The Applicability of Nonviolent Struggle in Armenia: Part 4

Narek Samsonyan

As we have already noted in the previous publications, each part of the article series on the applicability of nonviolent struggle in Armenia will discuss in details 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 One, Two and Three of the current article you can follow the shown links.

In the previous parts of the article series we stated that one of the guarantees of an effective political process is directing all the efforts of the resistance initiators against the weaknesses of the authorities. In case the struggle is directed against such fields where the authorities have limitless sources of power, the political process initiators find themselves in quite deadlock situation.

The examples of the said are numerous in our reality. Particularly, the negative consequences of violent clashes with the police has been constantly neglected by the groups initiated the opposition movements so far. As a result of clashes with the police forces numerous active citizens have been detained, which turns into an obstacle for the ones who want to join the movement. As a result, instead of realizing the main goals of the movement, the movement moves to the stage of situational struggle and is completely overthrown at the end.

In the previous parts of the article series we discussed the negative impact of the intervention by foreign forces in the framework of significant political change as well as the fictitious nature of the electoral process within the developed political reality. In this part we will touch upon the available alternative means of struggle offered by nonviolent resistance, due to which it will be possible to achieve significant political change.

The logic of nonviolent civil movement initially rejects the option of finding solution to the current political issue by the means of struggle dictated by the authorities. By wisely using the political power given by this means of struggle even the weaknesses of a totalitarian regime can be undermined. During the practical application the nonviolent resistance can both solve quite comprehensive strategic issues and focus on implementation of some local goals. Public wide mobilization can be possible only if the proper tactics of street struggle is implemented. At the same time the nonviolent civil resistance contributes to spreading the idea of effective government making it more likely to develop and maintain a democratic society. Nonviolent civil resistance can serve different goals starting from pushing the political opponent to various actions to even creating the objective reality necessary for achieving own goals or simply for overthrowing the authorities.

The means of nonviolent struggle are mainly related to the psychological, social, economic and political “weapons” used by the population and the social institutions. The latter are manifested in forms of protests, peaceful assemblies, noncooperation (strikes, hunger strikes, trade boycotts, etc.) and public pressure.

As we have mentioned in previous parts, regimes of any nature live as long as the society cooperates with it, which is the authorities’ number one source of power. Nonviolent civil resistance offers the “peaceful weapons” necessary to eliminate them all by unique ways.

Means of Struggle offered by Nonviolent Resistance

The methods of struggle applied exclusively in all political movements that have happened in our country so far has nothing to do with the logic of nonviolent civil resistance. Moreover, by the initiators of all opposition movements that have happened so far such methods of struggle has always been chosen that doomed the movements with different goals to failure. Only one or two methods of struggle were used in all those movements-mass demonstrations and several attempts of unsuccessful boycott. In fact, there are several hundreds of methods of public struggle (or as it is best known street struggle) implementation of which lets the resistance movement strategy designers reach as much consolidation as possible around the main goals of the movement and make it much more acceptable among the population.

The author of the modern theory of nonviolent resistance, professor Sharp identifies about 200 hundred methods of nonviolent resistance and classifies them:

“The methods of nonviolent actions are classified under three broad categories: protest and persuasion, noncooperation, and intervention. Methods of nonviolent protest and persuasion are largely symbolic demonstrations, including parades, marches, and vigils (54 methods). Noncooperation is divided into three sub-categories:

(a) social noncooperation (16 methods),

(b) economic noncooperation, including boycotts (26 methods) and strikes (23 methods), and (c) political noncooperation (38 methods).

Nonviolent intervention, by psychological, physical, social, economic, or political means, such as the fast, nonviolent occupation, and parallel government (41 methods), is the final group (Gene Sharp, “From Dictatorship to Democracy”, pp. 31). In the final part of the article series you can find the list of 198 of these methods.

The methods of struggle offered by nonviolent resistance imply rather effective processes. The vivid proof of the abovementioned peaceful methods is their successful practical application. As in this article series effective political processes are analyzed, it’s important for me to focus on and discuss the political manifestations of nonviolent struggle. While speaking about the political manifestation of nonviolent struggle we inevitably face the spread misconceptions of the term “political” in the Armenian reality. There have been a number of cases where the true meaning of the term “political” was fraudulently distorted by the representatives of both authorities and the opposition. Therefore, it’s worth particularly stressing that by saying political manifestation, I mean the political manifestation of the process which is not connected with the rhetoric of the movement and the main goals set forward.

Among the political manifestations of the nonviolent resistance movement can be singled out noncooperation with the authorities and denial of their legitimacy discussed in previous parts of the article series. Noncooperation can be operated against a certain policy run by the authorities. For instance, refuse to give in to police instigation by being nice to those police officers who try hard to incite acts of provocation among the demonstrators of peaceful marches.

Strategy designers of nonviolent resistance must bear in mind that many of frequently encountered methods of struggle (these are awareness raising actions, consecutive rallies, sit-ins, hunger strikes, workers’ strikes, students’ strikes) often require to perform such acts that are unrelated to the demonstrators’ normal life. That is why often it is rather hard for great majority of the population to take part in those acts of struggle. Taking into account the above-said, it is necessary to keep street struggle away from critical situations. It is important to understand that not everyone is ready to be detained or simply be persecuted. Based on the above-mentioned natural obstacles nonviolent resistance offers such methods of struggle that require the society to continue their normal lives though with minimum differences at the same time have effective participation in nonviolent civil resistance movement. For instance, according to these methods, instead of work strike people can go to work and do their job ineffectively on purpose. Those on responsible positions may quite often make “mistakes” or in some cases even become “sick” and “unable” to work. The same refers to the students who instead of going on strike can simply go to their universities and do their best to paralyze education process by all means (by the way, this very method was undertaken during Brusov student movement in 2012). By continuing their normal life citizens can simply refuse to cooperate with the people with high reputations in their neighborhood. Making such behavior a part of normal life a great majority of the society will be able to take part in the nonviolent resistance movement initiated by the democratic forces. There is a need to take into account the simple fact that nonviolent struggle and violent struggle operate in totally different ways. Even unnoticeable violence during nonviolent civil movement can lead to the opposite result giving all advantages to authorities and transferring the movement to a field where they have overwhelming power (clashes with the police, mass arrests and mass intimidation and propaganda attacks). One must always remember that one of the main preconditions of nonviolent struggle success is the highest discipline maintained while implementing the developed strategy and tactics during the nonviolent civil resistance movement.

The maintenance of discipline makes it easier to reach the effectiveness of the four mechanisms of political change discussed in previous parts. Being disciplined is equally an important precondition for applying political jiu-jitsu (an eastern marital art for self-defense). Violence against the participants of nonviolent civil resistance processes, if they were strictly following the accepted tactics and discipline, will have a negative impact on the authorities who gave order to commit violence. The opposite is also possible when the participants of a political process give in to provocations (in the Armenian reality it’s the demonstrators who quite often initiate provocations), become involved in public disorders and clashes, the violence committed by the authorities receives all the legitimate grounds for it. Sadly must be noted that in our reality the latter manifestations are dominant.

However, in particular stages of political struggle the emotional attitude towards the authorities may possibly dominate over pragmatic calculations and the use of violence may be inevitable. It is also possible that some groups well aware of the effectiveness of nonviolent struggle will prefer violence. In case of such force majeure the supporters of violence must be found and isolated from the participants of nonviolent resistance movement because use of violence can have a disastrous impact on much more successful and effective methods of nonviolent struggle.

Narek Samsonyan