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.
By Taniel Koushakjian
FLArmenians Managing Editor
Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 289-137 to adopt H.R. 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act of 2015, a bill that would pause the federal government’s current resettlement program for refugees from Syria and Iraq.
The bill requires the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to perform background checks and sign off that each refugee “is not a threat to the security of the United States.”
The current policy only requires the DHS to perform background checks and takes 18-24 months to complete. The additional security checks would prolong the current process. All refugees seeking resettlement in the U.S. are first registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and those eligible are reported to DHS to begin the process.
The legislation comes on the heels of the November 13th terrorist attack in Paris, France that left 129 dead. At least one of the Paris attackers is known to have travelled from Syria to Europe through Greece, the route used by millions of migrants fleeing the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) in Syria and Iraq.
The House vote is a rebuke to President Obama, who threatened on Wednesday to veto the legislation. The additional security measures are “unnecessary and impractical,” the White House said. “Given the lives at stake and the critical importance to our partners in the Middle East and Europe of American leadership in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis, if the president were presented with H.R. 4038, he would veto the bill.”
47 Democrats joined 242 Republicans, giving House lawmakers a veto-proof majority they hope will force the President’s hand on the issue.
In Florida, 19 of the state’s 27 Representatives voted in favor of the tougher measures, with two Democrats joining Florida’s entire Republican delegation in support of the bill.
Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL), a candidate for U.S. Senate in 2016, voted in favor of the SAFE Act. He released the following statement after the vote: “I am deeply disappointed how divisive this debate has become. Homeland security should never be partisan and our number one priority is to always keep the American people safe. With new security considerations following the tragic and cowardly attacks in Paris last week, we must ensure that we have the strongest safeguards to certify refugees are not a threat to homeland security. This bill ensures that our entire intelligence community is on the same page without turning our backs on those fleeing violence and terror. We must put aside partisan differences to develop a comprehensive strategy that combats the threat ISIS poses to people who love freedom everywhere.”
Meanwhile, Murphy’s opponent for U.S. Senate, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) voted against the bill. Murphy “chose fear over humanity when he voted against Syrian refugees,” Grayson posted on Twitter.
Rep. Gwen Graham (D-FL) is the other Florida Democrat to break ranks, stating “As the granddaughter of a Christian who came to America after fleeing religious violence, I do believe we have a role in helping peace-seeking refugees — but in light of new threats, we must strengthen our vetting process. We must be able to identify those who wish to do us harm, while continuing to offer a safe haven to those in need of refuge from war and persecution.”
Graham represents a swing district in northern Florida and narrowly won election in 2014. Her seat is expected to become safe-Republican after the Florida Supreme Court completes the redistricting process before the end of the year.
“As elected officials, we have the responsibility to do everything we can to protect our nation,” stated Armenian Caucus Vice Chair Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL). “The SAFE Act puts in place a robust, extensive vetting and monitoring process to identify individuals who pose a security threat. It fulfills our promise to the American people that we are working diligently to prevent terrorists from reaching our shores.”
ARMENIAN AMERICANS REACT
For Armenian Americans, the issue tugs at the heartstrings as images and stories of those fleeing the violence emerge. Following the World War I Armenian Genocide, Christian Armenian orphans and other survivors were accepted into Syrian society and over the last century developed into a critical part of Syria’s multi-cultural mosaic. Some 180,000 Armenian Christians used to call Aleppo home up until a few years ago when they were driven out by ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra.
“I fully support the resettlement of Syrian refugees, irrespective of their ethno-religious affiliation, in the U.S.,” stated Sarkis Balkhian, Advocacy Director for the Aleppo Compatriotic Charitable Organization, who is himself an Armenian American citizen from Aleppo. “During the 4.5 years of the Syrian conflict, the United States has resettled approximately 2,000 Syrian refugees out of a total of 4.3 million. That’s a comical number,” Balkhian said. “But yesterday’s vote confirmed that 289 Representatives are oblivious about the U.S. resettlement program and the vigorous vetting process already in place. What’s worse is that it appears they have succumbed to fear and are punishing the victims of ISIS rather than ISIS itself.”
Yet, Armenian Americans seem to be equally concerned about the potential influx of radical extremists who seek to harm us and destroy our way of life.
“I am wholeheartedly opposed to our government’s current plan to bring refugees from Syria and Iraq to the United States,” stated Ani Tramblian, an Armenian American from Annandale, Virginia. “I use the term bringing, because we are literally bringing them here, using American taxpayer dollars. Our President is putting U.S. citizens in harms way and exposing us to unnecessary risk. The House was right to pause the current process and add tougher security measures especially in light of terrorist attacks in Paris, and I hope our President takes our Congress seriously,” she said.
On Wednesday night, Florida Armenians launched an online poll, admittedly unscientific. At the time of this writing, the poll finds 51% of Armenian Americans in support of accepting 10,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees as currently planned. 35% of Armenian Americans oppose accepting refugees from Syria and Iraq, while 13% agree with the House measure and support a pause in the current resettlement program, according to the Florida Armenians poll.
The Florida Armenians poll on Syria refugees will close on Friday at midnight.