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Think Again: U.S. missteps hurt credibility abroad

October 01, 2012

With the recent celebration of the 21st anniversary of Armenia’s independence, we should note that Americans of Armenian descent have helped, participated or, in many instances, just watched from the sidelines as the country has tried to stabilize itself in a tough neighborhood where it is surrounded by hostile neighbors like Turkey and Azerbaijan.

The country is far from perfect, and like most of the former Soviet countries, is predominantly run by oligarchs who control most of the business and government infrastructure.

Building a democracy is a long-term proposition. You have to educate a new generation on grassroots activism that forces change and, gradually, separation between government institutions and business interests -- creating accountable government that looks after the interests of its people, not just the elite.

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You only have to look at our own country to conclude that democracy building has to be an on-going effort. The cynicism about whether an individual can make a difference is one of the biggest hurdles in developing countries and is really no different here in the U.S.

The underlying reasons for such cynicism may be somewhat different, but the scary thing is that it still exists in our country despite all the opportunities here in our democracy compared to countries run by oligarchs and dictators.

The movement toward participatory democracy has begun to take hold in Armenia, where ordinary people are starting to challenge the oligarchs and hold them accountable, especially in the court of public opinion. This is a good trend and must be supported.

The U.S. has one of the largest embassies in the region located in Armenia, which can be viewed as a vote of confidence that Armenia has good prospects of blossoming into a true democracy. Through the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), there are many organizations in Armenia working on participatory democracy and institution building programs. Many American-Armenians have moved to Armenia from Glendale and other neighboring areas to work in these organizations.

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