Democratization in Armenia: Some Trends of Political Culture and Behavior

Article excerpt

Abstract: Historically, Armenian society was organized by strong communities established around the Armenian Apostolic Church, which helped these communities survive throughout the centuries despite the lack of a central authority. Community relationships are still very essential, especially during political processes such as elections. Community ties, combined with democratic ideas, have fostered some democratic practices, but the former Soviet republics still have a long way to go before they can be described as liberal democracies. Elections play an important role in a free society. However, in some Newly Independent States' societies, they are seen as a hindrance. Some Newly Independent States espouse their own kind of democracy, which, they proclaim, serves as a bridge between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East (Kazakhstan). In the case of Armenia, it is a Christian island on the border of Europe and the Muslim world.

Key words: community, democracy, Newly Independent States

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Armenia was one of the Socialist republics within the former Soviet Union, covering an area of approximately 11,500 square miles. During the process of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Armenia was one of the first countries to witness a national movement and fight for and declare independence in 1991, before the formal declaration of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Although still formally a Soviet country, building democracy and a wholesale transforming of Armenian society became necessities. According to the theory of social institutions, the elements of social structure of any society are tightly interlinked, and changes in one institution lead to changes in others. In the case of Armenia, changing or reforming the political institution necessarily would stimulate some innovations and changes in others, such as the economical system, education, family structure and functions, and the role of religion.

This was a new process. Even if some of the leadership responsible for the transformation had a theoretical notion of democracy and democratic transformation, such knowledge was not sufficient to successfully implement a program of transformation and make it work. Experience is still being accumulated in Armenia, as well as in other post-Soviet republics, but it is difficult to use the term democracy to describe the political system in Armenia.

Historically, Armenian society was organized in strong communities established around the Armenian Apostolic Church, which helped the nation survive through centuries of statelessness. For long periods of their history, Armenians lived under the domination of various empires. Starting early in the common era, and especially during the period that followed Armenia's adoption of Christianity as a state religion in the early fourth century, Armenia came under the influence of or was conquered by the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Byzantines, Mongols, Arabs, Ottoman Turks, and Russians. In 1920, after two years of independence, the Russian sector, or Eastern Armenia, became a part of the Soviet Union until 1991. Community ties organized around the churches were the most important connections to preserve Armenian identity through those centuries, while many of their powerful neighbors of the time no longer exist as separate nations and states.

The concept of community and related issues are discussed often, especially in contemporary literature, and has many connotations. The term could refer to small rural areas, where everybody knows each other, as well as large metropolitan districts. We define community as a group of people who share a common territory, are involved in everyday personal interactions, and invest an emotional dimension in their relations. Such community ties are shown in such interpersonal relations as friendships and cognizance of neighborhood and relatives. A community is usually small enough to produce a sense of commonality, which is defined by natural closeness of living places and the everyday activities of its members, by their day-to-day personal relationships, and by sharing some lifestyle. …