Sunday, October 21, 2007

Democracy and the Rule of Law in Armenia?

A few days ago, President Kocharian of Armenia dismissed Judge Pargey Ohanian, who had acquitted two businessmen who had been imprisoned and charged with corruption after they had accused Armenian custom officials of corruption. Judge Ohanian’s dismissal indicates that the effects of the Constitutional reforms of 2005 may be all too limited.
Following Armenia’s September 1991 independence from the Soviet Union, the country was held up often as a beacon of democracy among transitional countries. In a recent article, I used the disputed 2003 Armenian Presidential elections and analysis of Armenia’s constitution as lenses through which to assess the transition to democracy and adherence to the rule of law in Armenia. Based on analysis of the conduct of and events surrounding the elections of 2003, the status of the Armenian judiciary, and relevant Armenian Constitutional provisions, I claimed that, despite the wide-ranging changes in the legal and political landscape since 1991’s independence from the Soviet Union, rule of law reform and the spread of democracy was largely superficial and formalistic. I noted that, rather than enjoying democratic freedom and the protection of the rule of law following Armenia’s independence from the Soviet Union, Armenians were experiencing a curtailment of liberty and the capture of the mechanisms of government.
In the article I also attempted to identify the reasons for the failure of Armenia’s transition. Among the factors I identified were Armenia’s strategic geo-political location, pervasive corruption and clientelism, the balance of powers enshrined in the Armenian constitution, nationalism and the Armenian Diaspora, and multilayered and sometimes conflicting donor country motives. While I concluded that the factors were inextricably intertwined, making definitive diagnosis impossible, in the Article I pointed to several fundamental mechanisms, including a more knowledgeable and purposive role of the Armenian Diaspora, that may lead to rule of law and democratic reform. Judge Ohanian’s dismissal indicates that there continues to be executive domination of the judiciary, and a great need for reform in Armenia.
This past week, the 1915 genocide of the Armenian people has been much in the news. Despite protests from Turkey, the issue of the United States' recognition of the Armenian Genocide will go to the floor of the U.S. Congress. However, in the face of continued warnings regarding the geo-political implications of such a vote, Congressional support has waned, and it seems that the recognition will not come from the U.S. government.
It is not clear whether a vote in the U.S. Congress would stimulate a rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey. However, action that could stimulate long-suppressed dialog, and open Armenia to greater interaction with its neighbors and the rest of the world is to be desired. Resolution of the Karabakh conflict and of the unresolved and long-simmering issue of the genocide between Armenia and Turkey would benefit both countries and contribute to stabilizing the tension-filled region.

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