29 October 2020

Thursday, 05:59



COVID-19 pandemic can trigger a new revolution in Armenia



Many consider the COVID-19 pandemic to a natural disaster, which we were warned about but could not take necessary precautions when it came out of the blue.

There is one more circumstance, however. It was first declared in this century: can there be a purely natural disaster without anthropogenic, political, and social components? In December 2004, during the Christmas holidays, a monstrous tsunami hit the the South Asian coasts. It turned out that, unlike the Pacific, there was no tsunami warning system for the Indian Ocean and the Andaman Sea. In 2010, an earthquake claimed 150,000 lives in Haiti, according to conservative estimates. But there were no tangible destruction and casualties in the neighbouring Dominican Republic. The main reason of mass destruction in Haiti was shown as poor living conditions of the local population, the vast majority of which lived in shacks built without observation of construction norms and earthquake resistance...

In December 1988, an earthquake occurred in Armenia. Again, many experts admitted that the scale of the destruction was mainly associated with the violation of technical standards...

Apparently, the reaction of official authorities to such violations, or rather, the lack of an adequate reaction can lead to serious political shifts. In August 2005, hurricane Katrina caused massive destruction in New Orleans, US. Many believe that George W. Bush lost the 2008 election because the authorities were unable to respond to the natural disaster. That’s how he became "the most unpopular president of the US."

And now the world is challenged by the coronavirus pandemic. It also turned out to be a tough test for local authorities in terms of their ability to respond to challenges and the viability of healthcare systems. The recent events in the US, Great Britain, and EU make one re-think the consequences. Especially in comparison with Azerbaijan - with its clearly prudent and flexible response to COVID, which includes restrictive measures, the launch of local mask production facilities, the construction of modular clinics and many more. Moreover, Azerbaijan, in contrast to Georgia, was in the "zone of increased danger." Indeed, in neighbouring Iran the authorities have long refused to admit the fact of the epidemic. As a result, Azerbaijan observed a massive drift of COVID-19 from Iran to Azerbaijan. It is, therefore, very likely that Armenia presents yet another ‘revolution’ to the world community – this time through the coronavirus.


From hell to hell

Even Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan admits that Armenia lost the battle with the coronavirus. He is so accustomed to ruling the country through Facebook that even now he went online announcing that Armenia was "walking in hell." Experts believe that Pashinyan was sincere in his words. Thus, while Armenia had 5,606 confirmed COVID-19 cases on May 20, by June 10 this number grew to more than 14,000, meaning an explosive increase of cases. Mortality rates were also high: 327 people.

Remarkably, the Armenian Minister of Health, Armen Torosyan, has not admitted the danger of the coronavirus for a long time. The lockdown in Armenia lasted only two weeks, while the ministry did not notify the citizens to respect the rules. Police initially did not even try to stop the violations, but now began to fining and arrests of violators. But this does not help. Experts underline both the low level of medical education of the Armenian population and the popularity of the most incredible conspiracy theories regarding the COVID-19 pandemic among the citizens. Meanwhile, the failure of Yerevan’s “coronavirus strategy” is only one of the symptoms of the degradation in many areas of Armenian public life.

The fight against coronavirus requires well-thought-out decisions, a clear strategy, discipline, and, if necessary, coercive measures. But above all it requires money: for laboratories, tests, anti-plague suits, antiviral drugs, ventilators and modular hospitals. But Armenia has decided to go its own way. A few years ago, the famous Russian expert Fyodor Lukyanov described this as follows: “Armenia has its own hell, which has nothing to do with the association agreement with the EU or with anything else. This hell is isolation and the sandwiched [geographical] position of Armenia." In other words, due to the state of war with Azerbaijan and the closed borders with Turkey because of the hostile policy of Armenia, Yerevan has become isolated from regional economic processes. Under such severe conditions, Armenia does not even have a theoretical chance to build a capable economy. Russia's financial assistance helps to stay afloat, but it cannot replace full integration of Armenia into regional projects. Moreover, money does not “work” in Armenia but leaves the country like water in the sand.

Now these problems are superimposed onto the consequences of the ‘revolutionary hangover’. Undoubtedly, the shashlik revolutionary fervour looks spectacular on screens and monitors, but it cannot replace public administration. The strict quarantine is observed weakly because the police simply did not dare to act severely. Authorities began lifting the restrictions after two weeks, because poor Armenia with a quietly dying economy simply could not compensate the owners and employees of the facilities closed because of the pandemic. Construction of modular clinics was out of discussion at all. The authorities have made many mistakes too. Unlike Azerbaijan, Russia and other countries, Armenia did not begin to create an interdepartmental operational headquarters, which would support the coordination of efforts.

Now the COVID-19 problems get a completely different interpretation. The explosive increase of the COVID-19 cases in Armenia coincided with the general decline in the rating of Nikol Pashinyan. After a year in power, Pashinyan has nothing to present to his voters. Moreover, the seemingly broken and demoralised members of the Karabakh Clan also play against him.


With a military coup in mind

Just on the eve of his “coronavirus” revelations, Nikol Pashinyan reported on his Facebook page: “Lieutenant General Onik Gasparyan is appointed the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces. Colonel Argishti Kiaramyan is appointed Director of the National Security Council. Colonel Vahe Ghazaryan is appointed Chief of Police.” He did not indicate the reasons though. It is believed that the head of the General Staff of the Armenian Armed Forces, Artak Davtyan, had to resign because of the wedding of his son, despite the coronavirus-related restrictions in Armenia. But what about a picnic in the occupied city of Shusha with the participation of Pashinyan himself?

Apparently, Pashinyan could not get along with the power block of his government. Police did not forgive him - and is unlikely to do so - the amnesty of the members of the terrorist group Sasna Tsrer. There are many supporters of the former chief of the National Security Service, Artur Vanetsyan, who is now known for his tough accusations against Pashinyan. The positions of the Karabakh Clan are strong in the army.

Hence, the hasty replacement of political opponents in the power structures of Armenia. This looks like Pashinyan is trying to protect himself from a military coup, which is quite a likely scenario for Armenia.