The Applicability of Nonviolent Struggle in Armenia: Part 3

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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 and Two of the current article you can follow the shown links.

Long before I started working on this article series, I’d been thinking about how to represent the concept of nonviolent resistance from the perspectives of the current Armenian situation. Therefore, in this part of the article series I would try to sum up all the similarities of the previously happened political movements in our country as well as the opportunities offered by the nonviolent civil resistance which is the alternative means to it.

Repeatedly I have had publications on the current situation in our country. Every time I kept on saying that today our country needs a systemic change rather than the nominal changes. None of the political forces seeks that. This has its many objective reasons. For me, as a political scientist, one of the most evident objective reasons has always been the simplest fact that the checks and balances system does not work in the current political reality of our country. In my deepest conviction, the authorities are not the only side responsible for that, like the opposition forces of all time has always been claiming. The absence of political responsibility institution pays lip service to those opposition forces.

It is clear that since the very first years of its independence in post-Soviet Armenia the democratization process has been accompanied with various obstacles and even today we are far from being a country with a consolidated democracy. The responsibility for this equally share all the authorities as well as opposition forces of all time. There exist such political truths that are workable in all kinds of societies and political systems. In spite of this logic, almost all political forces of our political system constantly feed the society with the ideas that the Armenian situation is not subject to the rules of classical political science and it’s not right to consider political processes from that perspective. Meanwhile, according to the simplest logic, in case the authorities do not enjoy confidence of the majority of the society and for many years there has been no political power change, it means that those forces that are aspired to substitute them are either even more unacceptable for the society or have no idea about the effective use of political processes.

The fact that all the opposition political forces in history of the Armenian Third Republic have been trusted by a large number of society (at least by being voted during elections) is beyond any doubt, but undeniable is the fact that the trust given them by the vast majority of the people has never been diversified and shortly after the public resistance has been vanished. We can note without hesitation that in all the above-mentioned cases the general failure of the opposition political forces has been the wrong choice of the means of struggle. Numerous opposition movements when taking part in political processes never took into account several important factors, did not have well-designed grand strategy, a sequence of measures deriving from tactical actions. Because of such unprofessional and non-systematic approach towards political processes, the opposition forces always faced fiascos, in the end blaming only the authorities. As a result, such a situation is developed in our country, where even those political forces do not believe in their success that joined the struggle, and among the majority of the society the only means to bring about political change in the country is believed to be violence.

As we have already noted, the opposition political forces have made several fundamental mistakes. As a result, they have always made wrong targeting and have always used such means of struggle that met with the interests of the authorities of all time. Particularly, as a result of the wrong targeting and the wrong choice of means, the authorities of the Third Republic of Armenia of all time acquired the seeming impregnability. Although, any authorities by its administrative levers and by the monopoly given to the state has several time more sources of power, it has always been described to the society by the oppositions of all time as “weak and aggrieved” and by failing every time they proved the opposite. Any opposition movement first of all should objectively estimate its own power and weaknesses then assess the power and weaknesses of the authorities.

I do not want to go into even more details of the wrong choice of means of struggle, rhetoric and failures of the opposition. Instead, below we will touch upon the proper targeting necessary for designing a nonviolent civil movement as well as the weaknesses of the authorities.

Weaknesses of the authorities

Authorities often seem to be invulnerable when the opposition forces are ineffective. Intelligence agencies, police, military forces and execution squads are controlled by an influential few. The country’s financial system and natural resources management are entirely under the authorities’ control. In comparison, opposition forces often appear extremely weak and powerless. Often the ineffectiveness of the opposition forces is conditioned by the abovementioned objective fact. That perception of invulnerability against powerlessness makes effective opposition unlikely, but as they say, “the devil is not as dangerous as we thought.”

Even seemingly the most invulnerable authorities have their weaknesses and they can be conquered, when their weaknesses are known and the political struggle of the opposition forces is directed against them. Depending on the nature of the authorities we can identify several important weaknesses. Professor Gene Sharp in his book “From Dictatorship to Democracy” singles out especially the vulnerable aspects of the authorities of dictatorial nature.

Citation:

Among the weaknesses of dictatorships are the following:

1. The cooperation of a multitude of people, groups, and institutions needed to operate the system may be restricted or withdrawn.

2. The requirements and effects of the regime’s past policies will somewhat limit its present ability to adopt and implement conflicting policies.

3. The system may become routine in its operation, less able to adjust quickly to new situations.

4. Personnel and resources already allocated for existing tasks will not be easily available for new needs.

5. Subordinates fearful of displeasing their superiors may not report accurate or complete information needed by the dictators to make decisions.

6. The ideology may erode, and myths and symbols of the system may become unstable.

7. If a strong ideology is present that influences one’s view of reality, firm adherence to it may cause inattention to actual conditions and needs.

8. Deteriorating efficiency and competency of the bureaucracy, or excessive controls and regulations, may make the system’s policies and operation ineffective.

9. Internal institutional conflicts and personal rivalries and hostilities may harm, and even disrupt, the operation of the dictatorship.

10. Intellectuals and students may become restless in response to conditions, restrictions, doctrinalism, and repression.

11. The general public may over time become apathetic, skeptical, and even hostile to the regime.

12. Regional, class, cultural, or national differences may become acute.

13. The power hierarchy of the dictatorship is always unstable to some degree, and at times extremely so. Individuals do not only remain in the same position in the ranking, but may rise or fall to other ranks or be removed entirely and replaced by new persons.

14. Sections of the police or military forces may act to achieve their own objectives, even against the will of established dictators, including by coup d’état.

15. If the dictatorship is new, time is required for it to become well established.

16. With so many decisions made by so few people in the dictatorship, mistakes of judgment, policy, and action are likely to occur.

17. If the regime seeks to avoid these dangers and decentralizes controls and decision making, its control over the central levers of power may be further eroded.

Considering all the authorities of the Third Republic of Armenia authoritarian or dictatorial, in my opinion, is wrong, but all the weaknesses of dictatorships brought forward in the citation above from Gene Sharp’s book are in this or that way similar to the weaknesses of authorities of any nature.

Therefore, while designing a nonviolent civil resistance movement the opposition forces can be guided by the abovementioned and depending on the particular situation develop the strategy and tactics.

P.S. In the next part of the article series we will touch upon the means of the nonviolent struggle or, as it is best known, the “peaceful weapons”, which is a set of unique tactical tools.

Narek Samsonyan