In an interview with ArmInfo, Larisa Alaverdyan, the first Ombudsperson of Armenia, Head of the Politics and Law Institute, speaks about the changes registered in the human rights area over the past two decades. She comments on the cause-and-effect relation between the legal vulnerability and the outflow of population from Armenia, as well as the impact of the latest governmental initiatives on the situation in the republic, and possible influence of the demographic problems on the settlement of the Karabakh conflict.
Mrs. Alaverdyan, you were the first Human Rights Defender in Armenia in the 2000s. What changes have occurred in the human rights area over the past decade?
I can say that today the situation is almost the same as some 10-15 years ago. Armenia has not become a law-bound state. Of course, it would be insulting for the society to say that nothing changes in Armenia. However, first of all, I would like to point out the reduction of the status of social, economic and cultural rights from the constitutional level to the legislative level that happened in the course of constitutional reforms in Armenia. From now on neither the Ombudsman nor the citizens have the right to apply to the Constitutional Court to check whether a court’s verdict complies with the Constitution or not. This issue is of much importance to me. I think this was done to prevent the problem of poverty, which is one of the blatant cases of human rights violation, from being a constitutionally cognizable offense. As a result, the problem of poverty in Armenia has paled into insignificance, while poverty in Armenia is dynamically growing. The political rights of the citizens also played a big role here. I think the election laws should be clear and comprehensible for the citizens of Armenia. But Armenia has chosen one of the most complicated electoral systems in the world, needless to say about the idea of the second round of elections. Our citizens are not prepared for such a system.
Do you think such a complicated electoral system has been chosen deliberately?
I think this system will contribute to retention of power of the incumbent elite, which does not want to give up its seat to any other elite. The idea of rotation of political power in Armenia remains irrelevant. I do not think the incumbent authorities will come to senses and remember the need for power shift. However, rotation of generations inside the ruling force is quite possible and inevitable. These will be absolutely different people with different views. I think now we have a generation that hates to take bribes. They know other methods to regulate such issues.
Methods being applied in the West?
Yes, the West has a huge space where people feel secure. I do not think corruption in Armenia will drop to the western level. However, the authorities must ensure the basic rights of the citizens but they fail to. The unprotected rights of the citizens are the key reason of large-scale migration from Armenia. The outflow of population is not a derivative of the socio-economic situation. Quite the opposite, the socio-economic situation is the result of legal vulnerability of small, medium-sized and family businesses. Anyone seeking to be economically independent immediately comes across the problem of legal vulnerability. As a result, people choose between lumpenization and migration from Armenia. Today the lack of independent courts has become intolerable burden. The country badly needs mechanisms to suppress the system flaws of the judiciary. The previous two prime ministers were shocked with the amounts transferred from the state budget for satisfying the rulings handed down in favor of Armenia’s citizens by the European Court of Human Rights. There are human rights violations typical to almost all countries, but there are also shameful and disgraceful for the country. In the 2000s, the authorities forced the people who had houses in Northern Avenue and Byuzand Street to sell their houses, and then levied a 10% profit tax from them. When I was the Ombudsperson, I repeatedly spoke about it. The problem was resolved only after those desperate people applied to the foreign embassies accredited in Armenia. So, the authorities perfectly know that they disgracefully and deliberately violate human rights. One cannot say that the property right in Armenia is protected.
Could you specify any way out?
The thing is that the work to be done in the human rights area of Armenia is more than the number of those working or whishing to work. This concerns not only the authorities, but also the society. Some 15 years ago people were more enthusiastic. I think it is first of all the civil society that should search for the way out, because the authorities have no intention to deprive themselves of anything in the foreseeable future.
Do you mean that the lawlessness should be eliminated from below without waiting for liquidation from above?
Yes, I do. I think the civil society does not do even 10% of what it should do. The protesting mass is too small and inconsistent. In 1988 I saw with my own eyes what the civil society’s enthusiasm did. It was due to that enthusiasm that Karabakh has become independent.
Does the 1,000 AMD initiative of the authorities fit into the parliamentary election campaign? Have the authorities failed to estimate its consequences or has this also been done deliberately?
The 1,000AMD initiative of the authorities has sparked public discontent not because it points out the need to support the army, but because the authorities fail to take their own steps to that end. Today everyone has forgotten that in the late 1980s people gave the last thing they had because they were sure that the idea of "unification" was fair. In this light, I neglect the words of the Republican MP about Heaven's Justice for those who steal from the army. Yes, Heaven's Justice will come, but what for do we have the authorities? The society gets irritated at the wordings voiced from the power camp. The society is currently waiting for at least part of the stolen funds to be returned to the army. Afterwards, the society will make its own contribution to the army. At the same time, I think that the army really needs that money, however, the relevant law should clearly mention who and how will control the consumption of these funds. The money in Armenia is not little, but it is spent in a wrong manner, to put it mildly. I am sure that as soon as the citizens transfer those 1,000 AMD, the army will all the same be deprived of that money just because the money cannot be spent correctly. Amid the lack of transparency of a consumption scheme and the lack of intention to return at least part of the funds stolen from the army, the specified initiative of the authorities raises the public discontent by one more level. I think such carelessness can be explained with the authorities' confidence to win the upcoming parliamentary elections in April.
The demographic and economic problems, growth of the foreign debt and unemployment are on the rise amid the constant Azerbaijani threat to the national security of Artsakh and Armenia. The April war vividly demonstrated it. What do the authorities rely on, if not on the arrangements we are unaware of?
Since 1996 I have been convinced that reduction of Armenia’s population is a planned action. This is a targeted and purposeful policy aiming to “relieve” the Armenian society of the people actively striving for changes and to get an easy-to-handle mass. As regards Karabakh, the authorities are sure that Armenia all the same cannot resolve this problem alone, therefore it is better to have as few protesters as possible, and to resolve the Karabakh problem and even the Armenian Cause together with Russia, for instance. In this light, it makes no difference to the authorities whether Armenia has a million or three million people. I also think that the current package on the negotiating table is unambiguously aimed at ceding territories. Actually, Serzh Sargsyan has also been speaking about cession in all his latest interviews.
Are there any guarantees that after cession of some territories to Azerbaijan, Russia will not betray us, to put it mildly?
The only guarantee is that Russia needs Nagorno-Karabakh in the form it exists today. Russia considers Armenia a territory, where it will stay even if Azerbaijan leaves Russia for Turkey. For Moscow, the talk about cession of 5 districts of Artsakh is an additional tool to keep Baku in leash. Russia and Azerbaijan are still playing the Karabakh card and they will keep doing it until new trump cards appear in the Russian pack. Our authorities should resolve this problem under the current conditions without waiting for better conditions instead of creating safety bags for themselves by pleasing Russia, the West and anyone else, but not Armenian people.