Welcome to The DEPOP Institute For Governance

Position Paper

Looking to the Future

In 2013 a research group was formed in Armenia to study the depopulation crisis of the country and the root causes for the alarming rates of emigration. DEPOP, as the group came to be called, completed and published its report in 2013 (see www.depop.am for the report entitled The Depopulation Crisis of Armenia).

The findings of DEPOP were that the high rates of emigration were due to:

  1. Loss of hope among its population, for a better life;
  2. Poor stagnant economic conditions;
  • But the ultimate root causes were determined to be:
    1. Lack of rule of law;
    2. Lack of good governance and transparency of the State;
  1. A lack of democratic institutions and rigged elections.

In response to these findings, the founders of DEPOP embarked on the establishment of Gyumri Project Hope (www.gyumriprojecthope.org), an initiative focused on the city of Gyumri (the second largest city of Armenia, which indeed has the highest poverty rate in the country) and the surrounding Shirak region with an emphasis on urban renewal and social uplifting. DEPOP has now turned its attention to the upcoming Parliamentary elections set for April 2017 and feels compelled to create a new division in its structure.

Introducing: The DEPOP Institute For Governance

A key conference organized by a diasporan political movement, Armenian Renaissance (distinct from the political party in Armenia) concerning the lack of Rule of Law and Governance in Armenia took place in Toronto, Canada, on the 10th of September 2016, with the participation of independent personalities, artists, intellectuals, politicians, analysts and lawyers. Their contributions encouraged part of the conference organizers and other professionals who took part to establish within DEPOP, the DEPOP Institute For Governance.

Background

Events of 2016

The unprovoked armed attack in early April by Azerbaijan against Nagorno Karabakh and the standoff in Yerevan this past July, have highlighted an acute level of dysfunction in the country. Serious shortcomings in national security, endemic corruption, high degrees of social unrest and the loss of confidence in political parties of all stripes (majority and opposition) have generated a general apathy towards civil and military authorities. With this apathy comes the risk of a major disconnect due to lack of trust between the population and its governing institutions, thereby endangering the security of Armenia in an even wider scale.

Impact

Thirteen successive governments since independence 25 years ago, have failed to provide solutions to these problems. Hence the mass exodus of the population; the visible departure of valuable human resources has created a hemorrhaging of social capital, which is vital for the economy of the country.

The levels of unemployment and poverty are such that only remittances from emigrants can ensure, barely, the livelihood and survival of the poorest.

On the eve of the standoff in Yerevan in July, we also witnessed the unfortunate loss of life of three police officers. Yerevan’s police force retaliated against the people who demonstrated in support of the anti-government movement. As a consequence, a group of world-renowned artists from the Armenian Diaspora drafted a public petition named Justice Within Armenia denouncing the deep social unrest and the violations of human and civil rights. The petition by the recognized artists was symbolically launched the day of the 25th year of independence of Armenia.  It has to date collected close to 5,000 signatures.

Reactivating Civic Pride and Patriotism for the Elections

It is fundamental that the five cornerstones of society, 1- Government, 2- Parliament, 3- the Judiciary 4- the media and 5- the people, each assume their respective civic responsibility and exercise their franchise so that elections may reflect the true will of the people. Accordingly, it is essential that the procedures for the preparation of voting, voter education, equal media opportunities for candidates, and of course, proper and transparent voting processes are guaranteed.

We are aware that this process needs to be part of the goal of building true rule of law in Armenia. The current social crisis in the country presents all Armenians, especially the Diaspora, an opportunity; reinforcing civil society in the Motherland has become a priority that far exceeds any other political priority. The democratization process in Armenia is neither a privilege nor an option, but rather a compulsory course to which each of us as citizens of our nation are called to actively and constructively contribute to.
The Moscow based philanthropist Ruben Vardanyan, in a recent interview to Mediamax, stressed:
“I believe many people understand what has happened, including Armenia’s leadership. However, there are various ways out of the current situation, and the main question is how ready is our society for change? I think that the April war and the July events in Yerevan served as a wakeup call, not only for the authorities, but also for Armenian society – both within the country and the Diaspora. Profound changes are possible when there is an internal consensus in society, but it’s not clear that there is one right now…”

Ambassador Piotr Switalski, as the head of the EU Mission in Yerevan, also said during his recent interview on RFE:

“The next elections in Armenia will be very important. They will determine Armenia’s

future.”

Ambassador Switalski stressed the importance of the proper conduct of upcoming elections in Armenia, saying that they should proclaim democratic change. He further added that the immediate task of the current and future governments will be to remove barriers and limits to commercial activities in Armenia, in effect promoting an open and progressive society.

“An improved investment climate would attract more foreign investment and

stimulate the growth of small and medium enterprises.”

We agree with both personalities. We also aspire to a solid democratic and developed country capable of satisfying the needs of its population and encouraging repatriation of its previously departed citizens. We want to believe that the new Government in Yerevan is decent, and that these elections need to reinstate the credibility of the State towards its own citizens.  We are ready to support such a movement in changing the status quo.

As part of a collective effort of civil society to contribute to good governance in Armenia, particularly in the context of upcoming parliamentary elections to be held in April 2017, the DEPOP Institute For Governance targets three primary initiatives.

ACTION ITEMS LEADING UP TO APRIL 2017 ELECTION: AWARENESS BUILDING THROUGH PUBLIC DEBATES AND INSPIRING MESSAGES (PSAs)

  1. The Pressing Club is a format of discussions and debates that brings together key decision makers from various political, economic and civic sectors to discuss central issues for Armenia. The project is the fruit of a cooperation between the redaction of the newspaper 168Zham and the DEEPOP Institute For Governance. It is a development of a past program bearing the same name. The format of the series of debates is a free style discussion in close environment, where the participants are encouraged to speak openly. The debates will be moderated by a professional moderator hired specifically for that purpose. The project will be launched in the end of January 2017 with a duration of nine weeks, till the upcoming parliamentary elections. The debates will be transcribed and published in a weekly add of 168Zham newspaper distributed in Armenia’s entire territory, as well as will be posted online. They will be translated in three languages (RU/EN/FR) and will also be presented in a video reduced format of 30 minutes. The videos will be posted on DEPOP’s and on 168Zham websites. They will also be available for social media.
  2. Status Quo is a project based on a cooperation between the Public Radio of Armenia and the DEEPOP Institute For Governance. It consists of a series of radio programs broadcast in Armenia’s entire territory and Artsakh, as well as among diaspora communities in other countries. It is also a development of a preexisting concept, which presently targets to fight against electoral bribe and corruption. The proposed total number of radio programs before the upcoming parliamentary elections is 9. The radio program will host experts in the respective fields of every program topic and will be live broadcast with an option of incoming calls from listeners to ask questions. The program will be available online in Public Radio’s website, as well as through its application developed for mobile phones. All debates will be taken on video, transcribed in Armenian, translated into English and posted on DEPOP’s and on Armenian Public Radio’s websites, in order to make them available online as well. The videos will be also be compatible for social media.
  3. Public Service Announcements (PSAs): “April is my future”. The goal of these four PSAs is to influence the behavioral pattern of the general electoral public in the election process during the upcoming Parliamentary elections in Armenia in April 2017. The PSAs will feature, among other things, celebrities that will try to encourage people to change their bad habits that form during the election process, such as not participating in the elections or taking electoral bribes. The PSAs will deliver several of the following key messages:
  1. Every vote matters, every vote can make a change; voting is an essential way for each citizen to show that they care for the future of his/ her homeland.
  2. Taking electoral bribes and selling voices is a moral crime, that shall not be committed against people’s and their children’s future.
  3. Armenian people should not lose hope of having a brighter future, and shall have their important participation in building of a democratic and prosperous country as its citizens.
  4. Armenians cannot afford to be indifferent to the political processes taking place in the country.

Dynamic editing, inspiring rhythmic music will motivate to action, while graphical and visual effects will reinforce the impact of the messages delivered.

The spreading of the PSA’s will be granted through the social media. The DEPOP Institute For Governance will ask the media to broadcast the four clips during their emissions. Similarly, all political alliances and parties taking part in the ongoing electoral competition will be invited to dedicate a part of their time, at their disposal, to broadcast the four clips during the electoral campaign on the official TV’s.

The DEPOP Institute For Governance is ready to partner with any state or public institution, diplomatic representation, NGOs and other entities with similar goals to build a movement for transparent elections in April, 2017. To make it a fundamental milestone in the history of the young Republic of Armenia.

Please contact below for more information.

Sarkis Shahinian
DEPOP Institute For Governance
Executive Director
sarkis.shahinian@depop.am

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