I am very impressed by the range, depth and coherence of this paper: its analysis and prognosis are at once disturbing and hopeful. Thank you for allowing me to read and review this important work.
May I identify those parts that provoked strong interest… and in some cases disagreement; also those parts that triggered questions to which I would welcome answers?
Overwhelmingly I agree with the key thesis that Armenia must find the means to modernise its institutions, foster inclusivity, strengthen ties with the Diaspora, attract back the best brains and talents, and create an entrepreneurial ecosystem that can make Armenia a regional hub.
I note that the development model widely referred to in the paper is drawn from Acemoglu and Robinson’s “Why Nations Fail”? This provides a sharp tool for distinguishing between extractive (plundering and exploitative) and inclusive (institutionally transparent and accountable) states – with obvious relevance to Armenia. But it is at the centre of some debate and not universally accepted: perhaps this should be acknowledged.
The historical summary is extremely useful. Some points:
Page 19. Why have Armenians “rarely dreamed of a return to their historical motherland”? This seems unusual amongst Diaspora communities.
Page 49. The second formula for a developed national existence is that “Armenia should be a vital element in the regional balance of power, a unique intermediary that neighbouring antagonistic states find useful, retaining some of the functions of a buffer state”. While I readily see that in the Eighth and Ninth centuries CE the balance between the Byzantine Empire and the Caliphate allowed a degree of independence, the present configuration looks rather less promising.
Page 53. “…grounded in the veneration for education instilled within the family”. Is this significantly more so than amongst other peoples – and if so, why? I think it is – but what is it in Armenian history that has brought this about?
The overarching conclusion of the chapter that Armenians have always shown exceptional skills as intermediaries and creators of constructive compromise strikes me as entirely true. The point about networking, so central to the entire paper, is something that might be illustrated through present or past examples of innovation spreading throughout the global Armenian Diaspora. For instance, the first newspaper printed in Armenian, Azdarar, was published in Madras in 1794… and was copied elsewhere in the Diaspora soon after. (I visit Chennai/Madras frequently and the memory of the Armenian presence is strong: Armenian Street, Armenian Bridge, the Armenian Church.)
There is nothing I wish to comment upon here – other than to agree with all its main conclusions.
Page 83. The Singaporean scenario talks of a new transport network that will in time overcome regional enmities and tensions. The covering letter makes it clear that these interstate issues will be dealt with separately – but until then the likelihood of an East-West axis, as opposed to Georgia-Iran, seems slim.
Page 86. The comparative figures for Georgia and Armenia are disturbing but not surprising. In a recent conversation with an executive of a major UK company, I was told that their investment plans were focussed on Georgia and not Armenia, overwhelmingly because of corruption issues.
Page 88. Have the quality and distribution of schools and healthcare facilities deteriorated significantly since 1991? I recognise the dilemma of maintaining standards with reduced resources but comparative statistics from India show where the local state spends generously on health and education, as in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, productivity and economic growth are amongst the highest in the subcontinent. Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen in their “An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions” (Allen Lane 2013) suggest the relationship between productivity and social welfare is a two-way process. The book is important since the dismantling of the “license Raj” quasi-socialist centralist economic model in the 1990s has some parallels with what happened in the CIS.
Page 88. Is Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction wholly compatible with the inclusive institutions favoured by Acemoglu and Robinson? It is not only the elites of extractive institutions that fear disruptive innovation but also workers in decaying industries. It may thus be that transformation has to take place against not only elite opposition but also that of a broader section of the population. Hence for countries attempting rapid modernisation there are considerable risks of popular resistance e.g. the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877 in Japan, the standout example of a country forcing through super-fast economic transformation without inclusivity. The Brexit backlash to the EU has been largely fuelled by communities that suffered during the Thatcher/Blair modernising years, and who blame their misfortunes on distant wealthy elites. And the gilets jaunes movement in France is surely a revolt against Macron’s attempts to accelerate the creative disruption of the French economy. A final point: Armenia and other CIS countries suffered so much “uncreative destruction” after 1991 one wonders how resilient they might be in the face of yet more.
Page 96. The issue of corruption. Why and how has Georgia been able to tackle corruption and Armenia apparently not? On the Corruption Perceptions Index Georgia is well ahead of Armenia and apparently improving – while for the last few years Armenia is going backwards. Dreze and Sen have an interesting chapter on Accountability and Corruption; amongst the measures taken by the Indian government has been The Right to Information Act of 2005: “one of the strongest in the world… it has led to fairly radical changes in terms of building a culture of transparency in public life and curbing abuses of state power”. Needless to say, corruption remains universal… if somewhat moderated.
Pages 105/109. “Among the many external risks (is) the likelihood of a full-scale war with Azerbaijan…” “Some discussion of the advisability of reaching a deal on Artsakh…” To an outsider some resolution to the issue seems a precondition for any hope of Armenia becoming a regional hub. The comments are well made on Page 169 about using all possible non-governmental agencies to make contact with (for instance) Turkish exiled groups.
Page 116. The point about the two-edged nature of new technologies (enhancing both the potential for authoritarian government control e.g. China and transparency) is well made. I am not sure why it is believed that the outcome will be beneficent; it might be – again, southern Indian states such as Karnataka have indeed digitised and made their administrations far more transparent and accountable. But not only the panoptical methods used by Beijing in Xinjiang but also the data harvesting and electoral manipulation practised by Cambridge Analytics in the UK suggest a darker potential.
Page 125. I agree with most of the comments on the problems in global education, in particular the dangers of narrow specialisation. However, in addition to a more holistic approach, we need to identify what exactly we mean by a “good education”. The OECD data has Singapore coming out with the best results, along with Japan and Finland; Shanghai usually also scores well. But whether PISA tests actually identify the kind of agility, originality and lateral thinking we associate with true innovators is open to doubt.
There are two paragraphs of particular importance: the final paragraph on page 177, Inclusive Ecosystem, and the first on page 184. Both highlight the need for institutional transformation. For an outsider it is impossible to disagree, but they also raise the issue of what the present state of those institutions is. Armenia has inherited a centrist top-down system of government from Soviet time… and the question to be asked, as of any organisation: “How does it look from the bottom up?” How do the ordinary men and women in Armenia interact with the government and authorities? Who are the officials with whom they have to communicate? How well trained and efficient are they?
It would also be useful to know how recruitment to all branches of government service is conducted. Is there, as in India, significant cronyism and nepotism at state and local level? Again, a comparison with India is useful: whatever the limitations of its local administration, the Indian Administrative Service, inherited from the British Raj, is of the highest quality and is mainly responsible for ensuring the country remains a “functioning anarchy” – as it has been described. Trainees are recruited through tough examinations and Selection Boards, and have to serve as “apprentice administrators” in remote parts of the country to understand the realities of government for ordinary people.
How much responsibility and power do local governments, either village, municipal or provincial, have? Generally speaking, people deal mostly with the police and tax authorities as well as educators and health professionals. Any proposed integration of Armenia into a developed international order must surely be based on these becoming efficient, transparent and incorrupt.
How developed is civil society in Armenia? In Russia, before, during and after Soviet times, the state has regarded autonomous citizen associations with suspicion; I presume this has also been true of Armenia? Michael Burleigh’s “The Best of Times, The Worst of Times: A History of Now” (MacMillan 2017) compares Saudi Arabia and Iran. Whereas there is a near total absence of civil society in the former, the much richer tradition in Iran paradoxically explains the periodic outbreaks of popular discontent, the answering repression and, ultimately, the grounds (perhaps) for optimism in the longer term. In the Czech Republic the rapid re-emergence of functioning institutions in the 90s was due to the strong traditions of civil society going back to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the interwar period. The active promotion of autonomous citizen associations and initiatives would seem to be an essential task.