Amalia Kostanian, Armenia’s most prominent anti-corruption campaigner who has also been known for her civil rights advocacy, died unexpectedly on Thursday.
Kostanian, 50, was the founding chairwoman of the Anti-Corruption Center (ACC), the Armenian affiliate of the Berlin-based Transparency International that has earned domestic and international acclaim for its decade-long efforts to expose and fight against government corruption.
Kostanian set up the group, initially called the Center for Regional Development, in 2000 shortly after finishing her graduate studies in the United States. She has since been a vocal critic of bribery, nepotism and other corrupt practices that remain widespread in Armenia. She and other ACC activists have repeatedly questioned successive Armenian governments’ state efforts to tackle the problem.
The administration of former President Robert Kocharian launched in 2003 a four-year anti-corruption program mainly involving legislative measures. Kostanian served as a member of a presidential commission monitoring its implementation. She resigned from the body in 2007 in protest against what she saw as its inactivity and a lack of government commitment to combat graft in earnest.
Annual global surveys conducted by Transparency International over the past decade have shown no decrease in the scale of government corruption in Armenia. The country occupied a lowly 120th place in the watchdog’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released last November.
Shortly after taking office in 2008, President Serzh Sarkisian acknowledged that a lack of prosecutions of government officials on corruption charges has undermined public trust in the stated crackdowns on corruption. His government subsequently approved a new four-year plan of anti-graft measures that puts the emphasis on the enforcement of existing laws and regulations.
In a September 2009 interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Kostanian asserted that such crackdowns will be doomed to failure as long as the country’s top government officials have extensive business interests and are not accountable to citizens.
“I can not take any supposedly anti-corruption reform in our country seriously until the fusion between large entrepreneurs and politicians is addressed,” she said. “There has to be a serious material sacrifice on the part of the current authorities, something which I don’t see happening.”