YEREVAN, March 4. /ARKA/. Interview of Tigran Jrbashyan, Head of Management Advisory Services at Ameria Group of Companies, to ARKA and Novosti-Armenia news agencies within the framework of the special project “Armenia: there is a future!”.
– Many researchers say that humanity is facing a global crisis. Do you agree with this or something else awaits us?
T. Jrbashyan – In my opinion, the humanity has entered a period of a great turbulence. At large, we are going through the stage of self-cleansing and reassessment of most institutions. And this is happening in many, practically all areas, from simple human life, economic models, to scientific and military research. I think that humanity has entered a period of great turbulence and this period will last long enough.
– How long do you think it can last?
T. Jrbashyan – For the next 15-20 years we will be living in conditions of great and growing global and regional instability.
– Will the “isms” change over the years? Will something different appear, or will there be a transformation of what we have? Will we get а capitalism of a different form in 20 years, or will it be some other kind of relationship?
T. Jrbashyan – Most of the relations are anchored on more fundamental values and foundations and, accordingly, something new can hardly be invented in this context. But what we mean by these definitions – capitalism and other “isms,” they will be completely different, this is a fact. I think that new “isms” will not emerge, but there will be something completely different from what we have now.
– You said that some changes will take place in the next 15-20 years, and that we will live in a period of turbulence. Why don’t Armenians think strategically and in advance? What is the problem, in particular, of modern Armenia? Is its root cause the independence that we got easily, or is there another reason?
T. Jrbashyan – Naturally, that factor is also present, but the problem is much deeper. I really don’t want to talk about such deep genetic features, but when you analyze it, you realize that for a huge number of centuries, during most of our existence as an ethnic group we were almost always part of some kind of large formations. There was the Byzantine Empire, there were the Roman Empire, the Ottoman, Persian, Russian empires. And we, as a rule, gave our right to make strategic decisions to these large formations, while we ourselves preferred to stay within this framework. When we had an independent state in one or another part of our historic homeland, we were unable to reach an internal consensus on the ways of its strategic development. We were unable to strengthen it institutionally, to strengthen it so as not to lose it eventually.
– So, we would give our decision-making right to the titular nation?
T. Jrbashyan – Well, it is hardly possible to speak of a titular nation in the Roman Empire. Let’s put it this way: we gave someone the right to make strategic decisions for us, but we ourselves preferred, within the framework of the emerging paradigm, an external factor – to adapt and get the maximum benefit for a short period of time. In cases where we succeeded, and in most cases we did, we reached an extremely serious level of prosperity for our nation as part of the Ottoman, Persian or Russian empires, sometimes playing a very significant role within these formations.
In fact, we have developed tremendously the ability to adapt as much as possible and get the most out of being in something bigger. And, accordingly, when we did not succeed, we simply left and ran to under another roof and there we began to adapt again. This explains the fact that for many centuries we were very successful in other countries of our residence – in the diasporas. We have one of the most prosperous diasporas in the world. Because when you become a diaspora, you find yourself in an objective situation where you no longer bear responsibility for where this or that system is moving to. And it does not matter at all whether it is Russian or Indian, African, American, European. You, within the framework of a specific system, are trying to maximize the benefit and adapt. And we have learned to do it very well. Therefore, in our diaspora, as a rule, there are no poor people.
-You say that basically, we have successful people in the diaspora?
T. Jrbashyan – Yes, there are successful people in science, business and culture. In any area, where they do not have to make long-term decisions.
– Strategically, we are not there where we should take responsibility?
T. Jrbashyan – Yes. for that reason, when we re-emerged as an independent state, when we were practically left alone with ourselves and we had to understand where and how to move to, that was where our weakness manifested itself – the inability to think strategically at all levels. This happened in 1918 and, as a result, the loss of independence. We see the same in the Third Republic. This is associated not only with issues at national and state scale, but also at the level of companies, our families, and raising our children. That is, in all this diversity we resolve short-term issues, tactical plans, but do not think strategically. We do not understand that as a result of our actions now, the cause-and-effect relationships will be seen and felt in 20-30 years. This is why, there are no strategic documents in our country, all strategic documents are fakes. In general, I think that for these 30 years we have been building a seemingly independent country, but it has turned out to be a “kingdom of crooked mirrors.” If in business it is possible to build strategic planning for 3-5 years, at the level of government plans should be looking 20, 30 years ahead, because this is the only way you can do something now in order to benefit later. As a result of the lack of this approach, we have failed in almost every area. We do not have strategic thinking and, as a result, we cannot make projects that require strategic thinking.
– As a consequence of all this, can we lose the country? Because if we do not have strategic thinking, if we cannot take responsibility, then it is necessary to have someone else to be above us and solve our problems.
T. Jrbashyan – When you are unable to make worthy strategic decisions, that is, you are not ready today to think about a period of 20 years to come, or your decisions are not dictated by such strategic planning, then you have two ways out of this situations. First: either you have to find someone else who will solve such issues for you, and you will continue the same model of behavior, let’s call it an adaptation. The second – and I want to believe it is real – is that after going through the self-cleansing, having our own country for 30 years, we will be able to develop a culture of strategic planning, strategic thinking, that there will be those political forces, the economic elite who will start thinking about the future now. And we will build our own country, for which we all will be responsible. I want to believe that we still have a chance to take the second path.
– What are the prerequisites for this chance to happen?
T. Jrbashyan – It is the accumulated intellectual potential. There is little of it in Armenia, but a lot in the world. There are successful people … When you are a successful businessman, a successful singer, a successful scientist, a successful professor, and so on, when tactical issues are resolved, there is a temptation and desire to solve strategic problems more globally. After all, when you are in a diaspora, by definition you cannot be a full-fledged part of the strategic planning of the ecosystem in which you live, although you are fully integrated into it and have a certain understanding of what is called strategic thinking. You are a successful person, but there are still limitations. This is an important element to consider.
Accordingly, I think that this potential, which is formed among the Diaspora Armenians, and the potential that is here, is growing. Let’s agree that we finally, for the first time in many centuries, have a generation that grew up in a situation where it was forced to learn to make some strategic, albeit insignificant, planning and decisions. There were no external factors for someone to decide for us. This generation is still in its infancy. But this generation will eventually gain a critical mass, and the moment will come when these inner forces, which have grown in conditions of a completely different, independent existence, will come together with the intellectual potential that has been built outside Armenia, which will make it possible to comprehend and move on to understanding that we are responsible for the place where we live and that it is we who determine our future.
– Do you see a discourse about the future now? And in general, do we have time, or can we wait a year or two? We can endlessly talk about these topics.
T. Jrbashyan – Unfortunately, I do not see this discourse yet. The society, elite, politicians, business community are talking mainly about solving tactical problems, survival, adaptation to the situation. For now, we retain the ability to solve this. But I understand that if earlier the issues of strategic planning and strategic vision were treated with humor, now a certain reassessment is taking place. Many people, perhaps not the most active in the economic and political field, who are just beginning to think about it, but understand that our today’s successes and problems, their roots, are much deeper than our yesterday’s decisions. And when this happens, when people begin to understand that the reason for our today’s failures was laid 20-30 years ago, they begin to sober up and think about what it will be like for them in 20-30 years? This is the process of crystallization, a point of bifurcation, and I think – this point is all seething and seething. It is difficult to say whether this will happen now or within the next 2-3 years, but the public demand to take responsibility for the future will grow. Well, if we fail to do this, …who said that we should have our own state?
– There is a real chance that in this situation we can simply lose our statehood.
T. Jrbashyan – Yes, there is such a chance … We can lose our state (although, perhaps, formally it will exist) and the possibility to bear long-term responsibility for our future. Will we be a subject that will determine our future, or will we be an object that will preserve the ethnos within the framework of other states or quasi-states, as we existed for a huge number of centuries. Why do we think that we are better than other peoples who exist in this format?
– Peoples that are much more numerous than us.
T. Jrbashyan – Both in quantity and in readiness to die every day for the opportunity to have their own statehood and determine their future. Perhaps this is our main decision, because this bifurcation point, either here or there, it is seen in the very foreseeable future.
– Or maybe we just create a virtual state? We will create an Armenian analogue of Facebook, a unified diaspora system and will virtually exist there …
T. Jrbashyan – To my great regret, we are already living in this virtual state. What we call institutions that exist in our country – education, health care, social system, security system, culture, government – these are all, in fact, extremely deformed institutions that do not correspond to their name. Our education system that exists by inertia within the framework of Soviet ideas and institutions, does not pursue the goal of educating the population, it pursues the goal of providing jobs to a certain part of our population, releasing personnel unclaimed in the market. And our health care system is not to provide the population with high-quality treatment and diagnostics.
That is, over all the years that have passed since independence, we have deformed the state, turned it into a “kingdom of crooked mirrors” and live in such a fairly virtual state. We have a virtual education, virtually financed culture, virtually developing science, and as it turned out, we have a virtually built security system. Our army, no matter how unpleasant it may be to realize it, also exists in a virtual form. In fact, when you have to communicate with this system, it turns out that it does not exist. Seriously. When life forces you to turn to the education system or health care, you understand that this is something completely different, this is not about education or health care. Another example is the social security system. When you come into contact with it, you understand that its real purpose is not to ensure social equality and social elevators. And we live within this paradigm.
We are afraid of this truth, we do not want to face it, it seems to us that someone else is to plan and implement all this for us. But there will come a moment when we will sober up and say: “Guys, we can’t do this anymore.” The education system that we have now, we will pay for it in 20 years. Our virtual science is a fiction. We are not engaged in science. Maybe we have some separate “diamonds” within the country, but globally, our society does not conduct scientific activities. And, accordingly, we must understand that if we do not change anything now, then in 20 years it will backfire on us, as now everything that we have done and have not done 20-30 years ago is backfiring.
– That is, we are engaged in myth-making? The myth is that we are the smartest, most businesslike, that we have the strongest army. Do you agree with that?
T. Jrbashyan – I agree with that. The biggest disappointment comes when we start to get in touch with reality. Especially, when we think that we are the smartest, but suddenly it turns out that this is not so. When indices are suddenly published, and it turns out that you are inferior to countries such as Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan. We are being compared to many countries, which at the start were much inferior to us in all respects. Our main problem is that until now the mirror we looked into was crooked, it always showed us healthy, smart, strong. I want to break these distorting mirrors, I want to say: let’s see who we are and what we are. And most importantly, after we understand who we are, we should come to understand that our current state determines who we will become in 20 years. For example, are we ready for the fact that the current situation with demography will come back to haunt us in 20 years? And this should not be just based on some subjective opinions, like we will have 4 million population or 5 million. In order to have these 4-5 million people, you must at least now have 3.5 million people and do a lot now to make this happen, or at least have an understanding of the strategy for achieving this goal. … Moreover, it is clear that in this case one must also understand that in achieving this goal (like any other), you will have to sacrifice something else. And this is the basis of any strategy, you cannot want everything and everyone at the same time, something is always done at the expense of something else. This is the art of strategic planning.
In reality, everything we are doing now, any decision we are making now, regardless of scale, must be strategic. Let’s say that today we are solving the problem of investing in agriculture, we must understand that by doing so, at least, we are creating a certain system, the effect of which will be seen in 5 years. An elementary example. For us, for all Armenians, all the talk about climate change is from the realm of fantasy. But it may turn out that in five years the cultivation of grapes in the Ararat Valley will be simply impossible and ineffective due to climate change, and that its production will have to be transferred to other territories. But today people continue to plant new vineyards in the Ararat Valley, because they do not know anything and do not want to know about climate change and its consequences.
There is no understanding, no analysis to show that what you are doing now will give results in 5, 10 years. There is no forecasting of the situation, which is extremely surprising to me. I think that unless we realize that any of our actions are reflected in the future, there will be no change. Or, as I said, the following will happen: in the end, someone else will come, who has the ability and skills to do this, and say: “Guys, now we do not plant grapes in the Ararat valley. I know what exactly needs to be planted. ” And then we will collectively plant for example, kiwi, not grapes.
– But can this be an option? Maybe this is an easy option. After all, we love easy tactical options, we feel good about it.
T. Jrbashyan – I think that we do not have a frank conversation about what is at stake. Because to make a decision, you need to understand what to change for what. This is the most important question. Again, my perception of the future is, first of all, in the understanding of responsibility for it. Are we ready to accept responsibility for the future, or do we want to shift the responsibility onto someone else? If so, then we must look for the best option for this.
I think that a critical mass is still accumulating that will not want to give responsibility for its future to someone else. However, this does not mean at all that because of this we should spoil relations with someone, fight with someone, enter into strategic alliances with someone. No. This means that we must have a certain subjectivity in relation to our future and must determine what will happen in Armenia in 10, 15, 20 years and, based on that, determine with whom to be friends now, with whom to fight or not to fight. I remember that distant day in the early 2000s, when one of the final presentations of the ‘Armenia-2020’ project was held at the Marriot Hotel. A huge number of Armenians from all over the world gathered, the entire intellectual diaspora, business people and economists. Do you know who was not in the hall? The leadership of the country, even at the level of heads of departments! Nobody was present. I’ll say more – there weren’t too many local Armenians in the hall either. For everyone, it was rather an intellectual game, and not an attempt to think now about the future in 20 years.
– Perhaps 20 years ago the country was solving other problems?
T. Jrbashyan – I agree with that. But the tasks that we were solving then, what we were doing then or not doing for some reason, has led us to the present day.
– That is, we need something like Armenia-2040 to appear again?
T. Jrbashyan – No, I want us not to just come up with “Armenia-2040.” It’s useless. If there is no public demand, if society does not want to think and is not ready to think even about what will happen in 2021, at best in 2022, then it makes no sense to think about 2040.
– How to understand that the society has matured?
T. Jrbashyan – Armenia faces very big challenges, from demography to security, education, science, climate change finally. And, what is most interesting, they are not short-term, but long-term challenges. They are megatrends that can affect our future life. And when society begins to express its readiness to sacrifice today’s well-being, success, prosperity in the name of solving a problem that will happen in 3-4 years, then it will be possible to say that society has matured. A striking example: according to my data, in 2023 we will have a crisis of the pension system, since the number of people who enter the retirement age in two years will increase sharply due to demographic cycles, and the number of the working population will decrease. Is our society ready today to admit that it has no alternative and that it is necessary to raise the retirement age? Is society ready to support the leader who says that, starting from 2021, the retirement age should be raised so that the level of funding for pensioners remains at least the same as it is now?
– That is, we need to live even worse?
T. Jrbashyan – Yes, today we need to live a little worse, so that later it does not become completely bad .
– And a government that says this will it remain in power?
T. Jrbashyan – If we do not learn to think strategically, we will constantly step on the same rake. We will lose our young people who will leave for other countries. We will lose those children who will not be born in the coming years, we will lose our connection with the diaspora. That is, losses may not necessarily be in the form of military losses, there may be losses of territories, population, loss of subjectivity, loss of the economy, and, in general, loss of the future.
– There is a certain stratum of people who believe that many risks have gone along with the war, that a great future awaits us, transport communications will reopen, there will be transit money, investments, new projects. What risks and opportunities do you see here? Are we not being offered a “golden calf”?
T. Jrbashyan – Yes, in return they expect us to be ready to sacrifice in the future certain elements of our subjectivity and give a certain part of our strategic plans to other hands. These other hands will be different, and it doesn’t matter who they are. This is an attempt at a different goal setting, that we may adopt a new goal: prosperity, investment, trade, development. But all this will come at a price. This will be the exchange of our future for the “golden calf.” I think history will test us by a golden calf.
– But the end of the story with the “golden calf” is not a good one …
T. Jrbashyan – Of course not good, because it is not a true value, a true faith. And in the end, Moses comes down from that very mountain, breaks the tablets, telling the Jews that they are unworthy of God and His commandments, then destroys the “golden calf,” kills all its followers. That is, the outcome was very painful. This was the last lesson for the Jews, whom Moses then led through the desert for 40 years before they entered the Promised Land. But they were a new generation of people that entered the new land – not those who left Egypt.
– That is, we can say that now for the Armenians this is the last test, the lesson that we must learn, not to deviate from the truth, not to take an easy way?
T. Jrbashyan – Because the price that will be demanded from us for this easy path is much higher than what other solutions will cost us. Therefore, we must also go through this period, and I think we will.
– What is your future Armenia?
T. Jrbashyan – A place where the centuries-old potential of the Armenian people is accumulated, which for many years has been accumulating in itself intellectual, cultural, any knowledge, abilities, genetic competence. This is the place where these competencies and these abilities will be the most effective, the most correct for their carriers. This is the Armenia of the future, which is subjective, which will be able to determine its future, which is capable of protecting Armenians globally, capable of defending any Armenian who is subjected to any kind of oppression anywhere in the world. At the same time, it is able to build a society that will be focused on the maximum disclosure of all the intellectual potential that is seething within us.
– And when will it start seething?
T. Jrbashyan – I personally believe that the association connected with the fact that Moses led the Jews through the Arabian desert for 40 years before they found their homeland is not without reason. I think we need to live these 40 years in order to have an opportunity to grow, get stronger and become a critical mass for the generation that is forced to take responsibility for its future. We have already lived for 30 years, having undergone very large, serious tests. But there is still a serious test of the “golden calf” ahead, and by about 2030 we should be able to overcome it. We must see our Jerusalem. It will be a New Armenia, built on completely different principles, honest, not striving to make distorting mirrors, but capable of determining its future. I think this will happen in 10 years. -0-