Just over a week ago, members of Armenia’s new government took an oath: “For the realization of pan-national goals and the strengthening of Armenia, I swear to carry out the responsibilities I have to the people compassionately and in accordance with the Armenian Constitution and laws; to work for the benefit of Armenia’s independence and interests; and to remain faithful to the high calling of my government position.”
This government can be considered transitional given the fact that the leaders of the popular movement are constantly talking about snap elections, and how political arrangements formulated as a result of those elections will provide the opportunity to discuss long-term programs. But let us register that several revolutionary shifts have already taken place.
The Fourth Wave of the Political Elite
The new government heralded a change of the political elite. New, fresh faces have entered the political arena and this is what inspires hope that the result of this process will be positive change. This process can also be considered the start of the removal of the former political elite, something which will be crystallized after snap parliamentary elections take place.
In the 27 year history of independent Armenia, this, in my opinion is the era of the fourth political elite. It should not be assumed that each [of these elites] is homogenous and clearly separated from one another; there were those who were part each of these elites, but these “waves” have their clear genealogy.
The first one that was formed during the Karabakh Movement and the first years of independence (1988-96) was the direct result of the Movement itself. Young scholars from research institutes suddenly went from Theatrical Square (Freedom Square) to the Supreme Soviet of Armenian SSR, heading the government, carrying the heavy burden of statebuilding, and were victorious in a war that virtually seemed impossible to win. This same generation, however, succumbed to the seduction of power and money, they rigged the first elections and were plunged into corruption.
The second elite (1998-2004) was composed of those who fought in the Karabakh War. After the war, authorities in Armenia granted extensive opportunities to the commanders who played a prominent role in the war, giving them the freedom to go into business and securing their entry into the political landscape. The result was that the Armenian political elite in this period was dominated by participants of the Artsakh war.
The third elite, which to date controls Armenia’s political, economic and social developments, is mainly the oligarchy. The ticket to be part of the ruling regime was money, financial influence, which guaranteed having a decisive impact on the outcome of the elections. Financial capital and government converged, which meant that often, the decisions of the government benefited private businesses rather than the state.
Today, the fourth political wave seems to be coming together, which once again is a revolutionary one. It is not coincidental that the people who walked from Gyumri to Yerevan and were on the streets throughout the weeks of protests are the ones in key positions in Nikol Pashinyan’s government. And regardless of who will appear in the future parliament and who will be the new government following snap elections, it can be said that these new political figures owe their foray into politics to the Velvet Revolution.
This government is extremely young and thus, has revived an age old social discourse in Armenian society: Which is preferable in public administration? The wisdom and experience that comes with maturity or the daring and energy of the young striving for something new?
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan is 43 years old, Diaspora Minister Mkhitar Hayrapetyan is 27, Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinyan and his Chief of Staff Eduard Aghajanyan are 29, Minister of Territorial Administration and Development Suren Papikyan is 32, Minister of Culture Lilit Makunts is 34, Deputy Prime Minister Ararat Mirzoyan is 39, Minister of Health Arsen Torosyan is 36, Minister of Education and Science Arayik Harutyunyan is 38, the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Mane Tandilyan is 40 years old. In comparison with former Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan’s administration and more so with Hovik Abrahamyan’s previous administration and in general with the outgoing political elite, the age difference is striking - former Armenian President and Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan is 64 years old, Speaker of the National Assembly Ara Babloyan is 71, Karen Karapertyan is 55, former Foreign Affairs Minister Eduard Nalbandyan is 62.
Many have reacted negatively to this drastic drop in age of those now heading the country’s governance. The traditional cautionary question is often heard: “How is it possible, in this state of war, to entrust governance to inexperienced people?” There probably is some truth to these words, but let's look back at the leaders of the 1988 Karabakh Movement and those who headed the newly independent and victorious Armenia - at the start of the war, they were 25-45 years old. Armenian President Levon Ter- Petrosyan was 45, President of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh Artur Mkrtchyan was 31, President of the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh Robert Kocharyan was 36, Prime Minister and later Minister of Defense Vazgen Manukyan was 44, Armenia’s Prime Minister Gagik Harutyunyan and Prime Minister Khosrov Harutyunyan were both 42, Prime Minister Hrant Bagratyan was 32, Speaker of the National Assembly Babken Araktsyan was 46, Defense Minister Serzh Sargsyan was 36, Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan was 31, NK Defense Minister Samvel Babayan was 25, Foreign Affairs Minister Raffi Hovannisian was 31, Foreign Affairs Minister Vahan Papazian was 33 years old.
Some members of the “Karabakh Committee” were also young at the beginning of the movement - Igor Muradyan was 32 years old, Hambartsum Galstyan was 33, Samvel Gevorgyan 40, Samson Ghazaryan 35, Alexan Hakopian 33, Ashot Manucharyan 34, Vano Siradeghyan 42, Davit Vartanyan 38. At the time, no one objected to the right of these young people to head a newly independent country with no institutions, no established system and in the midst of a raging war. And it was they who emerged as winners of the conflict and set the foundations for the creation of statehood.
In no way do I mean to diminish the importance of experience but age also brings certain human characteristics, which slow down if not halt progress. After a certain age, a person is less prone to change, less capable of planning and bringing to fruition new concepts and projects and prefers to maintain the status quo; the stability of the present becomes a priority. In a world developing at an unprecedented speed, this would mean staying on a path that leads to nowhere. I believe, the more experienced politicians and statesmen of this age group have another, more important mission - political party building and sharing their political experience with the youth and transmitting the history of the Third Republic of which they were founding members to us, the historians.
Furthermore, the representatives of the young and middle-aged generation, who are now enthusiastically entering the political and civic life of Armenia, have one other advantage; they have not been or have barely been exposed to the influence of the Soviet Union. They are predominantly the generation of independent Armenia, which allows them to view things and developments from a different perspective. The same is true about the 18-20 year old boys standing on the borders - they too are the generation of independence.