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Publisher: On Think Tanks Source: https://onthinktanks.org/articles/armenian-think-tanks-are-facing-old-and-new-challenges/ The article discusses some issues and challenges, as well as recent developments in the sector of Armenian think tanks. Based on the analysis, it is proposed to form a more favorable environment, political culture and develop legal mechanisms for the development of the sphere and the disclosure of the potential of think tanks, to activate the connection between the government, the expert community and society, which can serve as an "Ariadne"s Thread to improve the situation for think tanks, evidence-informed policymaking, and to bridge the gap between knowledge and policy.
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ARMENIAN THINK TANKS ARE FACING OLD AND
NEW CHALLENGES
Vardan Atoyan
Doctor of Sciences (Political Science).
Head of Social Sciences Department, Armenian State University of Economics.
ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4974-0312
ARTICLE INFO
ABSTRACT
Author: Vardan Atoyan
Published online: July 22, 2022
Publisher: On Think Tanks
Source: https://onthinktanks.org/articles/armenian-
think-tanks-are-facing-old-and-new-challenges/
The article discusses some issues and challenges, as
well as recent developments in the sector of Armenian
think tanks. Based on the analysis, it is proposed to
form a more favorable environment, political culture
and develop legal mechanisms for the development of
the sphere and the disclosure of the potential of think
tanks, to activate the connection between the
government, the expert community and society, which
can serve as an Ariadne‟s Thread to improve the
situation for think tanks, evidence-informed
policymaking, and to bridge the gap between
knowledge and policy.
Keywords:
Think Tanks, Armenia, Public Policy,
Research Institutions, Expert Community
Four and a half years have passed since I published the article Are Armenian political elites opening
up to think tanks?on the OTT platform [2].
From a historical point of view, four years isn‟t long. But in Armenia, these four years were full of
dramatic and turbulent events: the change of government in spring 2018, COVID-19, the 44-day war in
Nagorno Karabakh (Artsakh) in 2020 and the subsequent internal political turmoil, growing external
threats to Armenia‟s security, the list goes on.
All this has inevitably impacted the sphere of think tanks in Armenia and its development.
An in-depth assessment of each of these factors and their impact on the country and the think tank
sector is needed. As a starting point, I will simply try to outline some of the most pressing
characteristics and issues, and how they are impacting the development of think tanks in Armenia.
State-think tank cooperation: remains weak
In the second half of 2018, the new government closed the Noravank Foundation a well-established
government-affiliated think tank with a history of almost two decades, that had made a significant
contribution to the development of Armenia‟s think tank culture. The Government justified the closure
as being about „optimisation‟ of resources.
Months later, with the participation of foreign and Armenian experts and the country‟s political elite,
the government established the Orbeli Center. There was a large opening ceremony at which the
President and Prime Minister of Armenia delivered speeches.
Many former experts from Noravank were hired and the Orbeli Center announced ambitious goals [4].
Indeed, in the first two years of activity the Center was quite active. However, the number of experts
was subsequently significantly reduced. Activity gradually decreased too (evident from the frequency
of website postings and updates).
Unfortunately, the tradition of forming political party affiliated think tanks has not yet been established
in Armenia, which, especially for a country with a parliamentary government system, could play a
significant role in developing political discourse and improving public policy. Most Armenian think
tanks are independent institutions. There are some university affiliated think tanks, institutions
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operating under the National Academy of Sciences. The aforementioned Orbeli Center is the only
government affiliated think tank.
Similarly, the revolving door principle seen in many countries is hardly practiced in Armenia. Since the
restoration of Armenia‟s independence three decades ago, there have been a very limited number of
cases where a think tank representative or expert has been appointed to a high position in the
government.
When it comes to state-think tank cooperation, I have observed no visible changes.
Policy influence: some good examples, but limited leverage and opportunity
The influence of Armenian think tanks on public policy, society and decision-makers is not clear [3].
Think tanks in Armenia have traditionally had limited leverage and opportunities to convey their views
and opinions to the political elite. At present, I see no tangible positive changes in this regard either.
There are some positive examples of think tanks trying to bridge this gap through different activities. A
few stand out institutions include:
Caucasus Institute publishing regular studies of public interest.
Caucasus Research Resource Center-Armenia (CRRC-Armenia) for almost two decades it has
published an annual Caucasus Barometer public opinion survey, providing information on
public perceptions of social, political, and economic developments in the South Caucasus [5].
“Enlight” Public Research Center comprising many young analysts.
Another example is the AMBERD research centre at the Armenian State University of Economics.
Since 2013, it has had institutionalised cooperation with various legislative and executive bodies. Its
research products and experts have tried to contribute to public policy improvements through the
development of draft laws and strategic documents.
However, it should be noted that in the AMBERD example, the initiative came mostly from the think
tank not from the state. As described above, state-think tank cooperation is weak at best. And this is a
big stumbling block for effectively bridging the knowledge-policy gap, across sectors.
Funding: a persistent problem with high dependence on foreign funding
According to a recent study, there are currently more than 30 think tanks or similar institutions in
Armenia [1]. However, many of these are not active. Few institutes have more than a dozen experts,
and some only have one or two.
There are many cases in which newly established think tanks becomes inactive or cease to function
after a short time.
This is often due to lack, or instability, of financial inflows.
Armenia has not developed favorable conditions and mechanisms for the financing of think tanks. The
traditions of philanthropy are weak in the field and domestic research orders and the opportunities for
grants are also very limited.
Under such circumstances, Armenia‟s primarily independent think tanks continue to be heavily
dependent on foreign funding sources. This is highly undesirable in terms of financial stability,
financial diversification, and the freedom to set one‟s research agenda. External dependence also forces
the best interests of foreign donors.
We need a study of both decision maker and the public‟s trust in and perception of think tanks in
Armenia. In addition to purely academic interest, this could help assess attitudes towards the field and
work out further steps to improve it.
The future: with crisis comes opportunity
The issues facing think tanks in Armenia are not limited to the above-mentioned. There are also issues
in ensuring sufficient transparency, public recognition by decision-makers, insufficient use of PR tools
or working with the media, and many more.
The activation and growth of the think tank sector spurred on by economic growth and democratisation
in the first two decades of the 21st century has slowed down considerably.
Nevertheless, any crisis is not only a challenge but also a new opportunity.
Following the turbulent political processes of spring 2018, the new political leadership announced new
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approaches to domestic and foreign policy and to various spheres of public and economic policy, as
well as a new political culture and vision for the country‟s future.
Taking advantage of the opportunities brought on by a crisis requires professionalism and an accurate
diagnosis of the situation.
While we need a more in-depth evaluation of these changes and their impact on the country and the
think tank sector, in general, I have seen no positive changes over the last four years. And in some
cases, problems have worsened.
It is necessary to reconsider Armenia„s approach to knowledge, expertise, and think tanks.
In particular, there is a need to develop more favorable conditions, legal mechanisms, political culture
and opportunities for the development of think tanks, activating dialogue and links between
government, think tanks, business and society. This can become the Ariadne‟s threadto improve the
situation for think tanks, evidence-informed policymaking, and to bridge the gap between knowledge
and policy.
References
1. Atoyan, V. (2021). Emerging Industry of Think Tanks in Armenia. Messenger of ASUE, 6,
106-125. https://doi.org/10.52174/1829-0280_2021_6_106
2. Atoyan, V. (2018). Are Armenian political elites opening up to think tanks?. On Think Tanks,
Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3865724
3. Atoyan, V. (2017). Armenian think tanks influence aspects on public policy. European
journal of law and political sciences, 2, 59-62.
4. Orbeli Analytical Center opened in Armenia. (2019, March 28), Mediamax.
https://mediamax.am/en/news/society/32861/
5. CRRC-Armenia. (n.d.). Caucasus Barometer. https://www.crrc.am/barometer/
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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