like to be a driver [of military vehicles]: Ural, Kamaz, or Satko trucks. I also really like tanks.

Razm.info: What would say to conclude?

Petrosyan: [To fellow soldiers] Happy military service and happy return to all!

Original interview.

Razm.info facebook page.

Updated: Armenia Admits More Syrian Refugees Than France, Italy, the UK, Spain, and Germany Combined

refugee-solidaritc3a4tsdemo_-_refugees_are_human_beings.jpg

UPDATED: 13 December 2013, 21:30

According to numbers in a report by Amnesty International and an article in The Economist magazine, Armenia has taken in nearly as many Syrian refugees as the European Union and more than France, Italy, the UK, Spain, and Germany combined.

The scathing Amnesty International report takes Europe to task for utterly failing to help during the worst refugee crisis “since Rwanda” and calling their response “pitiful.” The European Union (area: 4.38 million km²), according to the report, has admitted about 12,000 refugees from Syria. The bulk of them, 10,000, have gone to Germany.

The report cites the following figures:

  • Only 10 EU member states offered resettlement or humanitarian admission places to refugees from Syria.
  • Germany is by far the most generous – pledging to take 10,000 refugees or 80 per cent of total EU pledges.
  • Excluding Germany, the remaining 27 EU member states have offered to take a mere 2,340 refugees from Syria.
  • France offered just 500 places or 0.02 per cent of the total number of people who have fled Syria.
  • Spain agreed to take just 30 or 0.001 per cent of refugees from Syria.
  • Eighteen EU member states – including the UK and Italy – offered no places at all.

Armenia (area: 41,000 km²) has taken in approximately 11,000 refugees from Syria according to an Economist article.

The burning question: could it be that Armenia has more money to deal with this humanitarian crisis than the European Union? The staggering results surprised us and they might surprise you.

Armenia GDP: $19.649 billion

EU GDP: $16.214 trillion

Europe not only has a higher GDP; its GDP is higher by approximately 16.02 trillion dollars. That comes out to the EU grossing twice as much domestic product than Armenia every doggone day. 

So, Armenia, which has 0.93% of the EU’s landmass, 0.12% of Europe’s GDP, has taken in more Syrian refugees than Germany and almost as many as the entire European Union.

I'm shocked - Fry

I can’t believe that Europe, the giver of democracy, civilization, and Christianity to places like the whole world outside  of Western Europe could suddenly turn its back on a problem that it probably had a big hand in creating. That’s never happened before.

Europe, you’re a loser.

Armenia, you rock.

By: William Bairamian

Note: In the original post, I wrote that there were 10,000 Syrian refugees in Armenia according to The Economist article. In fact, according to the article, there are 11,000 refugees from Syria who have found safe haven in Armenia. The number of refugees admitted by the European Union according to Amnesty International, 12,000, was recorded correctly here. Thanks for the correction, buddy. 

A Declaration of War

The end is nigh. All hope is lost. Vultures await our death. Armenia and the Diaspora are on the cusp of disappearance.

At least that’s what you might think if you read any Armenian news or interact with Armenians in person or online.

And the time has come for me to make a confession: I’ve had it with everything Armenian sucking. Diasporans complain about their organizations. University students complain about their Armenian Student Associations. Everyone complains about Armenia.

Sometimes I think Armenians suffer from the first known case of perpetual national depression or, PND, as it’s been known ever since I coined it just now.

The despair is suffocating and, frankly, boring. For the uniqueness-seeking among you, it’s just unoriginal. A leftover of past generations’ incessant focus on slights against Armenians, real or perceived, now basking in an anachronistic rebirth. Positivity should be in vogue if only because it might be considered a rejection of societal norms.

Little is more disheartening than hearing a young person, hardly of age, repeating the loathsome banalities of their parents about hopelessness, annoyances, and resignation about their nation. Young adults and their slightly older brethren galvanized in their drear against any rationality may be the only thing worse.

If you want a reason to prove things are just falling apart like some Achebean hell, I’m sure you’ll find plenty – although it will only serve to prove your insistent myopia and pessimism than any reality.

First, the rotten apple of everyone’s eye: Armenia. It has problems, as we can all agree, but they’re not apocalyptic. And if they were, the last person I want solving the problem is someone wailing at the top of their lungs that the apocalypse is coming. Think asteroid and ask yourself the type of person you want figuring out how to handle the seemingly impending doom.

Not to be outdone, the Armenian Diaspora also has its problems. Surprising, I know. But if you were waiting for Diasporan organizations to cater to you as if you were seated at the I Want To Do Something Armenian restaurant, worry not for you are in Elysium and you are already dead. Well, dead as a productive Armenian (thanks, Gladiator, for always pulling through).

Fact is, there is no restaurant; only a kitchen. If you want something, cook it up – you’ve got all the ingredients at your disposal. If it fails, try again if you have an actual desire for it to get better. But don’t spit on the other cooks or their dishes when you don’t like their food but aren’t willing to help or make your own. And if you can’t handle the heat, which in this case represents your overwhelming dejection and self-pity, you know what to do. And please don’t walk out banging pots and pans, causing a ruckus. I can assure you that nobody cares.

(If you think it was strenuous reading that metaphor, imagine writing it.)

There is seemingly no effort unscathed by naysayers ready to pounce on an opportunity to undermine. No proverbial good deed that goes unpunished. Some have even developed what can be called a regrettable talent of being able to extract negativity out of even the most positive news.

Thus, I am officially declaring war on the demoralizers of our nation. Those keen on sucking the joy out of being Armenian, intent on wickedly stealing the confidence and ambition and optimism of a people. The ferocity of Hayk and the Sassountsi and the heroes of Sardarabad and Artsakh will be unleashed to flood out your dastardly grief-mongering. (Curious how there is nary a myth or legend or history about the hopeless.)

Pre-mourners, what I’ll call those of you awash in the melancholy of a death expected but yet to occur: you are not needed. If it’s lamentation you crave, lament your own uselessness and not the impending downfall of the Armenian nation. Your campaign of despondence will be confronted with the fertilizers of strength and progress: encouragement, resolve, invigoration, principle, and love.

I know how difficult it is to remain devoted – I’ve been surrounded by you my whole life, after all. I know how much easier it is to curse and bemoan than to create and refine – I’m guilty of the former. But, despite my ongoing shortcomings, I’ve chosen the latter. It’s the least I can do to reciprocate the good fortune of being born Armenian and having an Armenia that I can love and cherish, till death – surely mine – do us part.

Neither Armenians nor Armenia are your whipping boy and they will not be. I just created an army of at least one to make sure they are not.

Հերիքա:

By: William Bairamian

Hetq Editor Calls Diasporans “Rascals with Fat Bellies”

Hrant Gadarigian, the English-language editor for Hetq, posted a note on Facebook earlier today that read, “The Armenian communities of the Diaspora are dominated by shopkeepers, pseudo-intellectuals, and clergymen. A miscellaneous crew of rascals with fat bellies and swollen egos.”

The full text is in the image below.

Hrant Gadarigian - Diasporans shopkeepers

The post was subsequently deleted.

Hetq About Us Page - HG highlight crop
Hetq.am About Us page

Hey, good non-pseudo-intellectual take on Diasporan Armenians!

I forgot to mention that Gadarigian himself is an ex-Diasporan. But, like many who have moved to Armenia, is all too ready to disparage the Diaspora when the opportunity arises.

If an editor at Hetq is writing something like this publicly, might it be safe to assume that there are others who feel similarly but who aren’t as brash as Gadarigian? Might we assume that Gadarigian’s mentality has influenced his work or those who have come in contact with it?

Hetq logo.
Hetq logo.

Fortunately, Gadarigian seems to represents the remnants of a fading need – nagging urge even – to blindly undercut fellow Armenians. Unfortunately, he has a soapbox in Hetq where he is able to publish content skewed by his vision. Indeed, his mentality is echoed by some much younger than him who are anxious to continue such libelous rhetoric instead of being builders and leaders. Then there are those – and I like to believe they are more numerous – who reject the poisonous and corrosive mentality put on display by him.

Thus, Armenian youth, behold this example set for you by a member of a generation past. Know that you must be better and know that when you are, so too is your nation.

By: William Bairamian

[twitter-follow screen_name=’bairamian’]

Anti-Putin Protests: What’s The Point?

Vladimir Putin, president of Russia, visited Armenia on December 2, 2013. His visit inspired a rancorous response in some circles.

Below is a translation (mine) of a status posted on Facebook by Sedrak Mkrtchyan in response to a photograph of a nightgown hanging from a highway overpass. The nightgown symbolized the outrage over Russian treatment of Artsakh war veteran Hrachya Harutyunyan who was dressed in a woman’s nightgown to appear in court after being involved in a vehicular accident where several people died in Russia.

The succinct text below by Mkrtchyan lends a perspective to the protests that seems to be absent from the discourse about Armenia’s closeness to Russia. It might be surmised but I’ll state clearly that I agree with the ideas presented here.

Whatever is found in brackets are either my notes or my elucidations of something implied in the Armenian-language text from which this is translated. 

Mkrtchyan is a journalist from Armenia.

Credit: emedia.am
Credit: emedia.am

By: Sedrak Mkrtchyan

[twitter-follow screen_name=’517design’]

What’s the objective? What’s the point? I don’t understand…

Taking into consideration those who do not want Armenia to associate with Russia, let me propose the following scenario:

1) Russia announces that it is against Armenia’s membership in the Customs Union and the path toward association with the European Union is open,

2) Russia removes its armed forces from Armenia,

3) Armenia is forced to defend its borders with Turkey and Iran with solely its own armed forces, necessitating an increase in the size of the military by at least 30%, which is impossible for Armenia to do because of a lack of resources,

4) The price of natural gas rises,

5) The price of purchasing guns and artillery from Russia rises,

6) In the case of war started by Azerbaijan, there is no help from Russia nor from the Collective Treaty Security Organization (CSTO). The number of people and amount of land lost in Artsakh and Armenia in the ensuing meat grinder is anyone’s guess,

7) A potential Turkish military expansion, the extent of which is impossible to predict.

How might the European Union help with all of this [if Armenia “chose” Europe at the expense of Russia]?

1) Military assistance by the EU is excluded. They have one little problem with Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus and they are unable to do anything about getting it back for an official member of the European Union [Cyprus],

2) Any member country of NATO is excluded [from helping Armenia] so long as Turkey, Europe’s largest and strongest armed forces, has shared interests with Azerbaijan [note: Turkey indeed has the largest military in Europe but the strongest is likely the United Kingdom]; they could swallow Armenia up and not pay it a second thought,

3) Exports to the EU increase, some business grow, some businesses are enriched. Armenia’s long-term economic situation is improved.

It’s being curiously presented these days that if Armenia signs the EU Association Agreement, people in Armenia will become beautiful, tall, and their hair color will get a little lighter; fashionistas from the pages of monthly magazines will be walking on Armenia’s streets, red double-decker buses will be making the rounds, and the names of all cities and villages might see the addition of the word “New” before them.

I cannot stand Russians – and the more I immerse myself in the study of history, the more that is the case. But before hanging a nightgown [in protest], it’s imperative to look at the issue a bit more [deeply], beyond the most basic level.

[end text by Mkrtchyan]

We might benefit from Mr. Mkrtchyan’s advice to think more deeply about this issue. Other issues even. Who knows, it might even help with freeing Armenia from Russia’s yoke.

Sanctions Proposed Against Armenia

That’s right. Sanctions – remedial punishment for perceived wrongdoing – against Armenia. Except it’s not another country proposing them: it’s Armenians. There is a not-so-impromptu effort to get people to stop donating to the All-Armenian Fund during its annual Thanksgiving Day Telethon, money from which will go to development projects in Armenia

As with most sanctions, they will affect not the governors that are ostensibly the source of contempt but regular people.

Behold a pernicious effort to divide a unifying force among Armenians that’s unfolding in our midst. At first it looks disjointed but it’s more coordinated than it seems.

Deftly timed to be released ahead of the All-Armenian Fund (called Armenia Fund in the U.S.) Annual Telethon which raises money for different projects throughout Armenia, the Policy Forum of Armenia released a report about its views on corruption in Armenia.

Ara Manoogian, a member of PFA and the creator of The Truth Must Be Told, has had a personal crusade, now at least a few years old, to assail the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund and has urged people to not donate to the organization that completes humanitarian and strategic projects in Armenia.

Ara Manoogian - Fellow at the Policy Forum of Armenia
Ara Manoogian – Fellow at the Policy Forum of Armenia

It just so happens that the PFA promotes Manoogian on its facebook page and Manoogian uses the PFA report to dissuade people from donating. 

PFA facebook page
PFA facebook page
Manoogian on his local TV show (video below)
Manoogian on his local TV show (video below)

First, I’d like to note for the record that I’m not a big proponent of blindly donating money to Armenia. I think there are lots of other ways Armenians can and should help the homeland.

That said, I certainly recognize the immensely large impact the All-Armenian Fund has had on Armenia but, more than any other, its linking of the Republic of Armenia to the Republic of Artsakh and the development of the North-South Highway.

Second, I love criticism and critique. They are the exercises that allow our minds to expand, that require us to prove to ourselves the truths in which we believe, or change those beliefs altogether. That’s why I take such a dim view of what I’m going to discuss (and have before in this blog): poor, unsubstantiated criticism is not only worthless, it gives criticism a bad name.

If you’re going to tell me the “truth” because it “must be told,” you damn well better be able to prove it. 

Here are the most common arguments I’ve seen for not donating to the All-Armenian Fund:

1) Don’t Donate Because Armenia’s Government Is Corrupt.

PFA Armenia Fund 1-redacted

So, forget that the PFA doesn’t bother explaining how the government embezzles “more in a year than your combined donations,” they’re telling you to not donate to the All-Armenian Fund because of it.

That is, “government embezzles money -> don’t donate to the All-Armenian Fund.” Wait, what? Is that a logical leap or am I living in a different universe?

Oh, and if you want to know to whom you should donate, according to the last comment made by the PFA there, figure it out for yourself. This is called un-constructive criticism. Mostly because you’re not constructing anything to replace the destruction you’re attempting to wreak. 

2) Don’t Donate Because All-Armenian Fund Is Corrupt, Too.

Ohhhhhhhhh.

PFA Armenia Fund 3-redacted

So it’s not just the Armenian government, Diaspora individuals, Diaspora organizations, but the All-Armenian Fund is also corrupt. Got it. So, I’m guessing the only non-corrupt thing in the Armenian world is the Policy Forum of Armenia…and Ara Manoogian.

Protesting election of Serzh Sargsyan in front of US Rep. Adam Schiff's office. Ya, I don't know either.
Incorruptly protesting election of Serzh Sargsyan in front of US Rep. Adam Schiff’s office in Burbank, CA. Ya, I don’t know either.

And since the evidence for all this corruption is in plain sight, I guess they’re right. Except, no.

Well, there is this video where expert opinions are presented as evidence:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUA5XFXkC1A&w=560&h=315]

I didn’t know there were so many well-informed people ready to comment on Armenia’s economic situation at the Americana in Glendale, whose motto has recently been changed to, “Where you can shop till you drop and interview scholars on Armenia all in the same afternoon!”

I’ve also tried visiting TheTruthMustBeTold.com which is the website where the To Donate or Not To Donate? white paper by Ara Manoogian is contained. Unfortunately my computer won’t let me visit the site because my anti-virus detects a virus deemed a severe threat. Nevertheless, I found the white paper that Manoogian publicizes every chance he gets.

If anyone can extract something from that that actually proves endemic corruption in the All-Armenian Fund, please let it be known.

I’m open to being wrong and if someone can show me that there is proof of corruption in this video which is being circulated, tell me.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4KGbMbHwec&w=560&h=315]

3) Don’t Donate to All-Armenian Fund Because…Well, Just Because! Ufffff.

“And don’t ask me why because I’m so annoyed!”

Lara Aharonian, the founder of the Women’s Resource Center in Armenia, is also not a fan of donating to the All-Armenian Fund.

i.e. "It's so bad, I'm not going to bother proving it to you."
i.e. “It’s so bad, I’m not going to bother proving it to you.”

The WRC has an office in Shushi and I’m not sure how they would drive there from Yerevan if it wasn’t for the road built by the All-Armenian Fund (see below).

It also receives money from Counterpart International, an organization which receives funding from the U.S. government. But it’s really unclear what the WRC is using their money on. Actually, there is no publicly available report of how the funds at the WRC are spent. Is it unreasonable for taxpaying Armenian-Americans to ask how their money is being spent? 

More Ara Manoogian. Start, if you can bear it, at 33:18 and observe what “truth must be told.” If you want to skip ahead, take a look at 49:37.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/_AAH_-eND-U?t=33m18s]

If the All-Armenian Fund provides an annual report and audits of its work by an internationally reputed accounting organization because it wants to show that the money of donors is being spent for the uses for which it is intended, let’s require the same of Armenian organizations that are receiving money from the U.S. government.

In case you’re interested:

2012 All-Armenian Fund Annual Report

All-Armenian Fund Physical Audit Report performed by Grant Thornton

It’s rather audacious, and arrogant, for one to expect the assumption of good intentions about themselves while suspecting others of wrongdoing.

glass house - architecturaldigest.com

If the argument is that there is graft and that’s why people shouldn’t donate, could the same logic be applied to not paying taxes because there is terrific waste in government spending? Or perhaps we shouldn’t donate when natural disasters happen, as they so often do, because all the money doesn’t get to where it’s intended. Or maybe we shouldn’t donate at all. Is it really possible to be totally sure your money isn’t being used for something other than what you intended?

Actually, it almost certainly is. But that’s why you’re donating and not running the organization to which you’re donating in the first place. You entrust the people who are in charge to complete the task they’ve said they’re going to complete. You’re not supposed to manage

And you know what? Even part of the money being donated to the All-Armenian Fund is disappearing (of which there is no hard evidence, mind you – pesky thing that evidence), so be it. You know why? This is why:

Built by the All-Armenian Fund.
Built by the All-Armenian Fund
Built by the All-Armenian Fund
Built by the All-Armenian Fund

In my trade, highways are called “supply routes.” That is, if you need to get supplies, for example, to soldiers, that’s what you use. Without them, all the weapons that you have stored in various facilities throughout the land are worth squat.

Put more simply:

When this happens

explosion - flickr.com

And you have this

no road - flickr

Your

Armenia tank - 1280px-T-72B_-TankBiathlon2013-30 -

Might end up like

NoRoad0 - sperone.free.fr

Ջոկի՞ք:

Now, it’s one thing that to be annoyed at moronic attempts to get people to not donate to an organization that’s verifiably doing work, and good work at that. It’s quite another when someone suggests that that organization (the All-Armenian Fund) is doing wrong or shouldn’t be doing the work at all when that work is protecting Armenians from very real enemies.

If you don’t want to donate, don’t donate. But don’t lie to people when you can’t come up with a good reason for them to support you.

I’m going to donate $50, a paltry amount about which I am ashamed. If you’re able to donate more to make up for the boycott this year, you can follow the link here. If not, at least do Armenia this solid and don’t go around trying to convince others not to help.

I bid you a very Happy Thanksgiving and I’ll leave you with a final thought by the estimable Armenian hero, Garegin Njdeh, posted on the very cool blog People of Ar:

flyer 1.FH11

Corruption in Armenia: Not What You Think

The Policy Forum of Armenia has released its third “State of the Nation” report, this one entitled “Corruption in Armenia.” It is described on the PFA website thus: “New Report Deconstructs Corruption in Armenia and Sounds the Alarm for Political Reform.”

PFA Corruption Report

Sound an alarm it does. In line with its previous reports, the first on Diaspora-Armenia relations and the second on Armenia’s environment, it goes on to list the litany of issues while predicting dire consequences for Armenia if the country does not heed its words.

If the PFA’s goal were to establish that corruption exists in Armenia, as it does pretty much everywhere, it didn’t need to write a whole report on it. But it tries to do much more than that: it attempts to show that corruption is so widespread that it is severely hindering the development of Armenia.

Except it doesn’t bother with some major details and seems to care more for showing that it can put together a finely designed report with lots of references to economic jargon and carefully chosen information.

The problem with this report can be summed up succinctly: if you’re going to make a case for something, particularly an academic one, be honest.

Below are a few points about why I think the PFA is being dishonest in its “Corruption in Armenia.”

1) Laziness or Irresponsibility?

Although it’s second-nature for most people to assume that Armenia is drowning in a sea of corruption, that should not excuse the PFA from establishing, with evidence, the issue that they are addressing. They don’t.

Activists concerned with climate change can’t just take climate change as a foregone conclusion before they start pressuring governments to place restrictions on pollution; anybody calling attention to an issue they believe is a concern in Armenia should be required to assume the same burden of proof.

The PFA, conversely, tries to establish corruption as a fact in referencing studies that are not its own and by saying that it doesn’t want to “duplicate” those by doing its own analysis. I discuss why this is a problem in forthcoming points.

They excuse themselves from the task by saying that “without the political will to investigate cases and judicial systems to prosecute them, it is even more difficult to provide concrete quantifiable examples and clear evidence…” As in, it’s not their fault they can’t sufficiently prove corruption exists through their own study.

That’s all fine and good but you can’t address a problem by prefacing it with, “there is this problem which we can’t prove really prove exists and it’s not our fault that we can’t. But we’re going to use other sources – which is another reason why we’re not doing much analysis – that prove that it exists because these sources were apparently not precluded from conducting the studies we wouldn’t be able to do sufficiently.”

So, which is it? That corruption couldn’t be measured sufficiently or that the PFA just didn’t want to measure it because others supposedly had?

2) Perception vs. Reality

If you’re walking all by your lonesome in the desert, you might perceive that there is an oasis where you will be able to replenish yourself. The reality might be that there is no oasis and that your perception was just a mirage. We know the human mind plays tricks like this. Indeed, among the youth, this has been popularized by the meme “Scumbag Brain”:

scumbag brain

So it’s important to know that oftentimes when you hear about “corruption” in a country, like when Transparency International reports about it, it’s not actual recorded corruption but a perception of corruption.

This is significant because public perception can be affected by many factors, for example, a report on corruption that doesn’t provide much evidence of corruption. So is it conceivable that if you keep telling people there is a problem with something that they might start believing that there is a serious problem with something?

To elucidate the point, I’ll refer to the 2010 Armenia Corruption Survey of Households (sponsored by USAID) which is used in the PFA report, where the following is written:

“According to a majority (82%) of survey respondents in 2010, corruption is a serious problem in the country.”

That might be what you call perception. The following is what you might call reality:

Although the healthcare system is perceived to be the most corrupt institution, only 22% of those respondents who had a contact with the healthcare system said that they were asked for a bribe…People were rarely asked to pay bribes during contact with public utilities and communications institutions; only 1% of those who dealt with them mentioned that they made some unofficial payments. Only 10% of those who had contacts with the education and social security systems were asked for a bribe over the past year.

The respondents were asked also to describe the main scenarios of corruption cases in the public sector based on their personal experiences. In 2010, 22% of the respondents stated that in all cases, officials mostly do not directly demand a bribe. Rather, they show that they have expectations of money, some gift or favors. Another 14% say that in all cases, officials directly demand money, a gift or a favor. About 9% mentioned that in all cases they used their own contacts to get privileged treatment. Nevertheless, the majority of respondents mentioned that they rarely or never experienced bribe giving with public officials.

(The cat’s words not mine.)

So one of the same reports that the PFA uses to prove that there is corruption in Armenia actually says people haven’t really experienced corruption in Armenia? Then how do you write a whole report on it?

3) Straw Man

After doing a rotten job of establishing that there is rampant corruption, the PFA expounds on the effects of such corruption later in the report. This is called a straw man argument: attacking an issue which isn’t an issue but which was created solely to be attacked.

I know the people in the PFA are really smart but it would be great if they didn’t insult the intelligence of us common folk.

Look at how feeble this straw man looks.

In releasing the report, the PFA said:

The report is intended to spur a debate on the issue of high-level corruption in Armenia and serve as a warning for corrupt officials that civil society organizations are ready to help identify and recover stolen assets—irrespective of their location—and return them to their rightful owners.

It would have been a great help if the space in the report or the effort expended to produce it were directed toward elucidating the assets stolen and high-level corruption that are so prevalent that they necessitated a report discussing their impact and resolution.

4) Old and Selectively-Used Data

So say we don’t have to prove corruption is rampant in Armenia because, well, why would you have to do that if everyone believes it, right?

"Why couldn't people just take my word for it?"
“Why couldn’t people just take my word for it?”

Even with that, I’m going to make the extreme proposition that the most current information available and the progression of that information over several years be used to give an accurate picture of the issue we’re considering.

As mentioned above, the PFA Report doesn’t use its own studies to establish that there is a corruption problem in Armenia; rather, it uses other reports. Unfortunately, from these reports, it uses both outdated information and it does so selectively, at that.

None of the reports the PFA uses in its 2013 “Corruption in Armenia” was conducted after 2011, making the newest one at least two years old. This despite there being more current information available.

If the argument goes that Armenia should have done much more in 20 years since its independence, an extremely short time in history, then we can also grant that two years is a significant length of time during which changes may take place. So would it not have been the responsible thing to do to use the most current reports? Reports that might show an improvement? I’m sure PFA would agree that every year counts.

Here is a sampling of information selectively used or omitted by the PFA report:

Global Integrity Index

The Global Integrity Index, which the PFA cites, notes that Armenia was one of the most improved countries, second only to Liberia, in addressing corruption from 2009 to 2011 (a two year difference). The PFA does not note this in its report.

If you want to see how the Global Integrity Index measures corruption, you can read further here https://www.globalintegrity.org/global/report-2011/armenia/.

World Bank 

In the most recent rankings available, the 2012 World Bank aggregator of corruption perception around the world, Armenia is ranked in the same percentile range of the following pitiful countries with destitute economies: India, China, Argentina, Mexico.

Excluding the Baltic states, Armenia (37th percentile), Belarus (37th), and Moldova (33rd) come in only behind Georgia (64th) among former Soviet countries according to the World Bank rankings – all the others are ranked in the 0-25th percentile.

World Economic Forum

Along with the World Bank, the World Economic Forum noted a 10 percentile improvement in Armenia’s corruption perception between 2010 to 2012.

The WEF also indicates, in its Global Competitiveness Survey, indicated that between 2011-2012 and 2012-2013, Armenia gained 10 places in being globally competitive for business. In the 2013-2014 report, it showed that Armenia gained another three places (read: improvement).

Remember that in 2010, in the USAID-sponsored report cited above and also used in the PFA report: “Nevertheless, the majority of respondents mentioned that they rarely or never experienced bribe giving with public officials.”

Two years later, major international institutions noted marked improvements in Armenia’s corruption perception.

I can’t speak to the motivation of the PFA and why it was so irresponsible in writing this report, although it’s not the first time. But besides feeding the despondence which is prevalent in the same reports that it uses to prove its case, the PFA report seems to have little else use.

But I’ll give credit where credit is due: the graphic designer should be commended for making a really beautiful looking report. It’s just that that thing about judging books and whatever by their covers is one of the few things that stuck with me from elementary school.

I’d like to note, in the likely event that I’m accused, that I do indeed believe there is corruption in Armenia. What’s more, I  believe that corruption should be vehemently quashed. Nevertheless, I want to have an honest discussion about it, with facts. Not selective and anecdotal cases presented as fact and then generalized.

Armenia should be the least corrupt country in the world and given some of the information discussed here, it seems that it can be. But I’m not willing to accept discussions of perceived corruption in Armenia based on false premises that are having a real effect on the psychological well-being of people in the country. If you’re not willing to be responsible in the information that you disseminate, and I’m looking at you PFA, just stop. You’re not doing anyone any favors, least of all Armenia.

If you believe in critical thinking, do it.

Links:

Aggregate information compiled by the World Bank and used in the PFA report

PFA Report: Corruption in Armenia

By: William Bairamian

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Another Index. Armenia is #95. Meaningful?

The Legatum Institute, a London-based think tank, released its annual “Prosperity Index” and, as reported by PanArmenian, Armenia came it at #95.

Credit: rifreedom.org
Credit: rifreedom.org

After looking through the data, I can say that it is varied enough that it presents what I’ll call a picture of general understanding. That is, the use of reports like these is less what rank a country achieves and more about giving the reader an idea of where the country falls on a wide spectrum. In the case of Armenia, the prognosis looks to be that it has a lot of room for improvement.

Otherwise, the “index industry” (c) William Bairamian, is in full swing. Every think tank and their mother (do think tanks have mothers? the jury’s out but I’m going with yes) is publishing an index of something: happiness, corruption, poverty, water, sex, environment. Some are useful, some are an exercise in finding data no one else has yet manipulated and putting it in digestible form to keep up with the think tank Joneses. The Legatum report falls somewhere in the middle.

They aggregate dozens of pieces of data, including polling data from Gallup, so the ranking gives a more holistic picture than something like “X is the happiest country in the world and Y is the unhappiest based on our evaluation of data about the average distance a citizen must travel to the nearest lollipop stand.”

However, strongly lacking is any non-quantitative, country-specific analysis. The whole report is neatly based on an evaluation of numbers but an overreliance on numbers doesn’t tell the whole story. They do recognize this, though insufficiently, in my opinion. Their section on Prosperity Index Anomalies grants the inconsistencies that the data may belie; it deserves more attention.

Here are a few of the issues, in order of importance:

1) Lack of qualitative analysis

This is a major problem with these indices: everything is reduced to data. Culture, for example, has no bearing on the evaluation of the results, probably because it cannot be dependably quantified.

To make the point, here is a scenario:

You’re Armenian, you go to someone’s house and they ask you if you want something to eat. Almost invariably, you will refuse the first, maybe, thousand times they ask.

This cultural peculiarity in answering questions is not represented in polling data although it may well significantly skew responses in one direction. And when a significant part of your conclusion is based upon polling data, this can have a huge impact when that information is whittled down to a number. 95, perhaps?

2) Autocratic countries

As noted in their Anomalies section, it’s hard to conceive that people in an autocratic country might answer questions fully truthfully. A conversation might go like this:

Pollster: “Do you feel you’re able to freely express yourself?”

Citizen who believes he might be asked a similar question by undercover police to determine who isn’t saying the right things so they can get them to say the right things…in an empty room…with no cameras: “Obviously! We’re freer than hell! I mean, not just hell, everywhere! Long live our nation! Can I go home now?”

Pollster: “Of course you can. I’m just a pollster. I can’t prevent you from going home.”

Citizen: “Sure. Last time a guy told me that, I woke up without any clothes and pain in my, er, uh, my face! Because I was smiling so much! Have a nice day!”

Credit: times.co.uk
Credit: times.co.uk

Conversely, and curiously, when a country has greater freedom of expression, citizens may use that freedom to comment on the country’s lack of freedom more freely.

3) Unrecognized countries

This is an issue when, for example, the people of Artsakh aren’t polled. Comprising a sizable part of the population of Armenia, about 7-9%, it may have had an impact on the results, which Legatum seems to acknowledge.

Similarly, if they did the survey 25 years ago and asked Armenians living in Artsakh, then under Azerbaijan SSR, “How do you feel people of other ethnicities are treated in this country?”, I’m going to guess that would’ve affected their score a wee bit.

4) “Data Lag”

Not all the data is current. Some data points are from 2012 or, even 2011. Kind of a big deal for an annual prosperity index.

It’s not perfect. Nowhere close to it. But it has some uses. I think it’s better to explore the data that’s conveniently summed up in one place and beautifully presented rather than getting hung up on the ranking which, in a defiance of the laws of mathematics*, is less than the sum of its parts.

Full Prosperity Index Report.

* My knowledge of the laws of mathematics is only surpassed by, well, my knowledge in pretty much everything else.

By: William Bairamian

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Armenia Does More With $1 In Education Than U.S., Norway

The Huffington Post reported today on a study that compares the math and science skills of students in American states and countries around the world.

United States Math Scores

According to the infographic above, Armenia appears to have received the ignominious distinction of being among the worst. The Anniston Star, that I’m going to go out on the limb and guess less Americans know than even Armenia, noted the “bad news” and seemed a bit disgruntled about being in the same category as Armenia.

Ever conscious of the possibility of the Armenian community to collectively bury its face in its hands from shame or call for the heads of everyone in the Armenian government, I wanted to take one step beyond the basic infographic above and lend some context.

However, I would like to note that there is no excuse for not pursuing excellence and I like to think I’m fully aware of the government’s shortcomings. I just happen to think that the best approach is not always bludgeoning each other to a pulp and then expecting that things will get better.

1) The comparison is based on the results of two different tests.

This is relevant because it seems the two tests are being compared in similarities in length and type of question and not on qualitative similarities. Nevertheless, this isn’t so much a problem of how the countries in the world (except the U.S.) compare to each other as it is with how U.S. states compare with those countries. 

2) Armenia scored 467 in mathematics. But is that bad? Compared to Japan, which scored 570, yes. But how about compared to some others? Well, here are some countries Armenia scored better than in mathematics:

Bahrain: 409

Iran: 415

Chile: 416

Georgia: 431

Lebanon: 449

Turkey: 452

Romania (EU): 458

UAE: 456

And although it didn’t score higher, Armenia was just below that loser of all losers in the international community, Norway, who racked up a whopping 475 points.

Oh, and Norway spends $4,595 of public money per capita on education. That’s $4,396 more than Armenia, which spends $199 per capita. Which brings me to the next point:

3) Nothing to brag about but Armenia spends significantly lower per student than Alabama and pretty much everyone else.

Per capita (not per student) public spending on education:

(I used the percentage spent as reported by the NCES study, country GDP/capita as reported by the World Bank on Wikipedia and state GDP/capita on Wikipedia.)

Armenia: $199

Alabama: $1,090

California: $2,076

Massachusetts: $2,324

United States: $2,998

Norway: $4,595

South Korea (highest score in mathematics): $1,231

Turkey: $734

Georgia: $177

UAE: $420

So, per dollar spent, Armenia has a much higher return in terms of test points.

Which leads me to the following conclusion:

4) Armenia may be the most efficient educator of children in the world.

Or darn close, according to this study.

To make the point (pun!), Armenia spends about 43 cents per point on the mathematics exam.

South Korea which scored highest in mathematics, spends $2 per point received.

Alabama, ranked the same as Armenia, spends $2.34 on education for every point on the mathematics test.

The United States, with an average score of 507, spent $5.91 per point.

Of course, relativity here does not count for much because if a student performs better on the test it’s better than if they didn’t perform well on the test. South Korean students are the best at mathematics and if it took spending $2 per point on education, so be it.

But when you look at Alabama spending almost two dollars more than Armenia and still getting the same score, it suggests that unlike Alabama, Armenia is doing something right, even if it’s not everything.

(Alabama, looks like you need to go to the emergency room because I just burned you.)

It is further encouraging to know that given the apparent ability of the education system of Armenia, a still-developing economy, to score as well as it did given scarily low spending on education, there is a good likelihood that things will get better before getting worse.

5) Ah, but what of the science, you say? After all, the tests were in mathematics AND science. Well, Armenia scored 437 in science which is admittedly among the lowest scores. But, being the optimist that I am, there is a silver lining:

Georgia: 420

Maybe if Georgia spent some money on the Armenians in Javakhk, it could up its scores the next time test time comes around.

And although the Anniston Star (from that place in Alabama) suggests that politicians from low-performing states should be sent to high-performing states, maybe they should send them to Armenia instead. It has Armenians just like Massachusetts does – and the food is better.

The full NCES report with all the data is here.

By: William Bairamian

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Bartering Freedom

When people agree to being governed, that is, they agree to limitations on their absolute freedom, there is an implied understanding that they will be getting something in return. Generally, they are bartering that freedom for security and stability (read: order) and the belief that they are gaining something that they would not have in an anarchic (read: insecure or unsafe) state.

When in the Republic of Armenia you have, on the one hand, massive arrests conducted by the police and, on the other hand, people being beaten and bloodied, as Babken DerGrigorian (interview and story in Armenian) and Mihran Margaryan (pictured below) were, the question arises about what the people are exchanging for agreeing to be governed by the officials and rules that are meant to provide them with security. Officials and rules which do not seem to be holding up their end of the bargain, at that.

When seven hooligans can roam the streets and violently prey on peaceful protesters, someone who has received the trust of the people in exchange for the promise of security has failed in their duty. And when the citizenry no longer believes that the executors of that promised security, the police,  are there to protect them but they are there to protect the disingenuous merchants in the freedom trade, things begin to fall apart.

Mihran Margaryan, post-beating. (Photo credit: Pan-Armenian Environmental Front)
Mihran Margaryan, post-beating. (Photo credit: Pan-Armenian Environmental Front)

What all budding governments know and what all outdated governments, in their hubris, forget, is that they are no match for the people. Once the governed lose all their faith in their governors and in the belief that they will be secured by them, the reason for their past reserve is obsolete, and chaos impends. 

It is generally not in the interest of rulers to ignore mass discontent but history proves that they do, often at their peril. Armenia’s rulers can choose to ignore the discontent, they can choose to abuse the agreement of which they are the beneficiaries, they can choose to be afraid of standing apart from their colleagues or they can choose to recognize that their power and their status and their wealth is due to the complicity of a discontent people with whom they have an implicit agreement. And the rulers of Armenia should know that when they make their decision, they are deciding not only what the future of Armenia will be but what theirs will be, as well.

By: William Bairamian

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