Armenian leaders have pledged that they will wage an all-out fight against corruption, but some observers doubt how far that fight can actually go, and to what extent politics drives the campaign.
With the zeal of a revivalist preacher, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian has declared that corruption is Armenia's "number one problem that obstructs all our reforms." Meanwhile, President Serzh Sargysan has assured the public that his administration will wage a "transparent" and continuous fight against graft. To lend force to those pledges, in recent months a string of firings has targeted the tax department, customs service and police.
On July 7, the head of Armenia's police department for passports and visas, Alvina Zakarian, was the latest official to be sacked. While no explanations were given for the dismissal, analysts point to a June 26 statement by Prime Minister Sarkisian that targeted a "serious problem" of bribery in the department. Bribe-takers in the country, he added, number in "the thousands."
The official crackdown has been accompanied by changes in customs regulations, as well as reported tax police inspections of companies owned by pro-government businesspeople.
However, Armenia's war on corruption has so far met with mixed reactions.
The opposition, for one, argues that the measures to date are more show than substance. "Personnel changes are not of a systemic nature," charged Suren Sureniants, a senior supporter of ex-President Levon Ter-Petrosian. "The authorities are simply trying to show to the public and the international community that they are doing something. However, it is only formulaic."
Pollster Aharon Adibekian, head of the Sociometer Center, counters that the government's crackdown cannot be considered artificial.
"Pensioners, the unemployed, those with low-paid jobs are discontented and most of them gave their votes to the opposition during the election," Adibekian said. "But it is incorrect to say that the authorities have started to create a show [to respond to those concerns]. The anti-corruption program in Armenia in recent years failed, and that is admitted also by the government
Marianna Grigoryan is a writer for the online ArmeniaNow.com weekly in Yerevan.