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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