Post-Election Armenia: Time To Pick Sides?

There is a lot of confusion in Armenia today. Information and misinformation flows follow each other – it is becoming harder to distinguish truth from lies. Protests continue in Yerevan’s Freedom Square, where opposition candidate, First President of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrossian’s supporters demand recognition of their candidate’s victory, although there was no objective indication throughout the electoral process, that Ter-Petrossian’s claims are true.
On the other hand, demonstrations are staged in the regions of Armenia – students, schoolchildren, employees of state subsidized organizations, big and small government officials are forced to attend them to express their “support” of the government candidate, Prime-minister Serzh Sargsyan, who was declared to be the winner of the presidential race by the Central Electoral Commission in the absence of opposition representatives. Interestingly, the authorities don’t seem to feel confident enough to stage a large rally in Yerevan, where the anti-Sargsyan sentiment is especially strong. Generally, it feels like only morons could support Serzh Sargsyan – in many circles it is considered disgraceful to openly voice support of the pro-government candidate. Although a range of polls and surveys before the elections, including a Populus exit-poll, indicated Serzh Sargsyan’s victory, everybody I’ve spoken to so far, including Sargsyan’s supporters, have agreed, that without widespread vote bribes, ballot stuffing and election fraud, there would be no way for Serzh Sargsyan to ensure 53% of the vote that he received.This point is further proved by numerous reports on election irregularities, marked by OSCE observers, as well as the newly published report by the largest domestic election monitoring organization – “It’s your choice”.
It could seem from the first glance, that the Ter-Petrossian supporters are gaining momentum – they’ve been able to ensure some very successful PR steps – involving students and women in their demonstrations, thus indicating, that this is not just a movement of socially disadvantaged groups, but rather a call from all layers of the society, demanding a recognition of Ter-Petrossian’s victory. The morale in this camp is quite high – people are excited and attend it with the feeling of righteousness. It is truly infectious – being among them makes one feel to want to be part of the movement – the way they call it. However, one thing they are doing wrong is persistence on claiming Ter-Petrossian victory. A highly charismatic leader, the First President is known for his past undemocratic record: closure of media outlets during his time in power, shut down of then opposition ARF-Dashnaktsutyun party, years of economic hardship during his 8 year rule in the 90’s.
A very large part of voters, who are fed up with the incumbent authorities – Kocharyan/Sargsyan duo, are still not ready to support Ter-Petrossian either, but would otherwise support anything that is an expression of opposition to the current regime and condemnation of election fraud. In fact, there are already many people among the protesters in front of the Opera house with Levon Ter-Petrossian, who don’t support the opposition leader, and are there instead, to express their discontent with the election process and establish their right of choosing their own government via elections. In this respect, I guess it would have been a wiser move, if Ter-Petrossian stopped claiming his dubious victory, and instead demanded justice and new elections – I mean – who can be against justice, even if calls to restore it come from a controversial figure like Ter-Petrossian?
On the Serzh Sargsyan camp on the other hand – fear rules. Some people fear, that the international image of the country will greatly suffer, and because of internal instability, we will stay exposed to the external enemy – Azerbaijan, Turkey, as well as foreign forces, like those of Russia, US, EU. Others fear of the coming of Ter-Petrossian, of economic persecutions and worsening of social conditions in the end. Yet another group fears of loosing their comfortable jobs at various state institutions, where they can freely engage in corrupt activities and stay unpunished, because they ‘helped’ Sargsyan become the new President by exercising administrative levers, committing various types of electoral fraud, etc. The morale in this group is rather low. The fact, that many in this camp are the people who happily accepted vote bribes or took part in forging elections themselves, doesn’t do much to cheer up their moods, and they mostly view Ter-Petrossian supporters as brave fools, who are on the just – but hopeless course.
From my perspective, this is so far a struggle between two minority groups in the society, both fighting for power, and while the Ter-Petrossian’s cause seems to be more just at this point, Serzh Sargsyan’s promise of stability and access to powerful propaganda tools: Public TV of Armenia and most other electronic media outlets, control of wide range of administrative levers as well as backing by still all-powerful incumbent President Kocharyan, controlling power structures, faithful Karabakh military units brought to Yerevan especially to repress protests, along with so far mostly non-repressive approach to the various protests, despite their continuous warnings that those are not sanctioned and should be stopped, might do the trick. There are however weaknesses in all the mentioned strengths: most undecided people do not believe anything heard on Public TV – the sharp contradiction between what the “Haylur” News Program of H1 Public TV and the reality passed around by the word of mouth makes people even more startled, and with every report where H1 tries to discredit Ter-Petrossian, his authority, quite paradoxally grows. The continuous use of administrative levers on the other hand is reaching the limit, where people can’t bear it anymore, are tired of being treated like sheep and realize, that they are definitely not on the side of the truth, as they experience repressive mechanisms exercized on themselves. Speaking of power structures – Ter-Petrossian team have carried out highly provocative policy so far, claiming committement of various generals, MP’s, officials, which, even if they are false sometimes, are being circulated, and cast shadows of doubt among power structures. Ter-Petrossian also has the support of many Yerkapah-Freedom Fighters, people who have experience war and are ready to desperate steps, having spent weeks in excitement and driven by openly racist calls to cast away the “Karbagh clan”, which President Kocharyan and Prime minister Sargsyan are said to represent.
Everything indicates, that as the opposition protests continue, undecided people are faced with the challenge to make a choice, and join one of the two opposing sides. It is becoming exceedingly hard to stay indifferent. In fact, it can no longer be justified.

21 thoughts on “Post-Election Armenia: Time To Pick Sides?

  1. Reply
    Haik - 25.02.2008

    Would like to clearify
    Levon Ter-Petrossian’s main and only demand is a new and just elections as the one carried out were false.

    Հաշվի առնելով համատարած կեղծիքներն ու բռնությունները, որոնք ամբողջովին աղավաղել են ժողովրդի կամքի արտահայտումը, ՀՀ առաջին նախագահ Լեւոն Տեր-Պետրոսյանի նախընտրական շտաբը չի ճանաչում 2008թ. նախագահական ընտրությունների ԿԸՀ հրապարակած արդյունքները եւ պահանջում է անցկացնել նոր ընտրություններ։

    you can read the full announcment at;
    http://www.levonforpresident.com/am/5/item/92/

  2. Reply
    Paul - 25.02.2008

    Thanks for a very enlightening post. I very much agree with it.
    The way I see it, an outsider’s view, the current administration needs to go. We can’t have another assured 10 years of it if this movement fails. On the other hand I totally see the hypocracy in LTP leading a popular movement against oppression, but somebody needs to do it and he is the one most capable. He needs to stop claiming victory and make this more about democracy and freedom, as you say, not democracy and freedom via him winning. It’ll do him better to de-emphasize the connection between him and victory and make it more about freedom and maybe he’ll win in the end. Whatever the case I don’t see an easy return to the way things were- either Serge will have a shaky victory and a difficult time in office or there will be an overturning of the governmental forces. Levon has certainly made himself into a man of the people with these protests and the way he interacts with the crowd. I hold out hope that if he does triumph he will be a kinder, gentler LTP. I am wary of him, of course, but times are different in 2008 compared to 1996 and I don’t see him pulling the same repressive stunts or rebanishing Dashnaktsootyoon, etc. He will be limited in what he can do if he gains power as well. I also don’t really understand the notion that LTP = bad economy and somehow Serge and Robert = good economy. If Robert or Serge was president in 1991 do they think the massive hunger and cold wouldn’t have happened? It was a clear consequences of the Soviet Union falling and suddenly being cast adrift and took a long time to get back to shore. The notion the lights will all go out and the economy will plummet the second LTP comes to power is absurd but I guess I might feel differently if I lived through it. Even if Serge remains in power the fact the economic growth has been so heavily based on construction might lead to a downturn anyway, but that’s a different story.

  3. Reply
    AH - 25.02.2008

    To me it feels like Levon’s camp is losing steam, and they don’t have much left to argue. I think there will be some provocation (by Levon’s folk? by Serge’s? by some third party?) and then the place will be cleared out so the 90% of the population who has no vested interests can go on getting back to their lives, work and school.
    In contrast to what we are seeing in the Opera today, there exists a process for change. Fight within the system. If those in Levon’s camp wish for change, to better civil society, let them fight in the courts. The courts are unfair? Then fight and lose, and fight again. This is the only way to bring about systemic change. As this is not happening, it is becoming more and more apparent to the average Armenian that those in the Opera are actually not interested in elections, democracy, or any such fancy words or causes. Most just want to play and win the king-of-the-hill game, and most are not bound together by anything other than hate and revenge. Nothing good can come of this. Thankfully most of our nation is not naive enough to drink from the poisoned well. They endured the willful contempt and denigration of the early 90s and even Levon’s Bolshevik-styled populist rhetoric is not effective enough to create total collective amnesia.
    I think the end is near for this aborted movement. Most reasonable people do not expect a dysfunctional state system to all-of-the-sudden act perfectly on election day. A successful election comes after 5 years of hard work, not after 10 years of hibernation.

  4. Reply
    Haik - 26.02.2008

    To continue:
    In the fair and new elections Levon Ter-Petrossian will win by over 51% of votes. Serj collected 53% by stealing, falsifying, buying ( 5000 drams /vote) and adding over 400.000 ballots . Do your math and you will see that Levon’s “21%” votes in reality are more than 21%.

  5. Reply
    AH - 26.02.2008

    Actually Haik, your fortune-telling is not very compelling. Please point to any neutral (non A1+ or other similarly discredited spew-machine) that has Levon with anything over 21% popularity. 20k (out of 1M in Yerevan)??. This abortion in the Opera is a discredit to popular movements in 88, to popular uprisings against falsified elections (in 95 and 96), and will continue to attract such luminaries as Gagik Jahangiryan and others who run to the highest paying John.
    The opposition should be more upset at Levon than at Serj. After all, this circus has diverted attention away from the issues (better elections, regional peace, national security, reduced corruption) that should be argued for. Instead it has turned into a soon-to-be-extinguished hate-fest, A sad chapter in Armenian democratic evolution.

  6. Reply
    nazarian - 26.02.2008

    AH, you are missing something here. Levon IS the opposition.

  7. Reply
    Archuk Arshakuni - 26.02.2008

    Levon IS the opposition? Where was this opposition for last 10years? What was he doing Nazarian? What was he doing for the nation for 10 long years? Nothing. He was waiting for this thousands o people with short memories out in the Opera Square today, many of whom, by the way, were there 12 years ago shouting ‘Levon heracir!’,to forget everything we had to suffer because of him. Do you remember 1996? That was a nationwide movement then, nothing comparable with the tiny numbers he has managed to get together now. How did they respond to that? Anyone remembers Vano Siradeghyan’s words -‘ Even if Vazgen Manukyan won,we would not allow the power-change’? I was there, the city was closed to protesters,army was everywhere, tanks blocking all entry routes to Yerevan.The MPs who participated in the rallies were attacked in the parliament. Is that your democrat? Is that your national hero,your leader? Or is it Gagik Jhangiryan, the guy who was famous for his brutality as military prosecutor. Ask Mr. Zolyan how Jhangiryan was threatening him with all sorts of abuse when he was trying to raise human rights issues. What are you people, blind? These are no democrats! Levon is good manipulator though and has managed to let you ,even you Artur, believe that the choice is between him and Serzh. I don’t accept this forced choice,democracy cannot be forced on people. If you ask me I’ d tell you that if this takeover happens, th country will be suffering from internal feuds for years to come. Do you really want Erkrapah guys and sorts of Jhangiryan in power???????????????

  8. Reply
    Onnik Krikorian - 26.02.2008

    It is becoming exceedingly hard to stay indifferent. In fact, it can no longer be justified.

    Sorry, I disagree with this, and nobody has the right to force anyone to take sides. And if most people just want stability, they’re going to choose Serge because promises from the alternative are just that, promises.
    Besides, experience has shown that “revolutions” are not enacted by the majority of the population. It might not sound “romantic” enough, but revolutions are generally that power struggle between two minorities with people from one switching to the other.
    The majority is always just stuck waiting to discover what the outcome is and left hoping that they won’t be adversely affected.

  9. Reply
    Onnik Krikorian - 26.02.2008

    Incidentally, I also think what happens in the Constitutional Court matters a lot now, but anyway. There needs to be a certain amount of “legality” attached to what this new movement hopes to achieve.

  10. Reply
    Levon - 26.02.2008

    If you haven’t read this already, I suggest all of you to have a look at it, especially those of you who seem to be (or were) supporting ARF-D. It’s an interview of one former MP who supported VH throughout the campaign, and in fact actively campaigned for him, Aghasi Arskakyan .

  11. Reply
    Levon - 26.02.2008

    hmm… seems like our beloved Mr Observer doesn’t like people posting links… questionable policy, to say the least. In any case, the article I am referring it is at Aravot, available at new[dot]aravot[dot]am and the article is titled “Apsosum em vor nman aylandakutyunner eghan mer yerkrum” by Anna Israelyan

  12. Reply
    nazarian - 26.02.2008

    I have very little faith in the Constitutional Court. I still remember when they recommended to hold a referendum to decide whether Kocharian was a legitimate president or not. Their decision was duly ignored.

  13. Reply
    nazarian - 26.02.2008

    Arshakuni, he is the opposition. Show me anyone else who is doing anything remotely resembling what an opposition would do. They are all silent now.

  14. Reply
    Mike - 26.02.2008

    It looks like everything is going towards civil war. It is probably will be Ereivanci and surrounding villages against other marzer and Karabakh. At the end all Armenians will lose and Turks and Azeris will win. It is the self-destructive nature of Armenians that cannot get along on a small piece of land.

  15. Reply
    AH - 26.02.2008

    Actually, Mike, there aren’t the signs for civil war. The army and interior ministry forces are firmly in the government camp. Most of the individuals championing Levon are disgruntled mafiosos, discredited populists, and other criminal riff-raff. Of course, there are many everyday people who are mean well, want change, and are attracted to Levon as some sort of magic-wand-savior, much in the same way a religious sect attracts followers. Same rhetoric, same extremism, same struggle-to-the-end attitude. This will disperse as fast as it started, once Levon is revealed as an empty mouthpiece of the disenchanted, as he is exposed for having nothing to offer. Hate can attract and lead people only so far. There is no Hope in his message.

  16. Reply
    Mari - 26.02.2008

    Levon, is the article of today’s (02.26.08) Aravot issue ? – I can’t find it .. 🙁

  17. Reply
    haik - 26.02.2008

    AH
    The army announced that they will not be involved in politics which hardly means that they are with Serj. If it was up to Serj he would roll the tanks into streets of Yerevan. This is enough to saythat he has no control over the army.
    Coming to 90s you forget one major thing, – We were in a war. If you don’t regard it a war go and talked to a person who experienced the WW2 and they will tell you that all wars are the same. You don’t go and have picnics during the war or maybe you were. I remember the war and the hardship and I am proud that we won the war. There were even food shortages before the war. from 1985 till the collups of USSR the butter, meat and all other food items were sold with food tickets e.g. 200 grams of meat per month per person and this is if you were lucky to find in stores.
    I cant imagine that how arrogant you can be?

  18. Reply
    AH - 26.02.2008

    Haik – I am sorry you think I was having picnics during the war. I hope it is only this delirium that is grounds for you to think I am arrogant. In fact, I think the announcement by the Defense Minister about the army’s position is the only proper announcement that could/should have been made regarding the army defending rule of law in Armenia. How you conclude from this that Serj has no control over the army is a mystery to me.
    I am not sure what war you refer to in your second paragraph. In fact, the only war being waged overtly in 96 (assuming that the 94 ceasefire can be considered as an end to the war in Karabakh) is the war against the Armenian people by your beloved Levon.

  19. Reply
    Onnik Krikorian - 26.02.2008

    I think it’s astounding when people look to the army not involving itself as some sign of weakness. In fact, that’s how it should be because there is no legal or constitutional basis for them to be called in UNLESS a state of emergency is declared.

  20. Reply
    Onnik Krikorian - 26.02.2008

    I just saw Observer’s new post concerning a possible state of emergency being declared. Let’s see, but just to say that was what a few of the foreign journalists in town and I were talking about last night as a possible option. If it happens, seems a bit over-the-top to me as a state of emergency was called in Georgia at the end of last year only after running battles between opposition and police on the streets.
    BTW: Nazarian, as for Constitutional Court, remember that 2003 was different. Gagik Harutyunyan did deliver a rulign that pissed off Kocharian and back then, he wasn’t being appealed to by his old comrade, Levon Ter-Petrossian. It should be remembered that Harutyunyan was Ter-Petrossian’s Vice-President and acting prime minister in the early 1990s. He also became head of CC under LTP.
    So, I guess a lot now depends on who has the most wind in their sails.

  21. Reply
    Hayk - 28.02.2008

    I see here empty Armenian Discussion.
    Those who support Serge, do not have credible reasoning. The only thing they remember are 1990s when LTP ruled. This guys do not understand that after the February 19-th, it is not about LTP anymore. Too many parties are involved, and 100s of thousand people stood up.
    Those who are indifferent, or independent think that this is minority fights against another minority. It is not true.
    The opposition is the majority. Why? Becuase 80% of Armenians are dissatisfied with nowadays corrupt and criminal government. It does not mean that 80% want LTP back. If there were fair elections, I think Vazgen Manukian would won (by the way, I hate his behavior now, he lost all credibility).
    Again if there were fair elections, either Vazgen or Artur would won, not LTP. But people saw that LTP is able to mobilize the other parties, people saw that he could organize good campaign, and he could gather many supporters decided to give him a chance, just to get rid of Serge and Robert.
    So, there is no 2 minorities. There is 1 minority (20%) that supports Serge, and they are Self-motivated people who are some way or another connected with this regime.
    And there is 1 majority, 80% of the population who oppose this criminal, corrupt and undemocratic government. But part of those who oppose this regime, at the same time do not believe in LTP. You guys are also wrong, because you do not want to hope and you do not want to give a chance to LTP and those 23 parties who support him, just because you were hungry in 1990s, or you think you are too much smart and can save your face by being indifferent. I JUST HATE JAILAMs. Do not be Jailam. I respect those more who clearly state that they support Serge, just because they have opinion (although I am 100% sure that these guys who support Serge and “shaky-corrupt” stability clearly have their stake from this corrupt regime).
    So, stop this stupid debate about LTP and Serge. It is clear that people do not want to live in the country, where they are unprotected, where the rich people and government officials have more rights than the ordinary people, where there is no freedom, human rights, free media, respected and trustworthy justice system and so on.

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