Sunday, May 20, 2018

A Touch of Velvet?

Recent events in Armenia afford me the opportunity to integrate a couple of topics of interest: geopolitics and the value of common culture.

The 2018 Armenian revolution were a series of anti-government protests in Armenia from April to May 2018 staged by various political and civil groups led by member of parliament Nikol Pashinyan (head of the Civil Contract party). Protests and marches took place initially in response to Serzh Sargsyan's third consecutive term as the most powerful figure in the government of the Armenia and later against the Republican Party-controlled government in general. Pashinyan declared it a Velvet Revolution.

Not to be confused with an earlier Velvet Revolution, that of the former Czechoslovakia and the end of one party communist rule in 1989.

The Armenian constitution was amended in 2015.  Whereas the position of president was previously the most powerful political position, under the new constitution this power would be concentrated in the prime minister.  Convenient for Sargsyan, who was to be term-limited out of the office of president after ten years in power.  He vowed that he would not take the position of prime minister, but did anyway.  Hence, the protests.


The entire situation can be compared and contrasted with events in Ukraine.

Euromaidan was a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in Ukraine, which began on the night of 21 November 2013 with public protests in Maidan Nezalezhnosti ("Independence Square") in Kiev. The protests were sparked by the Ukrainian government's decision to suspend the signing of an association agreement with the European Union, instead choosing closer ties to Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union.

What are the similarities?  Both Armenia and Ukraine are former Soviet Republics; both lie along the periphery of Mackinder’s world island; both lie in regions valuable for the west to disrupt if troubling Russia is of benefit. 

What are the differences?  Well, the demonstrations in Ukraine have led to war, unrest, a dividing of the country.  The demonstrations in Armenia have led (so far) only to a peaceful transition in the government. 

Unlike Ukraine, it is not clear that the demonstrations in Armenia were instigated or accelerated by external actors; unlike with Ukraine, those who so forcefully speak against the expansion of the empire (e.g. The Saker, Stephen F. Cohen, Paul Craig Roberts) have not discussed the transition in Armenia at all (to my knowledge) – or at least not at all in comparable terms.

So, maybe the west was not involved, or maybe Armenia is not seen as posing the same risk of instability along Russia’s frontier.  I will leave to others to examine the first possibility; I will focus on the second.  I will do this by also comparing the situation in Armenia with that of Ukraine.

Common Culture

Ukraine is a country of multiple languages, religions and traditions; the borders have been very malleable even in recent history.  To highlight (and I will greatly simplify):

What is Ukraine today includes (as recently as one hundred years ago): Poland, Austro-Hungary, Russia.  This divide can most easily be seen in the conflict today: the western portion of Ukraine looks to the west; the eastern portion looks to Russia.

According to the latest census (2001), 77.8% of the total population is Ukrainian. Russians form 17.3%, mainly in eastern Ukraine. Belarussians, Moldovans, Crimean Tatars, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Romanians, Poles, and Jews each account for less than 1% of the population. About 700,000 Rusyns (Ruthenians) live within the country, but they are not an officially recognized ethnic group.

Of course, given the relatively recent border changes, I suspect even the 77.8% Ukrainian can be further segmented.

Ukrainian is the official language and is spoken by about 67% of the population. Russian is spoken by about 24% of the population. Other languages include Romanian, Polish, and Hungarian.

Religions: Ukrainian Orthodox - Kyiv Patriarchate 19%, Orthodox (no particular jurisdiction) 16%, Ukrainian Orthodox - Moscow Patriarchate 9%, Ukrainian Greek Catholic 6%, Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox 1.7%, Protestant, Jewish, none 38% (2004 est.)

My point?  To call someone Ukrainian does not do justice to the different religions, languages, and traditions to be found in the country. 

Language: Armenian 97.7%, Kurdish 1%, Russian 0.9%, and other 0.4% (2001 census).  Armenian is the only official language.

Religion: According to the Census of 2011 the religion in Armenia is the following: Christianity 2,862,366 (94.8%) of whom 2,797,187 Armenian Apostolic (92.5%)….

Ethnic groups: 98.1% Armenian.

The first historical reference to Armenians is 2500 years old, and people who considered themselves Armenian have lived in the region continuously since at least that time.  Armenia became the first country to adopt Christianity, in 301 A.D.


Whatever the geopolitical background of the demonstrations and change in government in Armenia, things seemed to have settled down quickly.  While there are still risks, the events transpired with no bloodshed, no police crackdowns, no snipers of unknown origins on the rooftops, and no visits by US senators or state department personnel announcing “we are with you” while handing out cookies. 

Most importantly, no civil war or war of secession.

Perhaps the reason for the difference in outcome vs. that of Ukraine has something to do with the common culture and long-lasting traditions of the Armenian people.  An interesting statement when one considers the issue of nationality and borders.  Armenia’s borders work to unite and defend; Ukraine’s borders work to divide and weaken. 

Maybe borders work best when they are formed by people with a common culture and tradition.

Perhaps it is time for decentralization in Ukraine.


  1. As you point out Armenia is 90 % Christian Orthodox so there's scant opportunity for US agitprpopers to stir up trouble between Armenia and Russia.

    I'm not sure if political history can be said to gradually proceed from one level of centralization to another. Rather I think there are very decisive moments of transformation. One need only think of the French Revolution - where monarchy and Christianity suddenly gave way to secular bourgeois rule. As well the economic corporation can be viewed as a development emerging already out of the first European monarchies constituting a transformation of political rule into autonomous economic organization. Today's corporations are essentially border-less and stateless. In fact, borders, governments, states, and political control are a huge bother for them.

    All the pieces are in place for the organization and administration of the corporation to completely replace that of all political power centers. The organization is in fact a corporation proposing to simply buy sovereignty for itself - to become the first autonomous independent and free corporation. I think this is the dimension along which libertarianism will emerge and displace political power. It will be by way of an unexpectedly rapid and unforeseen transformation rather than a slow and continuous political reform tending toward decentralization.

    1. Armenian and Russian Orthodox are of different communions; to the extent that this makes them friendly or not, i cannot say. I know Russia is most friendly with other Slavs - of which Armenians do not number.

      The 90% plus Orthodox (along with language, etc.) indicate to me that splitting the Armenian population as was done in Ukraine - will be difficult.

  2. The Armenian Apostolic Church makes up part of the Oriental Orthodox communion, whereas the Russian Orthodox Church is Eastern Orthodox. I understand there's longstanding bitterness between the two communions.