May 15, 2018 | By Brian Hanson, Vartan Oskanian, Salpi Ghazarian

Deep Dish: How Armenia Won Its Velvet Revolution

After weeks of popular protest, Armenia's Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan was replaced by opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan. Former Foreign Minister of Armenia and Member of Parliament, Vartan Oskanian, along with Salpi Ghazarian, Director of the University of Southern California’s Institute of Armenian Studies, joined Deep Dish to give their eyewitness accounts of the "Velvet Revolution" and explain how it all happened. 



Brian Hanson: Just a quick note that due to technical issues, this week's podcast was recorded over a phone line, and you may hear some crackles and dropouts along the way, but I hope you enjoy the episode.

Vartan Oskanian: What's happened in Armenia these past few weeks, in short, can be described as a power grab that backfired.

Brian Hanson: This is Deep Dish on Global Affairs, going beyond the headlines on critical global issues. I'm Brian Hanson, and today we're talking about the recent successful political uprising in Armenia that has come to be known as the Velvet Revolution. Joining us for this conversation from Armenia is Vartan Oskanian, who served as foreign minister of the Republic of Armenia and also as a former member of parliament. Vartan, welcome. It's good to have you here.

Vartan Oskanian: Hello. Good to be on the show. Thank you.

Brian Hanson: Also joining us is Salpi Ghazarian, who is the director of the University of Southern California's Institute of Armenian Studies. Welcome, Salpi. It's good to have you on the show.

Salpi Ghazarian: Thank you, Brian.

Brian Hanson: Vartan, of course you live in Armenia. Salpi, I understand you just got back from Armenia, so you both witnessed firsthand the events of the so-called Velvet Revolution. I'm really glad to have you on to be able to share with us what happened, and also what the significance of these events are. For Deep Dish listeners who may not know about this story, in the U.S. our focus has been on things like the Iran nuclear deal, the upcoming summit between the U.S. and North Korea, the Russian investigation of the U.S. administration.

All important issues, no doubt, but far less well covered has been a really fascinating and important set of events in Armenia that is now known as the Velvet Revolution. Just in brief, after weeks of popular protest, Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan was forced from power. Then, just two weeks later, on Tuesday, May 8th, the opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan became the new prime minister. Salpi, before we get into events, I was wondering if you could just give a brief introduction to the two main players, Serzh Sargsyan and also the opposition leader, Nikol Pashinyan. Who are these people?

Salpi Ghazarian: Before I tell you who these people are, let me just say that Armenia is quite proud to be inserting a bit of optimism in political processes, given the lineup you just mentioned between Iran, and Korea, and the Russian election meddling issue. It's really nice to have a positive political story, and so this story about Armenia's really domestic political transformation is part of the global story now. We're both happy and proud of that.

The two players are very interesting people of two different generations, and maybe that's the theme of this story. Serzh Sargsyan has been part of Armenia's power structure essentially since independence. He was a participant in the [Karabakh 00:03:00] conflict, a military leader. He became defense minister, national security, and was president for 10 years, until he decided that wasn't enough and helped, actually spearheaded, modification of the constitution so that he could stay in power, this time as the prime minister. Change the constitution enough so that the prime minister now had all the executive power rather than the president.

Nikol Pashinyan is of the generation who was, at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the beginning of Armenia's independence, this 18, 20-year-old who believed in the promises of independence. Since then, he has been a rabble-rouser. He's been the editor of a very populist newspaper, always in opposition. His name has been very well known, but he hasn't really been a political player until very recently, when he was elected member of parliament. These are the two guys, and it's not coincidental that they are of two different generations.

Brian Hanson: Interesting. Vartan, could you explain to us what happened to initiate the political protests? What set in motion this Velvet Revolution?

Vartan Oskanian: What happened in Armenia these past few weeks, in short, can be described as a power grab that backfired. When in 2015 the ruling party, the Republican Party, initiated the process of adoption of the new constitution, transforming Armenia from a semi-presidential system to a parliamentary one, there was a suspicion and concern that this change was being done to enable the president then, Serzh Sargsyan, to reinvent himself as head of state again in the position of prime minister once his presidential term ends in 2018, because the previous constitution wouldn't allow the president to run for more than two terms, just like in the United States. To ease those concerns, Sargsyan then promised the Armenian people that if the new constitution is adopted, he will not seek any high office. Well, a month ago, he did just that, thus angering the public and triggering the protest movement, but that was not the only reason that triggered the moment.

It was also fueled by deep-seated grievances, resentments, anger, and hatred towards the person of the president, the ruling Republican Party, and the government in general, and its failed policies. It was not only the Armenian people felt deceived by the president, but they also had wanted change in Armenia for so long. The failed policies in combination with that deceit triggered this process, and we ended with this Velvet Revolution.

Brian Hanson: There are lots of ... Go ahead, Salpi.

Salpi Ghazarian: You know, Brian, when we talk about this deep-seated frustration, this is real. We're not just talking about the elite at the top, the oligarchy, the top business leaders with political connections making a lot of money on monopolies in various sectors. We're not just talking about the top. We're talking about an abrogation of responsibility to govern all the way down to the bottom. No improvement in local services, an education system that is underfunded and corrupt in many ways, because somebody's brother-in-law, sister-in-law has got to be principal.

All the way down to every single level, and the disparity in income, the obvious, apparent stealing of the wealth and the resources of the country, that's very visible. This is a small country. Everybody went to school with somebody. All of that just built up so that the generation who hasn't got anything to fear, who were not those principals whose jobs were at stake, had enough of it.

Brian Hanson: You talked about the fact that there had been this constitutional change, that leadership wasn't going to change. We've seen other situations in which there's been a high degree of frustration, and in some countries leadership still continues. What was the mobilizing moment? What triggered the mass protests that converted that build-up, that built-up frustration into political action on the street?

Vartan Oskanian: That was the moment when the ruling party announced that their candidate for the prime minister's office after the new constitution has entered into force will be the former president, Serzh Sargsyan. Nikol Pashinyan, as an opposition member in the parliament, seized that opportunity. He realized that the public is ready, because of the past resentments, and this particular case as a trigger will get the people out into the streets.

Pashinyan made a very smart move. He walked from Gyumri, the second largest city in Armenia, all the way to Yerevan. It took him a week. It's 150 kilometers. Simply to show to the public that he is making the move. He asked everybody else to make the move. His motto was, "Take a step. Reject this candidacy." Reject Serzh Sargsyan's candidacy to the prime minister's office, because he promised us otherwise. Secondly, he hasn't delivered during his tenure as president with positive results, and we need to reject him.

That walk really galvanized the Armenian public. It created a lot of sympathy towards him. He made the first sacrifice, and people started following him. He started the walk alone with two journalists walking along with him. On the path, on the road to Yerevan, people started gathering. Eventually, he ended up in Yerevan with 2,000 people, and they immediately started a sit-in at the center of the city, around the Opera Square, which is a cross-section of major streets. That started to paralyze the city and caught the public's attention. People started coming out to the streets and following Nikol Pashinyan's instructions.

Salpi Ghazarian: You know, that first thing that Pashinyan said, "Take a step," there is education in each one of these messages. It's not just reject Serzh, but you, take a step. You do it. That whole process of engaging people from throughout the country, from all generations and classes, that was really, really important. He succeeded. He made it ... Fun is too trivial a word, but he made it not confrontational. He said, "Look, we're just doing this. We're doing this peacefully. We're doing this nonviolently. We're doing this in a decentralized manner. You guys, you choose the important streets that you need to be walking down, and you do it. You do it."

Brian Hanson: You both have laid out a number of factors that led to the success of this political moment. One of the other things that's really striking to me is that the government didn't choose to use violence against the protesters. What I want to ask about is, going forward, is the fact that the government didn't use violence, the former prime minister stepped down, the fact that there is so much momentum around this movement, does that mean that the new Prime Minister Pashinyan has an easy task of putting the reforms into place? Because as I understand it, the former government still has a majority in parliament. What happens next to go from this moment of euphoria to turn this into governing success as well?

Salpi Ghazarian: He doesn't have an easy time of it. It's going to mean educating every step of the way, and building coalitions along the way. We don't have a tradition of either. Our leaders don't do educating. Civic activism has been self-taught. Just as he did during the protests, he is really going to have to spend some time to explain and say, "People, this one is going to take time, because you see, first we need to do this, and then get this law changed, and then do this." Unfortunately, people's expectations and socioeconomic realities are such that I don't know much patience there's going to be.

On the flip side, there is the issue of political coalitions. We've never had to work in coalition. The ruling political party has been the ruling political party, and they do pretty much what they do. He is going to have to work with them, and that's not just on him. That's also on them, on the former ruling party members in parliament, who are going to have to think through and say, "You know, there are ways of keeping our seats beyond being part of a corrupt, non-democratic process. We perhaps can go along with some of these ideas that are not bad ideas and keep our seats." It's going to be complicated.

Vartan Oskanian: Also, we are now in a very precarious situation. Pashinyan has the executive authority but doesn't have the parliament. As you said, the majority in the parliament is still held by the former ruling party. For the revolution at least functionally to come to fruition, there must be early parliamentary elections. Pashinyan is interested in holding the early parliamentary elections as soon as possible, since he is still liked popularly. The former ruling party is not interested in that at all.

The constitution is very stringent in its mechanisms to allow the dissolving of parliament. One way is possible when the parliament disapproves the government's program, which must be presented by the prime minister very soon. The other option is that all political forces, political parties come to an agreement to relinquish their parliamentary mandate. In both cases, the final word is still with the former ruling party. What they will decide is hard to tell, but if they have any smarts, and they take lessons from our past 25 years of history, and they get the message of the street, of the Armenian people, I believe they need to sit down and agree with the prime minister on the date for a parliamentary election. Because they understand, we all understand, that today's parliamentary composition does not reflect the will of the Armenian people.

The message is out there. Hundreds of thousands of people were on streets, calling not only for Serzh Sargsyan to relinquish power, but they're demanding substantial changes in the system of our governance. They need a fundamental change, and in order for that to happen, we need, as early as possible, a parliamentary election.

Brian Hanson: Is it possible that the new prime minister, Pashinyan, would go back to the people and try to mobilize them around, to put pressure on the former ruling party to allow for those elections, to join in and call for those elections? What's a possible mechanism that he can use to get there, or is he going to just have to wait out, however long this parliament is formed for, in order to be able to face elections, and hopefully changing the composition of parliament.

Vartan Oskanian: The answer is, of course, it's not ruled out. Whenever he calls the people out on the streets, they will still have hundreds of thousands showing up, but I don't know if that will be an effective way to resolve the differences between the ruling party and the prime minister. It's one thing when you're leading a revolution, and you're on the street, and you're calling the people to join you. It's another thing when you already have executive power, sitting in an office, and when you have differences with your parliament, call the people to come out to put pressure on the parliament. It will not be very understandable, although the Armenian people still will do it, in my view, but the international community may be, as much as they were extremely supportive to what happened, and they welcomed these changes, they will be reluctant, I think, to support that kind of pressure on the parliament when you already have taken over the executive.

Pashinyan needs to look for other ways to resolve the differences and get the majority onboard for early parliamentary elections, and also starting implementing the reforms. People have high expectations, and he needs to start delivering. The prime minister has huge executive powers. He can do a lot without going to the parliament, asking their permission or legislating measures to begin the implementation of the necessary reforms that will put Armenia on the right track of development.

Brian Hanson: That's interesting. It's something that we're very used to in this country, with the Trump administration, even the Obama administration, that used executive power in order to achieve things that were difficult to get through Congress. Salpi, do you have a sense of what are some of the substantive issues that the prime minister could pursue, either through executive power or to be able to work with the opposition, the programmatic issues that could be used? I want to pick up right there, because I think it's fascinating.

Salpi Ghazarian: That's a really good question, Brian, because on the one hand, he really is going to have to show successes. If that means using executive power to do it, he may have to. On the other hand, as you know, the devil is always in the details. Getting people out on the street to back you when you're discussing or trying to cultivate, develop specific political policy changes, that's really hard.

There are some areas that are completely within his purview, like the judiciary. We have a judiciary that is very dependent on the top authority, and therefore not independent, and therefore the public feels that they have no recourse when they feel they have been wronged in any sphere. Administrative, criminal, any sphere of civic business. If he were to succeed in liberalizing, freeing, opening up the judiciary, that would be hugely useful, and beneficial, and visible, but that's still one step removed from the normal person.

The other areas where immediate change is desirable are the spheres of education and health, the two things that affect people most, your kids and your health. To what extent he can make those changes top-down, I don't know, number one, and number two, this isn't just about legislating and changing regulation. It's also about changing people's minds and attitudes, and convincing them that they are now free and open to make the changes they want to make at the implementation level, the service personnel.

The flip side of that is that the economy still is at a point that people's salaries are very low. Not in all positions. In IT, banking, management, there are positions that are perfectly fine, and there is a small, growing middle class, but in many other positions, they are low. Is he going to be able to raise salaries for those on the government payroll, police, teachers, some of the health facilities that are still public facilities? Is he going to be able to raise salaries enough to relieve those people and release them from the custom of either asking for a little bit extra or receiving a little bit extra for a service? There. I hope I just made the answer more complicated.

Vartan Oskanian: These are all possible to do, and they do not require legislative changes. Truly Pashinyan doesn't even have to come to parliament to ask for their help in getting these reforms in place. The problem in Armenia is not in the legislation, but in its implementation. There's always been favoritism, and the law has not been applied equally on all citizens. It's a matter of implementation. If he had already made the changes with the police, national security, these are the two agencies that basically oversee corruption, nepotism, favoritism, that sort of thing. If he can make progress in those areas in the early stages, the Armenian people will be very satisfied, because they will understand that the higher salaries will not come within weeks and months. That will take a longer time, but these are the priorities. Once those are addressed, then the money will flow.

Pashinyan has a difficult task when it comes to the economy. Our budget is severely restricted, and our borrowing capacities are extremely limited now. During these past 10 years, we have lived on borrowed money. We have exhausted our limits. 10 years now, our national foreign debt was 17% of our GDP. Today, it is over 60%, which is above the permitted level within the IMF requirements for countries like Armenia. So Pashinyan doesn't have much room to borrow from international organizations to implement infrastructure projects, to pay salaries, what have you. His only source of income will be foreign direct investment, the assistance of the international community through grants, and our diaspora's involvement.

That possibility is clearly out there. That's why it's extremely important to do the reforms, the things that Salpi outlined. If Pashinyan will do those things within the next few months, that means Armenia's reputation, and the trust towards Armenia amongst the international community, and the foreign investors, and our diaspora will improve, and we will see a flow of money into Armenia. That's what's going to make a difference in Armenia's economy, before we start borrowing again, because that is already a huge burden on Armenia's budget.

For example, the United States 10 years ago started this Millennium Challenge program with Armenia. It has certain criteria for advancing that money. We did well the first two years, then after a change of government, we walked back, and the United States government just cut it off. That money is still available. I think $200 million is available for Armenia if we can make improvements in those criteria that have been set in democracy, good governance, a liberal economy. That possibility is there. The European Union can organize an investors' conference where money can be allotted for Armenia. The international community is ready to help.

Armenia has a lot of sympathy from that side, and everybody wants to see this small country in this very problematic region succeed and become an island of stability. Let's look what's happening around us in the larger Middle east. Iran now is going to come again under sanctions. Turkey is in decline in its democratic processes. The Middle East is in big turmoil. Even investors from those regions will look into Armenia as a safe haven, as a place that they can come and invest. So these opportunities, I think, are many, and if we could get on with our reforms, we will see better times coming in the coming months and years.

Brian Hanson: You both have just talked about positive forces that could move Armenia forward in the direction that was advocated during the protests. We know from history and revolutions that those pushed out of power usually don't just sit quietly on the sidelines and let things unfold. What do we expect to have happen from Sargsyan and others from his Republican Party? Do we expect them to push back against these changes? If we think about the Arab Spring, for example, there was a lot of euphoria about people power, changing governments, removing authoritarian, long-entrenched leaders, and yet in most cases, what happened over time is those folks pushed from power ended up coming back in new forms. If not exactly the same people, the same political forces. What's likely to happen in Armenia on this front?

Vartan Oskanian: I think they're going to sit in for a while. They will wait to see how things really roll, whether Pashinyan will succeed or not. They don't have any resource now to push back, but our constitution has a clause which may give them this idea of just waiting it out. After a year of the prime minister's election, they will have the opportunity to ask for a vote of no confidence in the prime minister, but that cannot happen before a year passes. They're going to wait. They may, not overly but tacitly, obstruct Pashinyan's plans to not let him succeed, but that's not going to help him overtly. They will just sit and wait. That's why I insist that it's extremely important for those who would like to see the revolution succeed, not only functionally but also substantively, in terms of producing results for the Armenian people, need to come in, help the prime minister so that it truly succeeds.

In a year's time, as I said, they can propose a vote of no confidence, and with a simple majority, they simply can remove him from office and install their candidate. If truly Pashinyan has failures during this year, that will be much easier than it is now to oppose him overtly. So, there are some pitfalls before him, but these are all, I think, things that can be overcome with firm commitment, working through the executive power to implement his promises or deliver his promises that were made during this movement.

Salpi Ghazarian: In the United States, we take, at our peril as we've discovered, the fundamentals of democracy for granted, because it's just kind of been around us. In Armenia, we don't know them yet. We are still saddled with the Soviet, top-down thinking. If at this time institutions like the media don't step in with their fundamental democratic responsibility, not this phony, artificial objectivity that we sometimes preach in the U.S., but actually coming in and looking at each of the legislative items, each of the political needs, and really talking about the complexities of parsing them, and what it takes to get them moving, and what the financial implications are, so that the people continue to become aware of their own ability to influence aspects of these promises, then the continuing growth of people power will be there to buttress against some of these potential political pitfalls that Vartan just identified. Otherwise, it's going to be, I'm afraid, these leaps from street to street, and you can only do that so far.

Brian Hanson: We've been focused very much on the internal dynamics inside Armenia, which are incredibly important and inspiring to this entire story. Obviously, Armenia, like all countries, sits inside of a geopolitical context, and the country that has been most concerned since the end of the Soviet Union with this region has been Russia, of course. What has Russia's reaction been to these sets of developments in Armenia? As I understand it, they had a pretty good relationship with the previous government. Are they supportive? Are they potentially a disrupter in this process? What do you see there?

Vartan Oskanian: They didn't disrupt at all, Brian. With regard to Russia, let me make a general observation, because there's a misperception about Russia's role in the former Soviet republics, not only in Armenia, but also in the international community. Russia's influence in Armenia, or the other former republics as I said, is over-exaggerated. Ukraine is a little different because of its huge geopolitical value as a buffer against NATO. This notion of a strong Russian influence in Armenia is mostly of our own making, believe it or not, which eventually has become a self-fulfilling prophecy over time. That perception, as I said, also exists among foreign observers, analysts, and journalists. It's trendy to invoke Russia. It makes their story, case, and topic more interesting.

In reality, Russia doesn't tell you what to do and what not. Look, I've been there for 10 years as foreign minister, and I can speak with a certain authority. Russia does not dictate. Russia simply expects that if you want to maintain friendly relations with it, and you will benefit from the advantages of that relationship, Russia simply expects that you be considerate of its national security interests. The challenge for any administration in Armenia is to set the limits of that considerateness. If you set it very wide, out of certain fears, out of a fear of Russian retaliation, what have you, or misreading of Russia's interests, if those limits are pretty wide, that means your ability to conduct independent foreign policy will be limited.

But, if you are competent enough to read Russia's interest well, and have the diplomatic abilities to maneuver, you will accept your limits of considerateness of Russia's interests in a narrow fashion. That will give you much better options to conduct independent foreign policy above and beyond those limits that you've set for yourself. This has been the norm in these past 25 years, when it comes to our relationship with Russia.

Brian Hanson: Salpi, anything you want to add to that?

Salpi Ghazarian: One line that Vartan said, I want to repeat. The Armenian-Russian relationship has been a long one. Armenians love Pushkin, and Armenians love Rachmaninoff, and the cultural and linguistic affinities also color this political perception. When Vartan said we kind of did it to ourselves, we ourselves believe that we are in not just desperate need of this huge brother's support, but that it's indispensable and it's inevitable, and therefore there's direction from Russia.

I'm not at all minimizing the dependencies and the interdependencies, but that we do have agency in this relationship and in this region. We do, and that might be the American cowboy in me speaking, but it's not just that. We do. We're small enough to be insignificant in any way, and that helps develop a somewhat independent and self, own-interest-driven policy.

The other thing is that obviously it's not a Russian-Armenian relationship in isolation. The borders with Turkey remain closed, at Turkey's decision. It's Turkey's decision to keep this border in Eurasia closed. It's the only one. If that border were open, Armenia's worldview, Armenia's outlook, Armenia's options would be so very different.

The conflict with Azerbaijan, that must be resolved in order for Armenia's options to change. Yet for that conflict to be resolved, both countries need legitimate leadership so that the populations of both countries are at least somewhat willing to go to the concessions that are essential for peace. We now have a legitimate leader. He needs to be very wise about what he does. Azerbaijan does not have a legitimate leader, and so there are going to be pressures from that side towards a sort of peace deal that he, President Aliyev from Azerbaijan, thinks he can deliver that is not what is going to lead to lasting peace and stability. It's really complex, and it's not just Russia.

Brian Hanson: For people who aren't familiar with the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, could you briefly just say what is that conflict about?

Salpi Ghazarian: Very, very briefly, the Soviet policy of gerrymandering and dividing up ethnic groups within other republics resulted in a very strong Armenian population in an enclave called Karabakh within Soviet Azerbaijan. When Gorbachev promised glasnost and perestroika, the Armenians of Karabakh and the Armenians of Armenia believed him, and said, "You know what? We need more social, and economic, and environmental rights in this part of Azerbaijan." The demands were met with violence. That led to greater demands for independence of Karabakh, and possible annexation to Armenia, but certainly not being a part of Azerbaijan any longer.

That led to more military conflict. Azerbaijan attacked twice. Armenians won twice. Today, that enclave is under Armenian control, Karabakhi-Armenian control, and the territories around it are held as a peaceful buffer zone. It is that situation of the stealth maintained peace, so-called, that we've had now for about 24 years. It's not really peaceable. Azerbaijan's snipers continue to shoot into Armenia proper, not just Karabakh, and it is a situation that is not unstable, but certainly is not stable, either.

It certainly is a problem in the region. Transport routes are blocked. Attitudes, approaches to regional issues don't exist, because we don't see ourselves as a region. A resolution of that is essential for everybody.

Brian Hanson: Will this be a high priority, do you think, for Prime Minister Pashinyan?

Salpi Ghazarian: I think so. His first visit was to Karabakh, and he understands that the message to the international community needs to be that Armenia will continue to defend Karabakh's rights. That same message needs to be delivered to the people of Karabakh as well. Where we go from there is partly dependent on him, but of course also partly dependent on Aliyev's desire to make real peace.

Brian Hanson: Vartan, as the former foreign minister of the country-

Vartan Oskanian: Brian, that will ... I think in a much more advantageous position in negotiations with Azerbaijan, particularly in the eyes of the international community, is one, the legitimacy of Pashinyan's government, which it is already. If he would have parliamentary elections and he has been reelected, I think that will even strengthen our hand further. Secondly, our democratic processes. We need to show to the world that these are two different countries. Azerbaijan is an authoritarian country. Armenia is democratic. So is Karabakh, and Karabakh cannot simply be part of an authoritarian state. They belong to Armenia, ethnically, religiously, in every possible way, but also in their desire to live in a free society. That's also an expression of their right for self-determination, to decide what kind of a government they would have to build their future with. That will put us clearly in a very advantageous position. That's why the next month and year, I would say, will not only be critical for Armenia's economic development, but also for the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Brian Hanson: As we close, I want to ask both of you the same question, which really puts what has happened in Armenia in a bigger context. Over the last several years, there's been big debates and concerns about the, quote, retreat of democracy. This has been around the world, with concerns about what election campaigns and outcomes in Europe, and the United States, and other parts of the world have said about where democracy is headed in the world. One of the things about this really amazing Velvet Revolution in Armenia is runs counter to that narrative. I was wondering if you could put what's happened in Armenia into the broader context of this debate over the state of democracy in the world, and how events in Armenia contribute to our understanding of this moment in world history?

Vartan Oskanian: Just a while ago, as I said, we need to learn from our mistakes of the past 27 years in state-building, and do things right now. We also have now the opportunity to learn from the other democracies' shortcomings and try to build our liberal democracy on a stronger footing. You're right, liberal democracy is in decline in Western democracies. We've got to look for all the reasons of that decline. Well, they're grappling with inequalities, a loss of confidence in their governments. There's a huge political divide, particularly in the United States but also in other democracies in Europe.

We need to look at the reasons why these things are happening, what's been at the core of the philosophy of the liberal democracy. Maybe the teaching of the political thinkers who encouraged the Enlightenment or served as the ideology of the liberal democracy somehow were flawed. They were putting the emphasis too much on the individual, which is motivated by greed, by glory, by self-serving needs. Maybe that needs to be overlooked so that we combine the individualism that is very important for any democracy with Christian and traditional values like going back to family, religion. The combination of those two may work more effectively as a basis for building our liberal democracy. There's a lot to learn from what's happening these days in Europe and particularly in the United States.

Salpi Ghazarian: My answer is really simple. The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. I think that we have to believe that as human beings, and we have to take a step and do something about it. That's what the people of Armenia did, and that's really inspirational.

Brian Hanson: That's a fabulous place to end, as all of us, I think, are wanting to build the worlds that we would like to see. Thank you both for helping us understand what's been going on in Armenia and the really significant and important transformation, and as you both point out, example to the world. Thank you, Vartan. Thank you, Salpi. It was great to have you on the show.

Salpi Ghazarian: Thank you, Brian. Thank you for the opportunity.

Vartan Oskanian: Thank you.

Brian Hanson: Thank you for tuning into this episode of Deep Dish on Global Affairs. As a reminder, the opinions you heard belong to the people who expressed them, and not the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. If you liked the show, please take a moment and tap on the subscribe button on your podcast app. You can find us under Deep Dish on Global Affairs wherever you listen to podcasts. If you think you know someone who would enjoy this episode, please take a moment and tap the share button to send it to them, as well. If you have any questions about anything you heard today, or if you want to know about upcoming episodes in advance and submit questions for upcoming guests, please join our Facebook group, Deep Dish on Global Affairs.

This episode of Deep Dish was produced by Evan Fazio and Amila Golic. Our audio engineer is Joe Palermo. I'm Brian Hanson, and we'll be back soon with another slice of Deep Dish.


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization. All statements of fact and expressions of opinion in blog posts are the sole responsibility of the individual author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Council.


| By Mira Rapp-Hooper, Brian Hanson

Deep Dish: Why Allies are Key for US Security Today

The Council on Foreign Relations’ Mira Rapp-Hooper joins Deep Dish to explain why the alliance system is still essential for America’s global leadership – but must be remade to meet the challenges of the 21st century. 

| By Adam Segal, Brian Hanson

Deep Dish: Who’s Winning the US-China Tech War?

The Council on Foreign Relations’ Adam Segal joins Deep Dish to explain the battles between China and the US over products like Huawei and TikTok, their role in US foreign policy, and why US allies are choosing sides. 

| By Judd Devermont, Neil Munshi, Brian Hanson

Deep Dish: Mali’s Instability Threatens the Sahel

This week on Deep Dish, the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Judd Devermont and the Financial Times’ Neil Munshi explain why Mali’s instability is a threat to Africa’s Sahel region — soon to be the West’s largest conflict zone.

| By Catherine Belton, Brian Hanson

Deep Dish: How Putin Holds Power Over Russia

Investigative reporter Catherine Belton joins Deep Dish to examine the people that surround Russia’s enigmatic leader – and the financial ties to the West that makes the Kremlin’s dominance possible.