The Applicability of Nonviolent Struggle in Armenia: Part 8.2

Resistance 8.2

As we have already noted in the previous publications, each part of the article series concerning the applicability of nonviolent struggle in Armenia will discuss in detail the applicability of possible options of political/civil disobedience in our country, as well as the reasons of failure of the means has been chosen by political forces so far.

The article series is based on the study of international practice, as well as the scientific literature available. For Part OneTwoThree,Four, Five, the first  and the second sections of the Sixth part, the first  and the second sections of the Seventh part and the first section of the Eighth part of the current article you can follow the shown links.

Taking into account the experience of oppositional political movements we have witnessed so far, there is a strong need to draw your attention to the targeting issue of the authorities’ source of power by the movement leaders dedicating a whole separate section to it. In this very section the issue of dealing with law enforcement agencies in the course of the street demonstrations is discussed, particularly the tactical shortcomings connected with it as well as its effective alternatives.

Generally speaking, the number of mistakes made during the oppositional movements is rather big, but the issue of properly targeting the authorities’ source of power is in particular a matter of discussion. The reason is that all the mistakes made by the oppositional political forces simply predicted the negative outcome of those movements.

This very section of the article-series mainly refers to the strategy planners of oppositional political processes. Since, as has been mentioned in different parts of this article-series, initial strategy of any long-term political process in the course of time in ascending order develops into more pretentious phases. So, strategy designers should take into consideration that in the most decisive stages of the process the authorities’ sources of power will gradually diminish. Then, the main objective of the oppositional movement would become the formation of a more advantageous strategic situation preferable in the created objective reality. The formation of a more advantageous strategic situation for the democratic oppositional forces in this stage is mainly conditioned by accurate targeting of the opponent’s power. That is to say, the strategy designers must mainly focus on the appropriate communication issue with the key individuals cooperating with the authorities as well as with the main political party serving the authorities, the police and other law enforcement agencies together with the bourgeoisie supporting them, as well as making them not the opponent of the oppositional movement, but rather the most difficult thing-making them their ally.

Dealing with the Police and Law Enforcement Agencies

In the context of proper targeting authorities’ sources of power presence of appropriate strategy and tactics on how to deal with law enforcement agencies (which is considered to be a state’s monopoly) is crucially important. In this regard, the Armenian experience at first glance seems quite unreliable, as in the last decade we have witnessed tense relations between the police and demonstrators who have taken part in street demonstrations. Those relations sometimes even led to inevitable clash. Almost all street demonstrations organized in the framework of political/civic movements ended up or were at least accompanied by violence committed by the police as well as mass arrests.

The question on whether it is possible to avoid clashes with the police during street demonstrations is quite often discussed by institutions as well as individuals actively involved in political/civic life. In the course of such discourses numerous opinions are voiced which can be categorized into two groups. Supporters of the probability of avoiding clashes with the police, though, form the absolute minority in this division. The majority not only strongly believes in the idea that street struggle cannot be imagined without clashes with the police, but also most of them give “professional” meaning to those clashes. To my surprise, I’ve even met such individuals who take pride in the number of cases they were in police stations, or, which is more than ludicrous, proudly count the number of administrative cases filed against them and perceive the next street demonstration as the best means to increase that number. In reality, avoiding clashes with the police during civic demonstrations is quite possible and the opposite only leads to a dead end.

International experience of street struggle shows that the most effective method of dealing with the law enforcement agencies known to political technologies is offered by the concept of nonviolent disobedience. This method defines that under any circumstances nonviolent struggle supporters should take up necessary steps to minimize the possibility of clashes with the police, despite the police propensity for violence. This is done not only based on the principles of nonviolent struggle, but also simply because in case of violence or clash the police will inevitably find themselves in an advantageous position. Simply put, implementation of political jiu-jitsu is one of the core tactical means of peaceful disobedience. So, clashes with the police directly contradict the rules of jiu-jitsu.

While targeting authorities’ sources of power nonviolent struggle strategy planners must take into account the issue of dealing with the law enforcement agencies. The first step of it is carefully assessing law enforcement agencies’ degree of loyalty to the authorities. Besides the mentioned, strategy planners should also have thorough understanding of the issues on whether it is possible for the democratic forces to have an impact on law enforcement agencies having certain degree of loyalty to the authorities. In any case, one should not exclude the possibility that many of the ordinary officers might be unhappy and frightened for personal, family or political reasons and due to democratic forces’ proper selection of strategy they can be alienated from the authorities. Such cases are numerous in practice, and the vague tactical approach demonstrated by the democratic forces is to blame, because as a result those officers often become more aggressive based on their instinct of self-defense. To avoid the above-mentioned, at the beginning of the peaceful disobedience movement held for the sake of democratization the leaders should develop specific tactics for effectively dealing with the law enforcement agencies.

Tactics designed for communicating with the law enforcement agencies must include shaping certain rules and rhetoric for dealing with the police guarding during street demonstrations, which will exclude disrespectful behavior and provocative actions. The police should be clearly informed that the actions taken up in the framework of the civic movement are directed to the overall welfare of the country and in no way can threaten their lives and security. Contrary to this principle, in the Armenian reality we quite often witness such cases when participants of different civic movements demonstrate abusive and intolerant behavior towards the police guarding, thereby making them true opponents of the movement seeking positive changes. When opposite to the Armenian experience, a well-developed tactics is used while dealing with the police; the latter cease to consider the democratic force as an opponent, which in its turn reduces the possibility of a clash and increases the probability of movement’s positive outcome.

Implementation of positive tactics in relations with the law enforcement agencies, though, should not be mistaken with inciting them to military coup. Such a scenario can in no way contribute to the establishment of a democratic regime in the country, but, on the contrary, taking into account all the contemporary examples, we can say that this scenario can only lead to formation of a new more non-democratic regime. Therefore, while developing tactics for effectively dealing with the law enforcement agencies, tactics planners must pay attention to the issue on how officers can be brought to understand that neither a military coup nor a civil war is required for democratization. Those representatives of law enforcement agencies can play quite decisive role in nonviolent disobedience movement, which clearly realize the above said. For instance, they can spread disaffection and noncooperation in their departments, encourage deliberate inefficiencies and ignore unlawful orders, refuse to carry out repressions.

These representatives supporting nonviolent disobedience can also help with various modes of positive nonviolent assistance, including safe passage during street demonstrations, valuable information, food and medical supplies.

Strategy planners should also take into consideration the fact that those officers of law enforcement agencies supporting democratic oppositional forces in nonviolent struggle in case of being revealed by their chiefs loyal to the authorities can beseverely punished. So, while developing special tactics for dealing with law enforcement agencies, people in charge should take into account the above mentioned issues and be as careful as possible in their relations with the latter.

In the initial period representatives of law enforcement agencies supporting democratic forces need to apply ”covert disobedience”. There are a number of relatively safe ways to do so. For instance, those law enforcement agencies can simply inefficiently carry out received instructions to apply pressure against oppositional forces, fail to locate wanted persons persecuted for their political views, warn resisters of impending repression, fail to report important information to their superior officers and a like. Disaffected officers in turn can neglect to relay commands for repression down the chain of command.

Nonviolent disobedience strategy planners should always bear in mind that it is rather difficult and even impossible to achieve significant results by street struggle if all the law enforcement agencies of the country (the police, intelligence agencies, armed forces) and the bureaucrats remain loyal to the ruling regime and carry out all of its unlawful commands.

Especially, the previous experience of oppositional movements held in our country shows that the absence of proper tactics targeting building relations with the law enforcement agencies was to blame for all failures. Longevity of the national movement of 2008 held in Armenia and its comparatively effective process was due to having lot of supporters among representatives of law enforcement agencies and bureaucracy. At the same time, its failure was because of total absence of finding necessary solutions to arisen problems in the course of the movement.


Narek Samsonyan