The Government of Armenia is grappling with the political, military, and demographic fallout of the most recent violence in the Nagorno Karabakh region. Following the September 19 assault on the ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan, Armenia was flooded with more than 80% of the 120,000 ethnic Armenians fleeing violence and the uncertainty of the region’s fate.
This latest iteration of a conflict that has plagued the region for more than three decades perpetuates not only an existential crisis for Nagorno Karabakh but also poses significant political challenges for Armenia’s government. The government of Armenia, led by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan was already grappling with diminishing trust among the population: a trend that accelerated on the heels of the previous flashpoint in Armenia’s war with Azerbaijan in 2020.
One of the most important ways in which the Pashinyan government can turn this tide of discontent and mistrust is through more effective, data-driven, and citizen-centered strategic communications. DT Global conducted a public opinion survey (shortly after the September 19 attack) to better understand the preferences and expectations Armenians have for their government’s communication efforts. The survey also uncovered insight into the behaviors and attitudes Armenians adopt regarding their consumption of government messaging and opportunities for feedback.
As tension mounted in the lead up to the September 19 attack, Armenians have increasingly identified security-related issues as their top concern. We know from a separate IRI poll fielded six months before September that forty-four percent (44%) of Armenians believe “national security” is the main problem in the country — the second highest concern “economy” came in at only eight percent (8%). This poll also showed a plurality of Armenians describe the mood of the country as “insecurity, worry, fear for the future.”
As uncovered in our poll from early October, this is especially troubling because Armenians do not trust the government to communicate honestly or effectively on security matters. When asked on which topic do you trust the government to communicate the most, only fourteen percent (14%) identified “security and defense.” This ranked fourth behind economic policies (15%) social welfare programs (25%) and nothing (44%). Failing to trust the government to communicate on priority issues (or on anything) highlights not only the depth of the trust gap but also the importance for the government to reassure Armenians that political authorities are leading in a way that elevates citizen priorities and assuages their concerns.
Our survey uncovered varying degrees of motivation by Armenians to participate in and engage with the Armenian government. With just five percent (5%) of the population “frequently” participating in civic action, (e.g., social movements, town hall meetings, petition signing, or protests) while fifty-eight (58%) percent “rarely” or “never” do, Armenians noted only a few issues that would genuinely motivate them to get more civically involved. “Political reform” came in as the top motivating issue underscoring deep government distrust and presaging the sometimes violent protests that broke out in Yerevan immediately after the September 19 attack calling for change in political leadership. The propensity for Armenians to join civic action opposing the government is yet another dynamic requiring the government to reassess the content and modalities of its outreach to Armenian citizens.
Most Armenians are less concerned with the frequency of government communication as with the content and method of communication. A majority (58%) of respondents heard some form of communication from the government in the last week. This highlights both the regularity of government communication as well as citizen consumption. However, with trust levels of Pashinyan at fifteen percent (15%), the frequency of communication does not seem to be closing the trust gap. Though TV remains the top preference of Armenians for government communication, respondents also noted a desire for government communication through in-person methods (e.g., town hall meetings) and official government websites. However, most Armenians note the rarity of receiving government communication via in-person meetings or on official government websites. This disparity represents an opportunity for government communications officials to realign their dissemination tactics to better meet the public’s preferences.
The Armenian Government must restore trust with its population. Not only is their political authority reliant on this, but also the integrity of information, elections, and institutions. Malign actors seeking to undermine the country’s democratic institutions and in turn, any productive relationship with the West present a more insidious threat to the government’s ability to lead Armenia toward peace and prosperity. As the government of Armenia grapples with domestic and regional insecurity, warding off malign actors, and restoring confidence among an increasingly disillusioned population, it is essential that government officials take stock of what citizens are most concerned by and how they prefer to consume information in order to reorient communications efforts to rebuild trust.