By Harut Sassounian
The Washington-based International Republican Institute’s public opinion poll, conducted November 22-December 5, 2021, measured the Armenian population’s views on political, economic, and security issues. The survey was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The poll revealed a key finding: 46% of the population thinks that “Armenia is headed in the wrong direction,” while only 34% thinks that the country is headed in “the right direction.” This indicates that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s often-repeated boast that he enjoys “the people’s mandate” is not necessarily so. This is a significant shift from the 54% of the votes the Prime Minister’s political party received in the June 20, 2021 parliamentary elections. More importantly, the number of those who think that Armenia is headed in the wrong direction increased from 20% in May 21, 2021 to 34% in July 2021 and 46% in December 2021.
However, on another important question, “Do you believe that you or people like you can influence decisions made in our country,” 66% said yes, while 33% said no. This is definitely a positive indication for the authorities.
The next question: “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way democracy is developing in our country?” the country was almost evenly split: 51% yes and 47% no.
To the question: “Do you consider our country to be governed in the interest of the majority of people or in the interest of some groups?” 61% said it was governed in the interest of “some groups,” while only 31% said it was governed in the interest of “the majority.” This reflects negatively on the current government.
On the positive side, 66% of the people surveyed said they are “not afraid of openly expressing their opinions,” while 31% said they were afraid to do so.
To the question: “How satisfied or dissatisfied are you with the work of the following state bodies?” the top approval was given to Pashinyan government’s frequent critic, Human Rights Defender’s (Ombudsman’s) office (68% satisfied vs. 25% dissatisfied); the police (68% vs. 29%); local governments (63% vs. 33%); armed forces (58% vs. 37%); Central Electoral Commission (57% vs. 33%); and National Security Service (50% vs. 41%). The Prime Minister’s office came in 7th place with 49% satisfied vs. 48% dissatisfied. The Armenian Parliament came in 16th place with 31% satisfied and a whopping 67% dissatisfied. This is not surprising as the parliament’s televised sessions frequently show scenes of shouting matches, insults, and physical altercations ending with abrupt orders by the parliament’s leadership representing the Prime Minister’s political party to turn off the TV cameras to hide the disorderly conduct of the rowdy parliamentarians.
Turning to foreign policy issues, those surveyed ranked France on top with 92% as having the best relationship with Armenia. Then came Iran (80%); the United States (77%); China (75%); European Union (69%); Russia (64%); Georgia (58%); UK (47%); other (10%); Turkey (5%); and Azerbaijan at the very bottom with 3%.
When asked “Which two countries were the most important political partners for Armenia?” Russia (57%); France (50%); the U.S. (38%); Iran (23%); European Union (5%); China (5%); Georgia (3%); and India (1%).
In response to “Which two countries are the most important economic partners of Armenia?” Russia again came first with 61%; Iran (40%); (China (29%); the U.S. (16%); France (14%); Georgia (8%); European Union (7%); India (2%); and Turkey (2%).
When asked “Which 2 countries are the most important security partners for Armenia?” the answers were: Russia (64%); France (32%); Iran (31%); the U.S. (26%); European Union (5%); China (4%); Georgia (2%); and India (1%).
“Which 2 countries are the greatest political threat to Armenia?” The survey respondents said: Turkey (90%); Azerbaijan (77%); Russia (15%); UK (3%); Israel (2%); the U.S, (2%); and Georgia (1%).
“Which 2 countries are the biggest economic threat to Armenia?” Survey respondents said: Turkey (68%); Azerbaijan (52%); Russia (17%); Georgia (10%); Iran (4%); the U.S. (1%); China (1%); and European Union (1%).
“Which 2 countries are the greatest security threat to Armenia?” Survey respondents said: Turkey (88%); Azerbaijan (81%); Russia (11%); Iran (2%); the U.S. (2%); Israel (2%); Georgia (1%); France (1%); and UK (1%).
“The relationship with which 2 countries needs to be improved for the development of Armenia?” The survey respondents said: Russia (53%); the U.S. (35%); Iran (29%); France (25%); China (15%); European Union (9%); Georgia (7%); Turkey (5%); Azerbaijan (4%); India (1%); and UK (1%).
The survey then asked if the respondents agreed or disagreed with the following three questions:
- 73% agreed and 25% disagreed that “Armenia should start a dialog with Turkey and normalize bilateral relations, while pursuing the agenda of recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Turkey.”
- 70% agreed and 27% disagreed that “Armenia must establish bilateral relations with Turkey by putting forward its own preconditions such as Turkey’s non-hindrance of peace in Artsakh.”
- 44% agreed and 53% disagreed that “Under no circumstances Armenia should pursue normalization of relations with Turkey.”
Most survey respondents disagreed with Pashinyan that opening roads with Azerbaijan is beneficial to Armenia. When asked: “How will the opening of transport routes with Azerbaijan impact Armenia’s economic development?” 27% gave a positive answer; 59% negative.
The same is true for Turkey. When asked: “How will the opening of transport routes with Turkey impact Armenia’s economic development?” 35% gave a positive answer; 53% negative.
When asked: “How important is the resolution to the Artsakh conflict for the future of Armenia in the next 10 years?” The overwhelming 96 % said “important”; 3% “unimportant.”
The survey asked: “What would be an acceptable solution of the Artsakh conflict?”
- 35% said: “Recognition of Artsakh as an independent state.”
- 34% said: “The unification of Artsakh with Armenia as a region of the Republic of Armenia.”
- 16% said: “Establishment of the status of the Artsakh Autonomous Region within Armenia.”
- 11% said: “Establishment of the status of Artsakh within Russia.”
- 1% said: “Maintaining the current status quo.”
When asked: “Is Armenia able to independently defend its borders with Azerbaijan, without the help of any other country?” 46% said yes; 53% no.
Finally, when asked: “Which country would you prefer to assist Armenia in defending its borders?” 47% said Russia; the U.S. (18%); France (14%); Iran (8%); China (2%); European Union (1%); all three Minsk Group countries of Russia, the U.S., France (1%); and NATO (1%).
Whether we agree or disagree, these are the answers that the people of Armenia gave. It reflects their current mindset.
US House Foreign Affairs Committee Passes Legislation Calling on Turkey to Re-open Halki Seminary, Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen Calls on Turkey to End Occupation of Cyprus
By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Political Contributor
Miami, FL – Last month, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee passed H. Res. 506, legislation “calling on the Government of Turkey to facilitate the reopening of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Theological School of Halki without condition or further delay.” A symbolic measure similar to the Armenian Genocide resolution, H. Res. 506 (the Halki bill) is a non-binding, sense of the House resolution and has no legal or statutory effect. Florida Congressman, and member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), introduced the Halki bill. Bilirakis is the Co-Chair of the Congressional Hellenic Caucus, and a member of the Congressional Armenian Caucus and International Religious Freedom Caucus.
Founded in 1844, the Theological School of Halki served as the principal seminary for the Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate until Turkish authorities forcibly closed the institution in 1971. “It is time that the Theological School at Halki is immediately reopened with no preconditions,” Congressman Bilirakis said. “What the Orthodox Christian community and all religious freedom watchdogs throughout the world are asking for is simply that Turkey abides by its constitution, which secures religious rights for all of its citizens and institutions,” stated Bilirakis.
In addition to Congressman Bilirakis, 35 Members of Congress cosponsored the bill, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Florida Representatives Mario Diaz-Bolart (R-FL), Frederica Wilson (D-FL), David Rivera (R-FL) and Allen West (R-FL). The next step in the legislative process is for H. Res. 506 to be scheduled for a vote on the House floor. There is no indication that the Halki bill will receive a vote by the full House at this time. However, given the upcoming Presidential election, it would not be surprising to see H. Res. 506 pass the House of Representatives before November.
Two weeks following committee passage of H. Res. 506, Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen wrote a punishing Op-Ed in the Washington Times explicitly calling on Turkey to leave Cyprus in peace. In her opinion column, Ros-Lehtinen strongly condemned the “illegal military occupation of Cyprus by Turkish troops,” highlighting the “75 [United Nations Security Council] resolutions calling for Turkey to allow Greek Cypriots to return to their homes and to withdraw its troops from Cyprus.”
Turkey invaded the Mediterranean island in 1974, dividing it between the north and south, causing massive destruction of life, land and religious artifacts. The decades long presence of Turkish troops in Cyprus, which today number 40,000, in addition to Ankara’s promotion of mainland-Turkish emigration to the occupied territory, amount to Turkey’s “creeping annexation” of the island, according to Ros-Lehtinen.
Cyprus is a member of the European Union (EU), which Turkey aspires to join, with US support. Yet Turkey does not recognize the existence of the Cypriot Republic, a major obstacle in Turkey’s EU bid. In recent months, pressure has been mounting heavily on Turkey to end its illegal occupation and help bring about a peaceful reunification of the island, since Cyprus assumed the rotating EU Presidency on July 5.
As Ros-Lehtinen points out in her column, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s statements unequivocally illustrate Ankara’s annexation policy. While in Cyprus last year Erdogan told Turkish-Cypriots, “If you don’t want us to send people, you need to have more babies.” Also last year, Erdogan visited Germany; home to approximately 3 million ethnic Turks. In his address to the Turkish-German community Erdogan told his ethnic kin to integrate into German society, but to resist “assimilation,” irking German officials. Statements such as these do little to quell Western fears of the Turkish Prime Minister and his ruling Justice & Development Party’s growing neo-Ottomanism, which many view as an extension of the Ottoman Empire’s pan-Turanism policy. That policy led to the 1915 Armenian Genocide, where 1.5 million Armenians perished in a systematic effort by Ottoman Turks to cleans Anatolia of its ethnic Christian (Armenian, Greek and Assyrian) origins.
Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen is a member of the Armenian Caucus, Hellenic Caucus & Turkish Caucus. As previously reported by FLArmenians, Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen was instrumental in the successful passage of H. Res. 306, the Protection of Christian Heritage bill, by the full House of Representatives in December of last year. Ros-Lehtinen and Bilirakis are the only members on the Armenian Caucus from the Florida delegation, and the only members of the Florida delegation to cosponsor H. Res. 306.
In February, the American Hellenic Institute (AHI) held a screening of the one-hour documentary “Cyprus Still Divided: A US Foreign Policy Failure,” at the Archimedean Academy Amphitheater in Miami, Florida. Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen offered the keynote address at this event and expressed strong support for Hellenic-American issues. Reflecting on her family’s experience fleeing the communist regime of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, “I know…what is at stake if we in this country fail to support the Greek-Cypriots in their struggle,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
Whether Congressional leaders genuinely support efforts to protect international religious freedom in Turkey, especially in the face of growing persecution of Christian minorities and a culture of anti-Christian intimidation throughout the Middle East, remains to be seen in either US law or the execution of foreign policy. Although foreign relations is Constitutionally reserved to the Executive branch, Congress retains many tools at its disposal, such as the state department authorization act, national defense authorization act, foreign assistance appropriations measures, and the authorization of US military and defense company procurements, all of which have the ability to dramatically impact US policy in the region.