The Applicability of Nonviolent Struggle in Armenia: Part 2

Narek Samsonyan

As we have already noted in the previous publication, in each part of the article series concerning the applicability of nonviolent struggle in Armenia the applicability of possible options of political/civil disobedience in our country, as well as the reasons of failure of the means chosen by political forces so far will be discussed in detail. The article series is based on the study of international experience, as well as the scientific literature available. The first part of the article is available here.

Before considering the methods and tactical nuances of nonviolent struggle, it is necessary to briefly introduce some important points describing the way and the duration of success by means of nonviolent struggle, especially, the history and the advantages of this type of political struggle.

As noted in the previous publication, nonviolent struggle, as a means of political process is a rather complex political combination. However, the effectiveness of nonviolent disobedience is quite high despite the fact that it presupposes a long process. The duration and the process of nonviolent struggle are primarily of local nature. In different countries this type of struggle has had different manifestations and has succeeded in different time periods. The terms of success of nonviolent struggle largely depend on the society’s ability to resist, which in its turn is directly related to certain factors in the society. For instance, the term “self-organized society” suggesting a fairly advanced and high resistance society, but still impossible to create and develop in Post-Soviet Armenia, has become largely discussed in our country. Self-organized societies are generally typical to countries with consolidated democracy where the institutions of democratic society and political institutions operate fairly well. Talking about self-organized society in our country is generally conditioned by the abuse of populism by some people with certain educational level. Thus, before considering a self-organized society it is of foremost importance to raise the society’s determination and self-confidence, as well as the abilities to resist. The effectiveness and duration of the nonviolent disobedience is conditioned by the people directly involved into the struggle. The more multilevel and vast is the society’s engagement in the process of nonviolent disobedience, the more effective and shorter is its duration. Besides, the considerable engagement on the terms of its success and effectiveness notable is also the influence of intellectual abilities or, in other words, the educational level of the individuals involved into the movement. As an instance of the above said the national movement in our country started in 1988 can be recalled, where well-known intellectuals of different fields of life were mainly involved. In general, the leaders of almost all movements against soviet occupation were individuals with high intellectual abilities.

In reviewing the history of nonviolent disobedience it is possible to come across different movements with different durations, goals and results. To name a few, the nonviolent disobedience movement for the liberation of India led by Mahatma Gandhi lasted about 32 year (1915-1947), the “Human Rights” movement against racial discrimination in the USA lasted 10 years and the struggle to bring down the communist dictatorship in Holland also lasted 10 year (1980-1990).

Whereas ten years (1980-1990) were required to bring down the Communist dictatorship in Poland, in East Germany and Czechoslovakia it occurred within weeks in 1989. In El Salvador and Guatemala the struggles against the entrenched brutal military dictators of 1944 required approximately two weeks each. The militarily powerful regime of the Shah in Iran was undermined in a few months. The Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines fell before people power within weeks in 1986: the United States government quickly abandoned President Marcos when the strength of the opposition became apparent. The attempted hard-line coup in the Soviet Union in August 1991 was blocked in days by political defiance. Thereafter, many of its long dominated constituent nations in only days, weeks, and months regained their independence. (Gene Sharp, “From Dictatorship to Democracy”, Armenian Edition, pp 34-35)

Reviewing the above mentioned facts we can state the perception that violent means always work quickly and nonviolent means always require vast time is clearly not valid. Implementing significant changes within the society and building a lasting democratic country requires a long time, but as the historical facts suggest, nonviolent disobedience movements against even the most brutal dictatorships sometimes record success even quicker.

The Sources of Power of Nonviolent Disobedience

Achieving a society and a country with stable democratic system by means of nonviolent disobedience is no simple task. Creating a nonviolent disobedience movement and implementing it effectively requires great strategic skills, organization, detailed planning of activities, high level of discipline and professional use of political jiu jitsu. The availability of the above mentioned components strengthens the nonviolent disobedience, without which the movement is doomed to failure. The efficient use of nonviolent disobedience also requires the ability to apply one’s own power effectively, the absence of which makes the positive outcome just impossible. The question is what kind of power we are talking about? What kind of power can the democratic opposition mobilize that will be sufficient to have the desired political outcome? The answers lie in an oft ignored understanding of “political power”. Actually the understanding of political power is of essential importance in nonviolent movements, which is unfortunately often ignored by political powers (nothing to mention in the specific case of the Armenian political powers). The best way to explain the concept is introduced in the manual “From Dictatorship to Democracy” by Gene Sharp, which will be referred below.

The “Monkey Master” Fable

A fourteenth Century Chinese parable by Liu-Ji, for example, outlines this neglected understanding of political power quite well. In the feudal state of Chu an old man survived by keeping monkeys in his service. The people of Chu called him “ju gong” (monkey master).

Each morning, the old man would assemble the monkeys in his courtyard, and order the eldest one to lead the others to the mountains to gather fruits from bushes and trees. It was the rule that each monkey had to give one-tenth of

his collection to the old man. Those who failed to do so would be ruthlessly flogged. All the monkeys suffered bitterly, but dared not complain.

One day, a small monkey asked the other monkeys: “Did the old man plant all the fruit trees and bushes?” The others said: “No, they grew naturally.” The small monkey further asked: “Can’t we take the fruits without the old man’s permission?” The others replied: “Yes, we all can.” The small monkey continued: “Then, why should we depend on the old man; why must we all serve him?”

Before the small monkey was able to finish his statement, all the monkeys suddenly became enlightened and awakened. On the same night, watching that the old man had fallen asleep, the monkeys tore down all the barricades of the

stockade in which they were confined, and destroyed the stockade entirely. They also took the fruits the old man had in storage, brought all with them to the woods, and never returned. The old man finally died of starvation. Yu-li-zi says, “Some men in the world rule their people by tricks and not by righteous principles. Aren’t they just like the monkey master? They are not aware of their muddle-headedness. As soon as their people become enlightened, their tricks no longer work.” (Gene Sharp, “From Dictatorship to Democracy”, Armenian Edition, pp 36-37):

The example above best illustrates the relationships between any type of government and citizens. Any type of government requires cooperation with the citizens for its survival. The cooperation with the citizens is the main source of power for the government.

Any government relies on the acceptance of its legitimacy by the population. In fact, there is a misuse of the term legitimacy in our country too. There are different types of legitimacy and the type used in this context is the legal legitimacy, which suggests a situation, where the government creates such a trust among the people for itself that makes them have a moral duty to obey it. This type of legitimacy formation allows the increase of the sources necessary for the power reproduction and its power.

Human resources is another major source of power. In this case the government highlights the presence of the individuals and groups cooperating and providing assistance to him. In the case of human resources the availability of knowledge and skills is also important, which allows the regime to perform specific actions. Important to note, that both the presence of human resources and the acceptance of the regime’s legitimacy fully derive from the population’s cooperation with the authorities. Contrary to popular perceptions even totalitarian dictatorships are fully dependant on the population and the societies they rule and very often such regimes survive only because the given society or people underestimates its role.

It is important to remember that the degree of control over the government by the population depends on three factors;

  1. the relative desire of the populace to impose limits on the government’s power,
  2. the relative strength of the subjects’ independent organizations and institutions to withdraw collectively the sources of power,
  3. the population’s relative ability to withhold their consent and assistance.

Power Centers of the Groups Planning Nonviolent Disobedience

As noted before, one characteristics of a developed society is the existence of nongovernmental groups and institutions independent of the state. Unfortunately, today our country lacks these kind of groups, thus to make an effective nonviolent struggle movement first of all it is necessary to create such groups and institutions on the ground of strengthening the existing ones. These groups and institutions include, for example, families, cultural associations, trade unions, student associations, nongovernmental organizations, human rights organizations, systemic political parties, and others.

These bodies have great political significance. They provide institutional bases by which they can exert influence over the political and decision making processes. When such groups are in the complete control of political power the population appears in a state of relative helplessness which is expressed by widespread despair. The basic guarantee for success of effective movements against the most brutal dictatorships in the history has been the mass noncooperation actions with the direct participation of such institutions.

To be continued….

Narek Samsonyan