Thank you for that introduction, Mr. Pakhchanian.
I’m delighted to be here today; thank you so much for inviting me. You have a very impressive school and I appreciate this opportunity to talk with you, the next generation of Armenian leaders, for you are Armenia’s future. I believe that future can be bright and prosperous, and it will be your responsibility to help Armenia become an independent, successful, and secure nation, at peace with its neighbors and a productive partner within the larger international community.
I wanted to talk a little bit today about the challenges and importance of democracy, why the U.S. promotes democracy worldwide, and how such efforts fit into my priorities as U.S. Ambassador to Armenia.
It is a very interesting time to be talking about democracy, as the U.S. elections will take place in less than three weeks. I’m sure many of you have been following the U.S. presidential campaign. As you’ve been watching the news or reading about the election online, you’ve seen our vibrant press corps in action, working to report on each candidate’s platform and to educate and inform voters about the differences between them. There are hundreds, if not thousands of civil society organizations and NGOs working to promote their issues among the candidates and educate their constituencies about the position of each candidate on the subjects they care about. During the primaries earlier this year, we saw open and free debate within parties – with Republicans debating Republicans and Democrats debating Democrats – as the candidates sought to define the platform of their party. And then, once the Republican and Democratic nominees for president were selected, they started the campaign countdown to Election Day on November 8, crisscrossing the United States and engaging in vigorous, televised debates to explain their positions, and their vision of America and its future path, to voters. Soon, as votes are tabulated on Election Day, we’ll see the complex math of the Electoral College, the system created by America’s founding fathers to spread political power to all corners of the country.
Now, American democracy is not perfect. And although we should always strive for perfection, I think it’s fair to say that no democratic system can ever achieve that goal. In this I am reminded of a famous quote by Winston Churchill: “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.” What I can say, as a citizen of a nation that has been a proud democracy for 240 years, is that democracy is messy. And because it is by definition a government by the people, it cannot function without the people, and thus requires informed, active voters willing to put in the effort to educate themselves and vote.
No doubt about it, democracy is work. But the U.S. government firmly believes that democracy is worth the work it requires because it is rooted in the will of the people, and therefore does a better job than any other form of government of respecting the rights and opinions of individuals, of solving problems peacefully, and of building prosperity. That is why we work around the world to support, strengthen, and guide the development of democratic institutions.
One of the necessary ingredients for a functioning democracy is a strong and independent civil society that has a voice in how their country is governed. This explains why the U.S. Government and our embassies around the world place so much emphasis on strengthening the rule of law, human rights, civil society development, and the empowerment – including the civic and political participation – of women, individuals with disabilities, and minority populations.
In Armenia, you are fortunate to enjoy a strong civil society, one of the most vibrant in the former Soviet Union. The U.S. Embassy is proud to partner with many of them as they seek to develop their organizational and advocacy capacities in order to become strong, savvy, and financially sustainable NGOs that can effectively represent the needs and concerns of their constituencies.
Supporting Armenian civil society development is just one of the four priorities I have developed for my time here in Armenia. Along with that focus, my staff and I are also working to deepen the business and trade relations between our two countries, to be a partner in Armenia’s fight against corruption, and to better explain U.S. foreign policy to the leaders and the citizens of this country, to help you understand our worldview and our actions around the world.
In that spirit, I look forward to having a good discussion and dialogue with you this afternoon. I’m happy to take any questions you have about the work of the Embassy, my priorities as Ambassador, or U.S. foreign policy in general.