Armenian Watergate Passes Unnoticed

When the “Golos Armenii” newspaper published the article entitled “Around the table in Marco Polo” about allegations, that Artur Baghdasaryan has been negotiating with a representative of the British Embassy in Yerevan with the intention of blackmailing the results of the upcoming Parliamentary elections and the Public TV picked up the topic and widely advertised it as the “first campaign scandal” I wasn’t really surprised – I mean, what kind of elections can go without scandals anyway? I was especially interested to read the opinion of Armen Badalyan, an expert in political technologies published in this article at E-channel, where the expert says it might even have been organized by Artur Baghdasaryan himself:

This is called a “guerilla battle,” when compromising data are presented through someone else, in this case – with the help of a newspaper. However, it was not the right move at that moment. 10 percent of voters vote by their mind, by learning about the platforms, 30-60% vote by looking at the image of a political figure and party, the others vote based on their moods, and the events of the last 3 or 4 days really affect them. By publishing compromising materials 20 days in advance, Baghdasaryan is given a chance to deny whatever has been said but there is something else here. It is not excluded that the move has been made by Arthur Baghdasaryan. In this case, it can be considered effective because he makes a “vaccination” for the future, by spreading rumors and then denying them.

So, anyway – Reporter_arm has come up with a unique perspective at the E-channel blog.

The fact, that someone had secretly eavesdropped a political figure didn’t seem to bother my colleague journalist reporting about the fact, neither did it worry the bulk of population following the developments. In fact, it seems quite ok to spy against someone in Armenia… something quite natural – not to worry about…
Whereas in US the story about eavesdropping brought about the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation…

Same point was elaborated by Nazarian:

What bother[s] me are the murky circumstances that the tape was made and then given to the government mouthpiece Golos Armenii newspaper. As far as I know, it is illegal in Armenia to tape someone’s conversation without a court order or an explicit agreement by the conversing parties. It is illegal to publish such conversations as well if they are taped illegally. So I would think that the UK government and Arthur Baghdasarian have solid grounds to sue Golos Armenii. They will also have a legal ground to pursue the entity that taped this conversation.

One thing that’s quite clear to me is – you just don’t compare Armenia with the US or UK… hm, do they have a bug in my computer? 🙁

Artur Papyan

Journalist, blogger, digital security and media consultant


  1. Onnik Krikoryan also has a detailed post covering the scandal:

    Elections in Armenia are nothing short of exciting, and the news of the moment is a scandal that now surrounds the Orinats Yerkir party of former National Assembly Speaker Artur Baghdasarian and my own British Embassy. Apparently, Baghdasarian was secretly recorded urging the Deputy British Ambassador, Richard Hyde, to condemn the coming 12 May parliamentary election as already being undemocratic.

    read more…

  2. Well, the severity of this case is not really Watergate now is it? Nor is the political or media field here evolved enough to be so. If it was, pretty much every opposition and governmental newspaper and media outlet would be in court every day for breaking countless laws and regulations defining their activities and responsibilities.
    Still, it is interesting to have a story like this. Otherwise, these elections wouldn’t merit much of a mention, and certainly wouldn’t give the opposition much to use against the authorities. Anyway, I’m sure it will be in the OSCE-ODIHR final report on the election. However, one thing.
    From my dealing with my Embassy, there’s a certain amount of what I would call “colonial arrogance” in play there, and a breathtaking amount of complacency when they do what the do without even thinking of the consequences. For example, in this case, they should have spoken to Baghdasarian inside the Embassy and not at a public cafe/restaurant.
    This is just stupid, just as it was for a former Deputy Head of Mission to carry about his personal life (that would paint the Embassy in a bad light given the local culture here) in public. Diplomatic staff are cautious everywhere else in the world, but in Armenia they just throw all the guidelines and logic out the window.
    Besides, they should concern themselves with their citizens in Armenia, as well as represent the official position of the British Government here, but they don’t. As a British citizen here, I can tell you my Embassy are quite simply useless and need a total overhaul.
    But just as I think that you should declare your own personal connection with the Embassy in terms of them being a potential funder for internet based projects in Armenia, I should also declare my own. I have my own axe to grind with the Embassy because they violated my rights as a British citizen in contravention of UK law on more than one occasion.
    However, anyone talking to senior opposition figures in the run up to elections chooses their words carefully. They also usually choose to meet in private surroundings. It is absurd and a sign of the way the British Embassy operates here that they did this so openly. What did they expect, for god’s sake?
    You and I are well aware that eyes and ears might be on us, and they’re not? Stupid. Really stupid. Of course, the recording was illegal, but this is Armenia, any professional journalist or diplomat should understand the risks and take precautions. Anyway, I wonder if the meeting with Tsarukian Nazarian mentions was in private or in public?
    That really makes a difference. In the meantime, I wish they’d conduct their activities as they should, including keeping in touch with their citizens, rather than say get one local employee to disburse sub grants to the organization here husband is involved with. Pro-democracy, anti-corruption and other initiatives on their agenda should work both ways, and they quite clearly do not.
    Meanwhile, I just can’t believe that the Deputy Head of Mission was stupid enough to hold such a conversation with a high profile opposition figure at the time of elections in Armenia in a public place. What did they expect? The NSS or pro-government media to obey the law? No, they’re too buys funding other media outlets and thought that the only news published about their activities would be good news.
    As I’ve said on this blog before, everyone should be very cautious about what they say to others and where as well as how they say it. It’s very simple, and now perhaps the British Embassy will not use British tax payers money to hold such discussions at restaurants but rather do it behind their own Embassy walls where they can at least sweep for bugs.

  3. Well I’ve read the transcript of the article published at Golos Armenii and I can say, that the British Embassy person didn’t say anything that one could condemn him for – everything very general and legal, very good sense of humor too!
    Artur Baghdasaryan on the other hand shows his power-hungry ugly face again – and that is nothing new to anybody – so nobody really cares. As you could see from the way public reacted – this story isn’t big deal, its not even a scandal, the way it is presented.
    Personally for me the ugly thing is that people can be spied on without being punished in any way. It is no secret, that only government operatives could so effortlessly spy somewhere like “Marco Polo”, especially after having the information published most conveniently in a “government voice” newspaper, which just proves that eavesdropping was done by government. Everybody knew we are living in a police-republic, but they were much better at hiding before now.
    As to my attitude to the British Embassy – I may be biased – I have just came back from 3 months of study in the UK, I like everything in the UK, I am a Chevening alumnus and I expect to apply for any grants announced by the British Embassy in the future. That however, doesn’t mean, that if the British Embassy does anything to damage my country, I will think for a second before fighting back.
    However, what I have seen in this case is just an example of how any embassy works in any given country – Richard Hyde mentions that he has also met with Gagik Tsarukyan – and that meeting could hardly be called a “scandal” by anybody, although I’m sure the secret service has a CD with recordings of that conversation too, don’t you think?

  4. Incidentally, I think it’s worth pointing out for local readers that Watergate involved the physical breaking in and entering of members of President Nixon’s administration into Democratic National Committee HQ, planting a bug and making it look like a break-in by common thieves and not spies.
    It didn’t involve anyone recording a conversation between two people in a public place surrounded by others who could eavesdrop on the conversation anyway. Nevertheless, as the camera or microphone wasn’t in plain sight of the two, the act can be considered to break certain ethics.
    Nevertheless, I am interested in what the Armenian law says about the recording of conversations in public places because investigative journalists use this technique constantly. Actually, virtually every media outlet here breaks standard accepted ethics on an almost regular basis.
    As I said, people with sensitive things to say should consider where they say them. I’m sure people act differently elsewhere at such times, but it amazes me still just how much complacency exists among everyone in a country such as Armenia.

  5. Armenian low prohibits recording of conversations without the prior consent of the parties involved in the conversation, or it can be done with the prior approval the Court.

  6. So basically, journalists here break the law on a daily basis. It’s not good. Anyway, like I said, everyone needs to consider what they say and where, and talking in public is just a stupid thing to do, especially when the British Embassy should be aware of the situation and be more cautious. Indeed, it’s hard to think of any country where a high level diplomat would meet with a senior opposition party leader in public at times of elections. I’m even wondering whether the meeting with Tsarukian was held in public or in private. As we know that diplomatic missions judge their assessments on their country’s positions and support for the government or opposition in terms of geopolitical interests, the timing and place of such meeting should be considered. If its an official meeting to keep up to date on the latest political developments, for example, such meetings should be held in an official capacity at the Embassy or the HQ of the political party involved. Otherwise, I personally think a House of Commons Select Committee should investigate the financial expenses of the British Embassy to determine whether a) such meetings in public at a cafe/restaurant were appropriate, and b) whether they were paid for by the British taxpayer.

  7. Incidentally, the British Embassy is not the only one being subject to pressure now. The National Democratic Institute (NDI) is also embattled and facing possible expulsion from the country. However, two requests with the acting head of NDI to learn more of this have been ignored, but not denied. Indeed, they have been confirmed, but it’s really about time that international organizations and diplomatic missions here started to practice what they preach.
    That is, on the one hand treat the media with respect here rather than try to control them through sponsorship and paid publicity pieces, and also, started acting in accordance with how they are expected to perform their duties in established democracies. Like I said, if the issue of clandestine recordings has surfaced here, so too has the amount of arrogance and complacency in play from these bodies.
    Of course, this whole issue is politicized. I mean, if an opposition paper published the transcript of a recording between say a member of the Russian Government and a Government official on the election, the outrage at such clandestine underhand methods wouldn’t even be raised by those expressing concern now. Anyway, everyone knows that the NSS has something on everyone of note in Armenia, and it’s waiting for the time such compromising material is necessary to be used.
    That’s why everyone without exception needs to be more cautious and sensible in what they say and do. Few people are clean in this country — not in government, the opposition nor in civil society, and there are people out there waiting to use such information, legally or illegally, whenever it suits them. This is another issue that needs to be kept in mind by everyone in Armenia.

  8. […] looks like even the recent spy scandal didn’t hurt Orinats Yerkir. The last word belongs to the voters: May 12, 2007 – is the deadline […]

  9. […] this was well understood even by Orinats Yerkir, which got into Parliament in the end despite the British Spy sandal, largely due to hard work with the voters. Looking at the parliament we are going to have today, I […]

  10. Digital Glamour
    hey great stuff

Comments are closed.