In October 2016, the ‘nation army’ concept was brought onto the agenda of Armenian political life by the then newly appointed Defence Minister Vigen Sargsyan, something that would come to be presented as the core of Armenia’s defence strategy from October 2016 to April 2018. Although the concept was named the core of the government program by Sargsyan himself, it is hard even today to define what the “nation-army” ideology is, two years after the introduction of the concept. According to the now former Defence Minister Vigen Sargsyan, “The idea of “nation-army” is that all the governmental bodies, civilians and anybody else must precisely realize their role in the defence of the country.” Furthermore, almost two years after the launch of the ‘nation-army’ concept and the resignation of Vigen Sargsyan from the post of Defence Minister in May 2018 in the aftermath of the so-called ‘Velvet Revolution’, there are still a number of questions concerning the “nation-army” concept that require answers, in case future governments seek to revive its principles.
Among the many questions concerning the ‘nation-army’ concept, the most important one refers to its inherent nature. This paper seeks to find an answer to this question. Furthermore, this paper aims to analyse the methods of dissemination of the ‘nation-army’ concept among the population and the current state of affairs regarding its dissemination.
The idea of the nation-army initiated a wide public debate in the period of October 2016 – May 2018. After that period and despite a large number of discussions on the essence of the ‘nation-army’ model, today it is hard to properly define this concept. The most important reason for this ambiguity is that the concept was never written on paper. Hence, definitions of the concept are based on the speeches of state officials, and one single document – the ‘Seven Year Army Modernization Program’ published in March 2018. The document states that the modernization plan of Armenia should be based on the pillars of the ‘nation-army’ concept. According to the document, the five pillars of “nation-army” are leadership, respect towards law and humanism, progress, innovation and inclusiveness. Among those pillars the first one, leadership, was the most distressing for the civil society. According to it, the Armenian army was supposed to become ‘a smithy of leaders’. Furthermore, according to Vigen Sargsyan himself, the aim of the government was “to make the Armenian army a school for the society, shaping a more patriotic generation.” The nation-army concept was also aimed at erasing the existing institutional division between the army and the society. As Vigen Sargsyan states, “the society cannot be isolated from the army and vice versa.” The ideology was claimed to be about the deep respect and trust for the army, the serious attitude towards the service in the military field, finding each citizen’s proper place in the country’s defence system. These and other similar statements by the government have led to a conclusion that the aim of the ‘nation-army’ concept was to increase the influence of the army within the society, hence, further militarize the country. No wonder the ‘nation-army’ concept was characterized by a number of Armenian civil society organizations as propaganda of an artificial top-to-bottom national-militaristic ideology. Armenia’s liberal civil society groups were particularly criticizing the militarization effect of the concept, the dominant role the concept had planned for the army within society,  the anti-democratic essence of the concept, the social inequality of the programs offered in the framework of nation-army concept and the silencing of public demands to initiate a fight against the corruption within the army. In sum, civil society, alongside opposition and independent media were claiming that the ‘nation-army’ was not only is failing to solve problems in the army, but strengthening autocratic tendencies in the country.
The propaganda of the ‘nation-army’ ideology
According to the Institute for Propaganda Analysis, propaganda is the ‘expression of opinion or action by individuals or groups deliberately designed to influence opinions or actions of other individuals and groups with reference to predetermined ends’. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, defines propaganda as a systematic effort to manipulate other people’s beliefs, attitudes, or actions by means of symbols (words, gestures, banners, monuments, music, clothing, insignia, designs on postage stamps, etc.). Furthermore, the concepts spread by propaganda do not occur naturally and would not exist if they were not created and developed artificially. To sum up, the propaganda is a systematic, deliberately designed effort to influence the opinions and actions of others via dissemination of artificial ideology. Hence, the question is whether the ‘nation-army’ concept can be characterized as propaganda.
The artificial character of the ‘nation-army’ concept was clear from the moment of its introduction. On May 5th 2017 Vigen Sargsyan mentioned that the nation-army is already a reality because there is one soldier per 40 people, i.e. “we are a nation-army, whether you want it or not”. Although the Minister of Defence had stated on a number of occasions that Armenians already are a nation-army and the ‘nation-army’ ideology is a mere institutionalization of objective reality, these claims did not correspond to reality. In fact, the term ‘nation-army’ itself had appeared in Armenian media only once before October 2016. In October 2014, ‘Founding Parliament’, an Armenian civil initiative, issued a press release suggesting the creation of a Nation-Army Public Committee. However, this suggestion of had never been a topic of public debate prior to the Government’s launch of the concept. Moreover, it was unnoticed to such an extent that when Vigen Sargsyan brought the ‘nation-army’ concept to the core of the Armenian defence agenda in 2016, almost nobody remembered that it had previously been a suggestion of this civic initiative.
In this context, it should be noted that the army has always enjoyed wide public respect as one of the most valued state institutions within Armenia. According to the annual Caucasus Barometer survey, in 2015, before the introduction of the ‘nation-army’ concept, 76% of the respondents in Armenia fully or somewhat trusted the army. Despite the respect towards the army and war veterans, the Armenian public never formed a public demand for a national-militaristic agenda. Interestingly, after the intense clashes on the borderline with Azerbaijan in April 2016 was widely characterized as the war inside the country, there was a significant increase of patriotic feelings. Simultaneously a public discussion on corruption issues within the army increased to an unprecedented level. Overall public debate in the period between April and October 2016 concentrated on corruption issues in the army. In 2016, military expenditure of Armenia comprised 15.1% of overall government expenditure. Despite the significant amount of funding allocated to the military sphere, the April 2016 fighting showed that there was a significant shortage of weapons and ammunition in the army. The soldiers standing on the frontline had no proper protective equipment; there was also shortage of food and fuel on the frontline. This exposure raised questions concerning the allocation of military expenditure. What particularly sparked the anger of the public was the news and official statements that revealed during the April 2nd-5th2016 fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh the Armenian forces were using weapons and military hardware produced in the 1980s. In April 2016, the opposition and civil society representatives started a public discussion about the multimillion-dollar expenses of government officials and agencies on luxury cars and complexes, as well as their offshore businesses. The corruption issues were widely discussed in different platforms before the introduction of the ‘nation-army’ ideology. After its introduction the public demand to fight the corruption in the army automatically became secondary. The discussion of the concept and its shortcomings suddenly became the main discussion topic for the opposition and civil society. This was natural, as far as the ‘nation-army’ and its anti-democratic value-system became the most significant problem of the Armenian military sphere in the following one and a half years.
The artificial and top-to-bottom character of this ideology was most visible on social media. Facebook is the main social media platform for public discussions on politics in Armenia. Monitoring of Facebook posts on the topic of the ‘nation-army’ concept in the period from October 2016 to May 2018 reveals that the ideology was widely promoted on the pages managed by state institutions. For instance, the Yerevan municipality’s Facebook page has been the most active in using the #nation_army hashtag on Facebook. A large number of other state institutions and their employees have made centralized propaganda of the ‘nation-army’ concept. The Armenian Police, Yerevan State University, a number of public schools and universities, official student unions, official student debate clubs and councils were also active promoters of the concept. Furthermore, several government-organized non-governmental organizations (GONGOs) were actively participating in the propaganda of the concept along with the state institutions. The ‘For Armenian Soldier’ NGO was the most active organization that promoted the concept on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The For Armenian Soldier NGO was founded in late August 2016 and is a youth-oriented NGO working purely on army-related issues. In August 2017 they launched a ‘Nation-army’ project focused on strengthening ties between the army and society, which was financed by the Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs.
A number of other government-backed NGOs participated in similar work. For example, the Youth Foundation of Armenia, which is a state-funded foundation, financed a school poster competition entitled ‘Armenian soldier.’ The Gevorgyan Martial Art School and VoMa Centre (The Art of Staying Alive Centre) NGOs had special ‘nation-army’ projects. The financial sources of both organizations are not public, but they were both publicly perceived to be associated with the former government. The main characteristic uniting all of the above-mentioned NGOs and foundations is that the beneficiaries of their projects are mostly, the youth (12-25 age range).
The Armenian Church has also expressed its support for the ‘nation-army’ concept. The head of the Armenian Apostolic Church Catholicos, Karekin II, announced his support for the concept, going so far as announcing, in a October 2016 meeting with Defence Minister Vigen Sargsyan, that every child of Armenian nation must consider himself a part of Armenian army. The Catholicos promised that the Armenian Church will make efforts and will use every opportunity to form that public consciousness.  The need to incorporate the church into the presentation of the ‘nation-army’ concept was stressed on a number of occasions also by the Minister of Defence. According to the Ministry of Defence (MOD), the ‘nation-army’ was the “value system that on the firm basis of Armenian Apostolic Holy Church is preparing its soldiers to the service in the domain of morality and principles.” The Armenian Apostolic Church has always been an active supporter of the Armenian army. The active presence of Apostolic Church priests has long been raising concerns among national minorities and human rights defenders, but if formerly this involvement was not officially supported by the government, the ‘nation-army’ concept came to institutionalize the church’s involvement in the armed forces.
The youth was the main target group of the ‘nation-army’ propaganda. From October 2016 to May 2018, the concept was widely promoted by state-owned education institutions. In this period, the cooperation between the MOD and the Ministry of Education had grown extensively. In February 2017, MoD Spokesman, Artsrun Hovhannisyan, announced during a program on the Ararat TV channel that the ‘nation-army’ concept was also “the work that will be carried out in universities and in schools, through close cooperation with them.” At the Nation-Army conference on April 20, 2017 the Minister of Education and Science Levon Mkrtchyan stated: “The main goal of the Armenian education system is to ensure the continuity of the Armenian kind.” He emphasized the importance of patriotic ideology and the return of Preliminary Military Training teachers to schools. Deliberate systematic propaganda of the ‘nation-army’ concept has been implemented in the public educational institutions of the republic. A large number of secondary schools hosted a poster illustration contest called ‘Armenian Soldier’ run by the Youth Foundation of Armenia. The official aim of the contest was -to strengthen ‘nation-army’ ties. Schools all over the country had special lessons on such topics as ‘The Role and the Importance of the Army’ and the ‘Nation-Army Concept’. Officers of the Armenian Police Juvenile Affairs Department also participated in these events. In particular, the police officers delivered lectures on such topics as ‘Army-Soldier-Homeland’, ‘A Student, a Police Officer, and a Soldier – Devotees of the Homeland’. The active participation of the police officers in the dissemination of ‘nation-army’ ideology within schools also proved the concept was deliberately disseminated to the public.
The Armenian Public TV channel and other media outlets which are publicly perceived to be under the control of former government have also participated in the dissemination of the ‘nation-army’ concept. The case of Armenian Public TV channel is particularly interesting. During its prime-time news and current affairs programs, Armenian Public TV allocated the extensive amount of time to the coverage of ‘nation-army’ concept. The coverage of the concept was always positive, and critical content was never broadcast by the channel. Furthermore, while online media and social media platforms had often been used as platforms for criticizing the “nation-army” concept, its shortcomings have never been discussed in the framework of Public TV channel’s programs or news. The taxpayer-funded Armenian Public TV channel is a part of the Public Television and Radio Company, which, according to its legal obligations, is supposed to be governed by principles of objectivity, democracy, impartiality, diversity and pluralism. Despite this, Armenian Public TV, due to its reluctance to criticize any initiative of the government, has always been publicly perceived as the official channel of ruling governments.
In the period of October 2016 to May 2018, the Armenian Public TV channel not only refused to provide objective coverage of the “nation-army” concept, but also refused to cover large waves of public criticism of the concept. At least twice, large waves of public criticism of the concept were discussed in the country. The first discussion concerned the introduction of ‘nation-army’ concept and appeared in October 2016, while the second concerned the new military service law in November-December 2017 which deprived students of academic deferment. Both initiatives raised public discord and -described as anti-democratic. Despite the lack of support among wider public circles and within civil society, both initiatives were largely promoted by experts and opinion makers perceived to be pro-governmental. The latter group was trying to justify the initiatives mostly via patriotic claims and attempts to present Vigen Sargsyan as a smart and high-level statesman and a promising strategic thinker. Armenian politics is very much centred on personalities and not ideologies, while Vigen Sargsyan always left an impression of an educated politician. In a country where criminal oligarchs had been dominating the politics for two decades, this was an effective tactic to influence wider public opinion. The Public TV was also protecting the official position. Critical discussions on the ‘nation-army’ concept were reflected exclusively in social media and online media platforms, but was never broadcast on Public TV. Besides exclusively positive coverage of the topic, the Armenian public TV channel satellite version also prepared and broadcast a separate program under the title ‘Nation-army’. The program could be easily classified as a 20- minute bimonthly promo-video of the concept.
The dissemination of the ‘nation-army’ concept was also organized via posters, banners, stamps, exhibitions, debates and public discussions organized within a number of universities by the official student unions and student clubs, and even songs. For example, in August 2017, the boy-band Detq, in collaboration with the MOD, while they were still conducting their military service, released a song titled “One Nation, One Army”. The band had a number of videos which were prepared thanks to the financial support of – ex-president Serzh Sargsyan’s wife and a number of state foundations. Later in January 2018, the band released a video for the same song. The band thanked the Pyunik Foundation and MOD for their support in the preparation of the video. The Pyunik Foundation is a famous GONGO with a large number of privileges and whose executive director is Levon Sargsyan, ex-president Serzh Sargsyan’s brother. Before the ‘Velvet Revolution’ the foundation was receiving significant funding from Yerevan municipality and Yerevan Foundation and since the revolution, it has come under investigation for possible tax evasion. Other examples of symbols were posters and banners devoted to the ‘nation-army’ and distributed all over Yerevan by unknown groups.
Another interesting aspect of the concept was its rapid fall into oblivion. After the resignation of Serzh Sargsyan from the post of Prime Minister on April 23rd 2018and following the resignation of Vigen Sargsyan from the post of Minister of Defence, it was almost forgotten in two weeks. After the Velvet Revolution in Armenia, the concept is slowly being withdrawn from the political discourse of Armenia. Since mid-May 2018 to mid-June 2018, the ‘nation-army’ concept has barely been mentioned in local media. In this period, any mentioning of the concept is in the context of corruption in the army and, hence, is solely negative. Meanwhile, state institutions, including Yerevan Municipality, which prior to the change of government were actively using the nation army hashtag on Facebook, have barely mentioned the concept after the change of the government. The quick withdrawal of ‘nation-army’ concept from the inner political agenda of the country is another proof of its artificial top-to-bottom character.
The ‘nation-army’ concept was introduced to the Armenian political agenda by former Defence Minister. Prior to its introduction, despite the high respect towards the Army and high level of patriotism, there has never been any public demand to introduce and accept such a concept as an official ideology. This leads to the conclusion that the concept was driven by artificial top-to-bottom propaganda. After the introduction of the concept, the public debate on corruption cases in the army, which had prevailed inside Armenia after April 2016, was silenced. Hence, the concept had an aim to manipulate public opinion and strengthen the image of the army as an untouchable institution which cannot become – subject to criticism.
In order to promote the concept, a number of methods and symbols were used, starting with open lessons at primary schools to the writing of songs. Moreover, the active participation of state education institutions and Armenian Public TV channel in the promotion of the ‘nation-army’ concept is a misuse of public funds. A number of GONGOs and the Church have also supported the concept and participated in its promotion among school and university students. Furthermore, the participation of Church was actively welcomed by Vigen Sargsyan.
Luckily for Armenia, the change of government is leading to the gradual oblivion of the concept. The Velvet revolution has frozen, if not put an end to propaganda of this militaristic concept for an indefinite time. Despite the high level of militarization in Armenia, the new government has so far been reluctant to continue the systematic propaganda of the concept. The newly appointed Minister of Defence David Tonoyan in the last two months has made only two public statements concerning the ‘nation-army’ concept. First of all, in the framework of a meeting with the first participants of the ‘I am’ program, he mentioned that is an important project for the army. Secondly, in an interview with Mediamax, he was asked if the concept will be continued. His answer to this question was not clear. By stressing the objective reality and the need for national consolidation because of the security threats he stated that for him the most important is the essence, not the name. On the other hand, unlike the previous one and a half years, there is no centralized ‘nation-army’ propaganda by state institutions. This allows to conclude that the new government of Armenia so far has been reluctant to continue the propaganda of ‘nation-army’ concept. Moreover, the newly appointed secretary of the Armenian Security Council, Armen Grigoryan in one of his interviews mentioned that he has always had a negative opinion of ‘nation-army’ concept and that an adequate society does not need such an ideology. The new Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan has avoided using the term, once again proving that the propaganda of ‘nation-army’ concept is not in the list of his priorities. This does not mean that Armenia will take the road to demilitarization. Demilitarization of the country can be possible only if Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is resolved, but at the moment Armenia is – slowly not becoming a militaristic state based on the ‘nation-army’ ideology.
About the author: Anna Pambukhchyan is the Monitoring Programs Coordinator at Union of Informed Citizens NGO. Moreover, as one of the leading experts of UIC she prepares research articles on Armenian foreign policy, EU-Armenia relations and democracy-related issues. Ms. Pambukhchyan holds an MA degree from College of Europe in European Interdisciplinary Studies and from Central European University in International Relations and European Studies.
 Defence Minister of Armenia Elaborated on the “Nation-Army” Principle, Armedia, October 2016, http://armedia.am/eng/news/40901/defense-minister-of-armenia-elaborated-on-the-nation-army-principle.html
 Country-wide protests in Armenia in April-May 2018 that lead to massive political changes and put end to the two decades long rule of the Republican Party of Armenia in the country.
 The Modernization Plan of Armed Forces of Republic of Armenia in 2018-2024. Extension to the decree number NH-103-A of the President of Armenia from February 17, 2018.
 Defence Minister of Armenia Elaborated on the “Nation-Army” Principle, Armedia, October 2016, http://armedia.am/eng/news/40901/defense-minister-of-armenia-elaborated-on-the-nation-army-principle.html
 “Nation-Army” ideology does not lead to the militarization of the state: Vigen Sargsyan, Armenpress, October 2016, https://armenpress.am/arm/news/865849/azg-banak-gaxaparakhosutyuny-bnav-chi-tanum-petutyan.html
 Nation-Army: A model for development of collective potential, Speech by Armenian Minister of Defence Vigen Sargsyan at “Nation-Army: A model for development of collective potential” session of the Sixth Armenia-Diaspora Forum, Ministry of Defence official website, September 2018, http://www.mil.am/en/news/4953
 One of the two alternative military service programs, offered in the framework of the ‘nation-army’ concept, was called ‘I am’ was offering financial reimbursement (around 10 thousand USD) for an additional year of military service to the two years of the compulsory military service. The money would be paid by the state at the end of the contract. The second program was called “I have the honor” and was offering academic deferment for 3 years of military service instead of compulsory two as an officer. In both cases the soldiers would serve on the borderline. CSOs have criticized both programs because they could be attractive only for the soldiers from financially insecure families, hence the soldiers standing on the borderline would be mostly from poor families.
 Institute for Propaganda Analysis, Inc. 1937. Monthly Letter Volume 1: https://archive.org/stream/IPAVol1/IPA_vol1_djvu.txt
 Black, Jay. How to Understand Propaganda. 2001. Journal of Mass Media Ethics 16: 121-137
 Orakarg, Public TV, May 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-wmPPjYbm4&feature=youtu.be&t=337%5C
 Nation-Army: A model for development of collective potential, Speech by Armenian Minister of Defence Vigen Sargsyan at “Nation-Army: A model for development of collective potential” session of the Sixth Armenia-Diaspora Forum, RA Ministry of Defence official website, September 2018, http://www.mil.am/en/news/4953
 Founding parliament is a radical opposition group mostly comprised of Nagorno-Karabakh war (1988-1994) veterans. On July 17 2016, a group of armed men (mostly members of the Founding Parliament) take over a police station in Yerevan, killing a police officer and taking several others hostage. The demands of the gunmen included the release of Jirayr Sefilian, leader of the radical opposition Founding Parliament and Karabakh war veteran, who was arrested one month earlier for allegedly planning an armed insurrection.
 Caucasus Barometer 2015 Results Presented, Caucasus Research Resource Center, April 2016, http://www.crrc.am/514-Caucasus-Barometer-2015-Results-Presented?lang=en
Money For Army: Anti-corruption sentiments grow in Armenia amid Karabakh escalation, ArmeniaNow.com, April 2016, https://www.armenianow.com/en/society/2016/04/15/armenia-panama-papers-offshore-scandal-mihran-poghosyan-karabakh/1067/
 Press release by For Armenian Soldier NGO, banak.info, August 2017, https://www.banak.info/2017/08/mamuli-haxordagrutyun.html
 The posters competition entitled ‘Armenian Soldier” was summed up, Armenian Youth Foundation, November 2017, http://heh.am/?module=article&utility=show_article&id_article=3415&lang=am
 Preliminary Military Training is a mandatory course in the Armenian high school program, where student are thought history and regulations of the Armenian army and practical military skills, such as how to use Kalashnikov
 Yerevan Foundation was a daughter foundation of the Yerevan Municipality and is currently also under investigation.
 Despite a large number of requests to Yerevan Municipality it was not possible to find out who had paid for the banners and posters as the Municipality would not provide the information.
 Former President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan initiated constitutional changes in Armenia in 2015 to switch from presidential system to parliamentary. In April 2018, he made an attempt to become the Prime-Minister of the country, but was forced to resign as a result of massive decentralized protests all over Armenia.
 The Municipality and Mayor of Yerevan did not change in the aftermath of the Velvet Revolution.
 ‘I am’ is an important program for the armed forces: David Tonoyan, banak.info, May 2018, https://www.banak.info/2018/05/Es-em-zinvac-ujeri-hamar-karevor-cragir-e-Davit-Tonoyan.html
 Armen Grigoryan, Adequate society does not need a ‘nation-army’, Tert.am, May 2018, http://www.tert.am/am/news/2018/05/21/armen-grigoryan/2690730