The book by Ruben Vardanyan and Nune Alekyan “At the Crossroads” did not come as a surprise. Mr. Vardanyan in his interviews and speeches has repeatedly expressed the thoughts which have eventually shaped into a book. Those thoughts have been repeatedly criticized in public debates, including by me. They represent an example of the outdated Armenian public thinking, that is, how it is impossible to solve the problems the Armenian nation faces today.
In short, the main idea of the book is as follows: instead of concentrating on the formation of national state and political nation, it is necessary to focus on building a global network-nation, with Armenia not being the center of this network.
This position is being justified by the fact that such was the matter of facts before the restoration of independent statehood, that this way the potential of the diaspora would be used more effectively, and that to have one center is dangerous, because if you lose that center, the network would also be lost: “Today, as was the case in the Middle Ages, for a global network nation to prosper it needs several powerful clusters interconnected through common activities.” (pg. 177).
The so-called network is not an invention. Security agencies, revolutionary movements, religious structures, trading companies are all networks. The issue is not the network as such, but its members, subjects, its control center and, of course, the purpose for which it is created.
The model proposed by the authors includes individual colonies, the elite and the Republic of Armenia, which should jointly form the so-called Armenian World, and the network should serve that Armenian World.
It seems to be a good idea if one forgets about the very clear and real circumstances, neglecting which will lead to an irreversible catastrophe for our national statehood.
Let’s begin by asking, what are we doing now, and what is our present situation? Armenia is currently in the process of becoming a political nation and building a national state. The formation of a political nation is possible only within the borders of the Republic of Armenia and under the Armenian statehood.
In the model proposed by the authors, the issue of national statehood/political nation is not put forward, nor it can be, because in Vardanyan’s network, the Armenian members of other political nations – Russian, American, Iranian, Czech – can act exclusively as representatives of the community, millet, and, consequently, the population of Armenia is also perceived as one such community.
The idea that the population of Armenia needs to be transformed according to the requirements necessary for cooperation with the diaspora and other nations, runs through the book and is repeated more than once. Thus, based on the objectives, a historically unknown subject is created – a network-nation, in the case of formation of which the internal structure of this subject will determine its functions and objectives.
An established political nation will not tolerate being controlled; it will dominate with its institutions, and, therefore, will become the center of the network, turning it into just a tool for its own purposes. Ruben Vardanyan does not need such a network, he needs a network where the state is an ordinary member of the network, a network which is not subordinated to our National Security Service and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but constitutes no more no less a network-nation with a horizontal structure without the predominant role of the state, and which stands higher than our official institutes; a network which is a separate subject of history, instead of a nation-state, a nation-network.
This network operates independently of the state and territory; therefore it is not obligated to constrain itself with the protection of this state and territory or deal with the problems of the country.
According to authors, it is the network-nation, separate from the country of Armenia and not limited by its state territory, that forms the Armenian World, and the country of Armenia and the Armenian state are ordinary members of this horizontal network. The authors avoid disclosing the predominant, hierarchical role of this Armenian World in relation to the country of Armenia, letting the reader be filled with unbounded enthusiasm by the idea of the Armenian World.
In such a horizontal network, the worldwide network is larger and more important than each member of the network. This brings up a question, can the interests of Armenia be subordinated to the interests of the non-existent Armenian World or the interests of the network leaders? If the Armenian World is subordinated to Armenia, there is no need to create such a world, our world is Armenia, but according to the authors’ suggestion, our world is not Armenia, but the Armenian World.
Vardanyan needs a horizontal network, without the dominating position of Armenia, where he and large capital outside of Armenia will enjoy an elite status and will have their own state for their own needs, regardless of the elections in Armenia, state institutions and the will of the political nation.
To this end the idea of a national state is diminished, and for that purpose the book discusses nationalism in negative tones.
This is clear. Nationalism creates national states and political nations, and the community form of a people’s organization, under the control of out of the state and outside of Armenia bigwigs of the Armenian colonies, cannot tolerate the people’s politicization and growth of civil mentality.
Considering the examples of different countries (Singapore, Costa Rica), the authors diligently and remarkably skip the closest and most relevant model which is in front of our eyes – one of a militarized country in the hostile environment, Israel.
The foundation upon which Israel stands is the Jewish nationalist movement – Zionism, and not the status of a hub for earning money.
This fact and example worthy of imitation are ignored for a very simple reason: R. Vardanyan and many other Armenian entrepreneurs, mostly from Russia, have understood how vulnerable they and their capital are without the protection of their own state, but instead of politically repatriating, for the protection of their assets they have decided to acquire their own state, which should serve their interests, while, of course, subordinating the interests of the state and the people living in that state to their business interests.
Vardanyan’s statements about inclusive and extractive development models regularly cited from Acemoglu’s book, actually confirm the reality that political system dominates the economic one, that the state is the main player and the subject of history, which can in no time make bankrupt and eliminate any amir of Constantinople or the wealthiest resident of Moscow and Tbilisi. The authors write: “As a rule, ‘verticals of power’ take the upper hand in confrontation with horizontal networks. The fate of the network set up by New Julfa merchants who did not have the support of a sovereign state provides a good illustration of this conclusion drawn by Ferguson.” (pg. 31).
I can only ask the authors: if you have decided to diminish the Armenian national state to the level of the network so that it will be safe and manageable for you, what will happen to our country, to you and your capital at the next stage when that network is confronted by other national states? There is no answer to that question in the book, which resembles a business plan.
It is high time the Armenian business class decides which passport and flag it is faithful to. Those who want to live in their national state, must decide and choose the flag to which they are going to serve. A flag which serves the business class, will ultimately serve those, to whom the business class representatives serve. National state cannot be someone’s property, it is for all.
Armenian big business has not managed to become national yet, but it is already transnational, and its business interests and centers of vital interests are outside Armenia. Those ties grow faster than the ties with Armenia and play a crucial role in the behavior and decisions made by the business class. This brings up a question: how will the members of the network act if their business interests in Russia and the USA demand steps that are against the interests of the Republic of Armenia?
More importantly, what will happen to Armenia, when in the absence of dominating position of a strong national state, different members (centers) of the horizontal network, for example, Moscow and London, begin solving matters in the interest of their patrons and resident countries on Armenian soil and contrary to Armenian interests?
Ruben Vardanyan writes that dying diaspora can be useful to Armenia, but there are no checks and balances in the suggested network. What will happen to our country if diaspora’s influence becomes harmful, and the representatives of different centers of power, members of the network, make Armenia the stage for settling scores – what will be left from Armenia then?
We can be sure that no network member, who has influence in Armenia through the network, will escape the attention and guidance of the local special services. Is this the “bright” future pursued by Mr. Vardanyan? This would not even be the status of a foreign-controlled neo-colony, which under the monopoly of a powerful state can afford to avoid the fate of becoming an apple of discord among the great powers. Vardanyan’s network will undoubtedly turn our country into a battleground for the new Byzantium and Persia lovers, whom the author does not mention in his extensive historical excursions.
What the authors offer us is a perfect political regress to the pre-Soviet state, hoping that the security in the region surrounded by wolves and the non-national business-state could be bought by rendering services to others, by not interfering with anyone, by avoiding political struggle and neglecting Armenian agenda, by bringing the internal structure of the nation in line with the objective of well-fed capitulation.
However, in modern conditions it is impossible to recreate the network that we had in the past and which was destroyed. In this regard, the damage from Ruben Vardanyan’s book is decreasing because it sets impractical goals. In the 21st century communities do not sustain – mixed marriages, socialization and assimilation happen at such pace, and the national states are so powerful that it is pointless to dream about having some centers outside Armenia.
The authors emphasize that fact: “Over time, Armenian communities will finally disintegrate and be assimilated.” (pg. 63). So, it turns out that the book is not about the Armenian World, but a very limited number of people, who will decide the fate of the nation equally with the Republic of Armenia.
There are so many mixed marriages in the Armenian business community, that one may ask in astonishment: what would be the motive for the people, who are cosmopolitan, who have no ties with Armenia and don’t know Armenia, to deal with Armenian issues. To what kind of “sterilization” does Ruben Vardanyan want to subject the Armenian nation so that the Armenians within the nation-network would tolerate the cosmopolitan elite which has little to do with the Armenian identity. Do the authors think this problem is truly solvable and don’t they see the future confrontation and threats?
Historical excursions are generally interesting if they help us to avoid making old mistakes in the present. Mr. Vardanyan, referring to the Armenian history, has not made the main conclusions.
The reason for the loss of the Armenian statehood was exactly the creation of network oriented towards foreign centers, where the divergent tendencies ruined the common state, and the national ideological axis, which the authors do not like so much, was weak and did not secure the accumulation and concentration of national resources around the idea of the state. R. Vardanyan wants to reproduce the same mistake now; to avoid the concentration of power in order to preserve the privileged and dominant status of himself and of his class.
Later, in the absence of the Armenian statehood, Armenian merchants created commercial networks under the patronage of one or another empire or power and perished when these empires decided to hand over the businesses of their loyal subjects to the representatives of the titular nations.
When writing about the Genocide, the authors do not mention the important cause which falls within the logic of the book and which, in my opinion, played a crucial role in the defenselessness of the Armenian people.
The Armenian urban population, the elite, the money, the skilled workers, and the substantial part of material and non-material resources were accumulated outside Armenia, in Constantinople and in Tbilisi. These centers had nothing to do with the country and with the common people, they lived separately, following their own agendas, and, as a result, the Armenian people did not have an elite, a thinking and governing body that would be able to organize resistance.
The separation of the elite from the country and the people made these two parts helpless and led to the destruction of the Western Armenian population and elites living in the different parts of the Ottoman Empire. The elite (network centers) had their own concerns and agendas, and the protection of the country, territory and population was not part of them. The most important thing was to maintain trading network and interests in London and St. Petersburg, whereas the concerns of the people were ignored at best and, at worst, became bargaining chips for the pimp elite, when national interests were traded for personal gains.
This situation. when the elite does not bear any responsibility for its nation, when there are no direct connections and relations between the elite and the nation, when the nation’s so-called select circle (“gentlemen”) live in the capitals of different states, and the people (the “commons”) live in the country, should never be, and will never be, repeated in Armenia again.
Mr. Vardanyan, only those, who have chosen which flag they are loyal to, will be bestowed the status of the Armenian elite. Everyone should choose to which political nation they belong to, because the Armenian people will not be a community, it is becoming, and will eventually become a political nation.
When speaking about the Genocide, it is important to underline the poor intellectual capacity of the Armenian elite of the time. The Armenian commercial elite was lacking political thinking and did not realize that in the new era the time of empires is coming to end, or that they morph into other forms, and the political nation becomes the form of organization of peoples, where the empire’s millets, communities are subjected to a slow assimilation or destruction. Therefore, no one in Constantinople, Tbilisi, Baku, Moscow and other places would have allowed the non-titular community to have structures higher than those of the titular nation and would not have allowed to build Armenia within a foreign country, and the policy was going to change dramatically. The citizens of an empire do not have nationality, they are only subjects, but in the era of national states there is no need for subjects – citizens of the state are needed instead. Many Armenians then and even now are ready to be subjects within bigger powers, but not citizens of their own country.
No titular nation will tolerate in its national territory the growth of another nation to a point of having its own institutional structures and scale, i.e., according to the terms of the book, the existence of the nation-network, and one of the reasons of the Genocide and our defenselessness was the fact that we were such a nation-network. To organize resistance what we needed was a hierarchical structure that would have concentrated resources, would have implemented a common policy and could have predicted and faced the dangers.
What we had instead was a horizontal network in Russia-Europe-Constantinople-Ottoman Empire outskirts, which did not have policy as such. The dominance of commercial capital which belonged to a different ethnic group during the upraise of political nations was a direct challenge to the Turkish national state; it constituted the same challenge for Georgians in Tbilisi, for the Tatars in Baku. This situation had to be dealt with and it was. It all ended in deprivation of property and massacre.
There was no ability for resistance; the political nation was not established, and the elite, instead of guiding the people during this time of transformation of empires, dreamed of blessed sultans under whose protection they could live and make money as a loyal millet, a hub, failing to understand that established political nations do not need mediators to build relations with the world.
Let me state this again, we have already had the network suggested by Ruben Vardanyan and it has proven its political bankruptcy, its inability to solve the issues of the nation, and that model of political organization culminated in a national catastrophe.
The authors ask: “The question therefore arises: can we still argue that today’s Armenians are a network nation?” (pg. 158). My answer is: fortunately, we can’t. Armenians worldwide are members of the political nations of their countries of residence, and the attempts to create a global network nation, that is, the failure to shape the proper Armenian political nation will only lead to the loss of the state.
The authors come to a stunning conclusion: “The Republic of Armenia is one of the most monoethnic countries in the world since the main ethnic group comprises about 98% of the population. Over the last 27 years we have for the first time in the past seven centuries lived in a sovereign national state. It is both a huge advantage and a drawback. In the past, Armenians were a bridge between civilizations, whereas now in their own country they not infrequently display a considerable lack of tolerance toward people of different culture, skin color, religion, or views.” (pg. 97).
Dear Mr. Vardanyan, the Armenian people used to be a bridge between different civilizations not because they lived alongside Turkish robbers, oppressors, murderers and rapists, but because the Armenians lived in Madras, Cairo, Rostov-on-Don, and London, and if we are not carrying out that function today, the reason is that other nations have made a great leap in development and do not need us to go to London, and our multi-million diaspora simply lives its own life, and the influence of several thousands of patriots is not strong enough to make a small country such as ours become a mediator between bigger players.
Whatever the reason, the blame for low tolerance toward minorities is only a means to ensure conditions for the external governance of our country.
It is interesting that the authors, comparing different developmental models (166-167 pgs.), are afraid of the “capsule” status, but have no concerns about the status of a “far province of metropole” which is much more probable for us in the present and future, and they do not address the issue of strengthening national identity so that the country could be ready for its third and preferred way. The authors do not see the danger of neo-colonization at all and do not propose to set built-in mechanisms of checks and balances against external influence. On the contrary, they propose to legalize and legitimize the mechanisms of external interference, to introduce these mechanisms into the very flesh of the nation, using which various Migranyans, Kurghinyans and other figures will not fail to impose their ideas upon the Armenian people. I can only hope that the authors truly do not see this threat.
Ignoring the risk of neo-colonization, the authors consider the hub to be a preferable status and use the example of Switzerland, a country under no military threat. I wonder how the authors would describe modern day Israel.
And how do the authors envisage the hub status of Armenia in an uncompromising confrontation with the two neighboring states? Can a country which lives in such military and political reality be a hub, or this model implies political and therefore national development outside of such reality? Or what country could be the military and political sponsor of such a hub and what it would demand in return for protection, because protection implies dominance? I did not find answers to these questions in the book, and silence raises doubts about how readers will understand the book without such explanations.
A nation-network that surrenders its political ambitions in order to avoid political issues and struggle could be named a nation-bartender or a nation-waiter, taking the word “nation” into inverted commas, of course.
It is unclear what the authors mean saying; “Of course, it would preserve our distinctiveness, but this very distinctiveness is at this point problematic, given today’s identity crisis in a closed, monoethnic country and the gaps between Armenian ethnic groups elsewhere. (pg. 167)”. There is no identity crisis in Armenia, the community is becoming a political nation, and it remains unknown to me who the Armenian ethnic groups are.
In this regard, I would like to remind the authors “The Transportation Theorem” of S. B. Pereslegin and use it for the case of network-nation. The theorem states that the province will separate from the state, if the information and transportation communication between the center and the province, or between provinces, becomes significantly weaker than the communication between the province and a foreign center of power.
If the time of the exchange of information between the center and the periphery exceeds the time of development of processes which must be managed from the center, then, in our case, the horizontal network will collapse.
If the speed of information, transport and economic development between the periphery and the center begins to fall behind the speed of the economic development of the periphery, then, in our case, the horizontal network will collapse.
The connections of the Armenian diaspora, including the Armenian business community, with the world develop fast, and the relations with Armenia are problematic enough as they are, and no national degradation, no reduction of the state in the interest of the business to the level of an ordinary member of a network will help closing this gap.
Our country's issues require quick responses and concentration of forces according to the current agenda. Working out joint decisions on our national agenda with the centers of the network in Moscow and London (as well as with the local special services) would require so much time (if such decisions would be achievable at all given differing interests of the centers) that this continuously delaying and failing process will start talks about national identity crisis in the ddiaspora, but not in Armenia.
It’s time to choose a flag.
The book is overwhelmed with questions, but one of the proposed solutions is particularly problematic. Apparently, and fortunately, Armenia will not be able to choose between Iran, Russia and the European Union, as the authors suggest.
We will continue the policy of complementarity, as any choice between the three mentioned or other centers will lead to serious problems. Considering our geographical position, Armenia will remain an independent actor between these and other centers of power. By the way, the authors’ suggestion that Armenia should become a hub contradicts their prediction that Armenia will move towards integration with one of the three mentioned centers. The European Union means NATO and a tough confrontation with Iran and Russia, while deeper integration with Russia will cause problems with others, and integration with Iran is a pure fantasy. And so on. Armenia has no alternative to the policy of independence and complementarity.
There are many other big and small topics in the book that are worth talking about, but in that case my note would grow to a size of a book. But one question I cannot ignore: yes, civil servants, state officials must be fluent in Armenian.
There can be no room for doubt or preferences in this question when state officials are concerned, because if a person is really worried about Armenian issues, they should at least express their patriotism by learning Armenian, being able to read and write and even teaching Armenian to his children. Moreover, if Mr. Vardanyan believes that there are people who are patriotic and worthy of an official position, it is difficult to imagine how such valuable individuals could fail to see that in order to know and understand Armenia it is necessary to read in Armenian, read Armenian literature, media, social networks, and that without this it would be impossible to make sound judgments about the country and the people. And I have no doubt that a worthy person who aspires to enter the office would be smart enough to be able to within one year learn Armenian better than the author of this note.
If Armenians who live outside Armenia, are not loyal to the Armenian flag and do not know the Armenian language, why do they seek a position (that is the right to make decisions)? Can’t they be useful in some other capacity?
In the light of this simple explanation, the authors’ attacks on the language, their judgements hinting at certain negative traits supposedly typical of the Armenian nation, their continuous questioning of national values creates the impression that the authors, having no understanding of the systemic, social, and political causes of our national issues, have found these in national peculiarities.
The book is overburdened with unnecessary information. The number of questions potentially exceeds the volume of several books. Notwithstanding this, the questions do not help the reader think, but confuse him; instead of explaining the points of the book, they offer the reader different approaches which generally lead to one primitive conclusion: Singapore or not Singapore – an alternative which has become a negative meme in the current Armenian public debates.
Concluding my notes, I will try to answer one of the questions asked in the conclusion of the book: “How can a responsible national elite be formed?” (pg. 195).
Our way of doing this is to create a political nation, where the status of the national elite is given to the people who have chosen the Armenian flag, where the elite is bound to its land, bears responsibility for its decisions and can be deprived of the elite status – and not only of the status – if it acts against the national interests.
It is clear that we should seek and find a new model of a political nation, but I have to disappoint Mr. Vardanyan: with current developments in the world, it will be even more cohesive and less inclusive, it will shape an elite, who will talk with the network from the position of the owner and will not tolerate manifestations of external governance and political influence detached from the will of voters, as well as attacks on the political monopoly of the state.
The offer to replace classical feudalism with network feudalism might have been of interest to some naïve under the previous regime, but after the April revolution the chapter on feudalism in the Armenian history was closed once and forever. All attempts to reopen it will end in the same way as in May 2018, when the efforts to bring Karen Karapetyan back were crowned with a public disgrace.