A number of pro-Western NGOs in Armenia perform various functions, including the support of political processes and even overseeing foreign elections. Now, as protests against an electricity rate hike drag on, these groups are getting a second look.
Protesters, demanding the cancellation of a 17 percent electricity price hike that is set to take effect on August 1, have spent another night on the streets of Armenian capital. The demonstrators have refused to meet with Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan to discuss their grievances, opting instead to continue their street sit-in that began last Friday.
In the midst of these protests, and with the Ukrainian political crisis still smoldering on Russia's doorstep, attention is being given to some of the non-governmental organizations operating in the country. Many of these NGOs have been funded by the United States ever since Armenia voted for its independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
“The Choice is Yours” organization, for example, which is fully funded by Washington, actually performs in the election processes outside the territory of Armenia. In December 2004, during the third round of presidential elections in Ukraine, for example, over 100 independent observers from Armenia were sent to a province in Ukraine to monitor the elections. By the time the 2010 Ukrainian elections rolled around, the number of Armenian election monitors from this US-funded group appeared to more than triple.
An official from “The Choice is Yours” NGO told Armenpress that “450 short-term observers took part in the international observation mission in the Ukrainian presidential elections.”
However, proving that Washington is directly bankrolling NGOs lobbying on behalf of American interests in the political and socio-political sectors is “practically impossible,”writes Susanna Petrosyan, in Vestnik Kavkaza. “Armenian fiscal structures have information about the finances but they do not publish it.”
Meanwhile, other NGOs with an anti-Russian bias, such as the "Committee for Support of Ukraine," pop up like weeds for a short period of time and therefore are not registered at the Justice Ministry, Petrosyan says.
Mger Simonyan, the president of the Fund for Development of Eurasian Cooperation, believes that the number of pro-West NGOs grew significantly since Armenia joined the Russia-led Customs Union and the Eurasian Union.
“Russian and pro-Russian public organizations of Armenia are far behind their Western competitors. Armenia has 5-10 competent Russian organizations and about 200 Western ones,” says Simonyan.
Meanwhile, some observers are cautious about drawing parallels between the current Armenian unrest and the violent upheaval that occurred during last year's Maidan protests in Kiev, Ukraine, which ultimately forced out a democratically elected leader.
"If American NGOs were directly involved in the Armenian unrest we would be seeing a lot of crude street slogans talking about the need for 'good governance,' which is just another way of describing politicians supported by Washington," Dmitry Babich, a political analyst based in Moscow, told RT. "The protesters all seem to be holding homemade signs demanding economic justice, while there has been no overt blaming of Russia."
"Armenians understand that Russia is not the source of their problems," Babich said.