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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.