Armenia’s aspirations for freedom, democracy, and security

Armenia’s aspirations for freedom, democracy, and security



The delicate balance between freedom and state-provided security has been a subject of debate and compromise throughout history. In recent centuries, this balance underwent a significant shift, beginning in Europe and subsequently spreading to countries where freedom and democracy were not traditionally embraced as part of the value system. The newfound freedom in these societies unlocked the creative potential of people, resulting in accelerated economic growth. This transformation, in turn, has contributed to enhanced security.

However, democracy does not automatically result in effective governance. There are several examples of democracies that have failed to deliver prosperity and security, while conversely, there are instances of authoritarian states that achieved notable economic success, at least during certain periods of their history. China stands out as perhaps the most prominent example of an authoritarian state that has experienced remarkable economic development over the past few decades. Singapore provides another compelling case of achieving significant economic growth through effective governance, strategic planning, and a business-friendly environment. Similarly, South Korea underwent rapid economic development during the 1960s to the 1980s under a series of authoritarian governments. Later, this rapid economic growth led to a political transition towards pluralism and a free society, leading many to believe that such change is a natural outcome of prosperity.

Indeed, the effectiveness of a political system, be it authoritarian or democratic, hinges on a multitude of factors. These encompass the specific context in which the system operates, the quality of leadership, the goals pursued by society, the culture and the values cherished by its citizens. Both authoritarian states and democracies possess distinct strengths and weaknesses. 

Authoritarian states. Strengths: An authoritarian state can swiftly and decisively implement policies due to its centralized nature of power. This often leads to greater stability and control, especially during times of crisis or rapid development. Weaknesses: The lack of accountability and limited diversity of opinions can hinder innovation and creativity within the system.

Democratic states. Strengths: Democracy provides transparency and accountability in governance, safeguarding individual liberties. The free and open environment nurtures innovation and creativity among citizens. Weaknesses: Decision-making processes in democracies can be time-consuming, risk of populism and dependency on the electoral cycle, and charismatic or demagogic leaders may manipulate public opinion.

Where does Armenia stand on the democracy-authoritarian continuum, and how can the nation benefit from its values built on freedom and ensure prosperity and security while moving forward?

For generations, Armenians lived under autocratic regimes such as the USSR, and the Russian and Ottoman empires. Despite this, Armenians were known for their entrepreneurial spirit and mobility, traits that were not a perfect fit with the totalitarian nature of these regimes. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Europe became a promised land for many Armenians, with shared values of freedom, rights, entrepreneurship and innovation, and a regard for knowledge and science. The Velvet Revolution in April 2018 brought about another change in the same direction. Later that year, The Economist recognized Armenia as the country of the year, and many believed this was the moment to make Armenia free, prosperous, and developed.

However, Armenia's democracy is still in its early stages and faces significant challenges in translating freedom into prosperity and security. The country's national security strategy, "A Resilient Armenia in a Changing World," published just two months before the September 2020 war, emphasized a strong and prosperous Armenia as the guarantor of its own security. However, in its nascent democratic journey, Armenia found itself confronted with an existential threat when autocratic Azerbaijan initiated the war in September 2020. The conflict exposed vulnerabilities in the fledgling democracy's ability to ensure the security of its people, particularly for compatriots in Artsakh.

Even now, almost three years after the war, the nation is still grappling with the events that occurred and trying to comprehend how the democratic state had such limited capacity to safeguard its citizens. In the case of Armenia, the self-corrective nature of democracy has not yet proven effective. Instead of delving into the root causes of the defeat with fact-based critical analysis, the government tends to attribute security challenges to corruption by previous authorities or the presence of a fifth column. Meanwhile, the opposition points fingers at the incompetence of the leadership. This approach stands in stark contrast to what happened in Israel after the Yom Kippur war in 1973. In that case, an established democracy demonstrated a clear ability to swiftly address the problem, learn from mistakes, and take measures to avoid repeating them. In contrast, an immature democracy may struggle to learn from its errors.

There are several pressing security-related issues in Armenia that demand urgent attention. These include the 2020 peace agreement, demarcation, the plight of prisoners of war, relations with Russia and the CSTO, safeguarding the rights and security of Artsakh Armenians, and relations with Turkey. Unfortunately, there are no clear signs of national consolidation around solution-oriented ideas.

The Russian war in Ukraine, launched in early 2022, has played a critical role in strengthening the global democratic alliance. Despite the numerous challenges that Armenia is currently facing, this new reality presents an opportunity for the nation to accelerate its shift towards the alliance based on shared values. The visit of Nancy Pelosi to Yerevan in September 2022 and subsequent proactive engagement from both the U.S. administration and the EU signify a growing opportunity for Armenia. This external support, combined with internal efforts to consolidate and enhance the governance system, provides Armenia with a chance to accelerate its transition towards a robust democratic state.

Armenia must demonstrate to this democratic coalition based on shared values that it will only benefit by our value proposition as an innovative and advanced society, which the free world needs as a reliable partner in one of the most challenging regions. 

Israel serves as an exemplary model for turning geopolitical disadvantages into economic advantages. There are numerous lessons and models to learn from, not only for the government but for society as a whole. Israel's culture of healthy skepticism and constructive argumentation, combined with assertiveness and informality, played a pivotal role in shaping the strength of their statehood and fostering resilience within society, ultimately contributing to its security. The nation's high concentration of innovation and entrepreneurship created fertile ground for the development of creative start-ups. Remarkably, this spirit extended to their military, which became the most capable force in the region. The military also served as an incubator for high-tech start-ups and prepared future leaders for the business world.

By studying and implementing these principles, Armenia can work towards cultivating a dynamic society that embraces innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship. Such an approach has the potential to drive economic growth and prosperity, while also bolstering the country's security. With a focus on nurturing innovation, adopting a forward-thinking military approach, and fostering a culture of open discourse and collaboration, Armenia can carve a path towards becoming an influential and resilient nation in a challenging neighborhood.

Such challenges, however, also provide opportunities. For example, An unanticipated economic opportunity stemming from the Russian war in Ukraine has emerged in Armenia. Skilled specialists and businesses from Russia and Ukraine have flocked to the country, resulting in an exceptionally high GDP growth rate of 12% in 2022. This unexpected influx of talent has sparked the idea of positioning Armenia as a regional safe haven for talent, opening up a new economic niche for the country. Such a move could prove transformative for the country's future, establishing it as an attractive destination for talent, innovation, and business. To make this a reality, it will be crucial to seize this opportunity and maintain a welcoming atmosphere for international specialists and entrepreneurs, ensuring that Armenia becomes a thriving and resilient economy in the years to come.

The image of Armenia as an island of freedom in a sea of tyranny has played a significant role in attracting highly skilled tech experts. This reputation makes Armenia an appealing destination for talent in the region, which will eventually contribute to a better demographic profile and a concentration of talent that can drive transformative economic breakthroughs.

Currently, much of the influx to Armenia is driven by individuals seeking refuge from the war. However, with proper management and strategic planning, Armenia has the potential to attract talent not only from Russia and Ukraine but also from the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. The success of this endeavor will depend on Armenia's value proposition, which involves maintaining an environment of freedom, creativity, and innovation. It is essential to address the challenges of integrating and assimilating the incoming talent to ensure their seamless contribution to Armenia's development and to make them feel at home in their new country. 

A thriving and innovative nation like Armenia would be an ideal partner for the world in the region. Consequently, when faced with new threats, the world would likely be more inclined to provide support and assistance.

Moving forward, I recommend that Armenia focus on a few important areas that are all mutually reinforcing:

Security and defense.

Armenia could gain valuable insights from small states like Finland or Israel, which have both demonstrated robust asymmetric defense and security capabilities. Additionally, Ukraine’s recent efforts in this area could also serve as a useful example. Armenia should study their experiences, and formulate, and implement a new doctrine that includes reforms in the army, reserves, territorial defense, defense industry, and supporting civilian infrastructure.

Democracy and freedom.

To strengthen the country’s image as an island of democracy in a sea of tyranny, democratic practices must be expanded, and free and fair elections must be ensured. Upholding the rule of law and combatting corruption among current and former officials must be a top priority without compromise. Building alliances with the free world, including pursuing potential EU accession in the long run, are crucial for Armenia.


Armenia needs to expand its circle of allies by seeking new partners in countries such as those in the Middle East, the Non-Aligned Movement, the EU, as well as with India and China. The 2020 war taught Armenia a painful lesson about the limitations of its current network of friends. Despite having a widespread diaspora and centuries of relationships with many countries, Armenia received no support or understanding for its position on Artsakh Armenians.

Economic development.

The country has the potential to become the new startup nation, driven by freedom, innovation, and creativity. The island of democracy can be transformed into an island of fresh ideas. By fostering an entrepreneurial spirit and investing in education and research, Armenia can create a fertile environment for startups and innovation. 


In addition to technology and natural sciences, we need to strengthen education in politics, history, international relations, international law, diplomacy, and other related fields. Quality education in these areas will help cultivate a new generation of responsible citizens, capable of making decisions based on facts, critical thinking, evidence-based analysis, sound reasoning and logic, rather than emotions or myths.


David Akopyan