Now more than ever, as the schism between the Armenian people and its government continues to expand, the Heritage Party calls for a national rehabilitation process. Such a process, if it is to be meaningful and permanent, must proceed not in spite but in full and brave recognition of the events that have unfurled in our Republic over the past few months.
February 19, election day, was the evident disregard of the national will, but we must bear in mind that the campaigns that preceded it and the human rights violations that followed it are part and parcel of that disregard. The campaigns were inherently unequal in terms of media access and fairness of coverage, the misuse of administrative levers, and the endemic application of the means of state for partisan advantage. At times votes were purchased, at others they were forced.
The elections, therefore, were prejudiced before they were held. But even on election day, substantial and systemic violations were recorded across the Republic, with grave implications for the qualitative integrity of the electoral process and the quantitative reflection of its true results. This does not happen under democratic governments.
Nor do democratic governments use force to suppress their own citizens. In Armenia’s case, hundreds of thousands of Armenians gathered in Liberty Square peacefully to protest the conduct and official count of the vote. That the number of protesters grew and doubtless triggered an unpredictable concern among the authorities was no validation for suppressing them. And yet on March 1, the incumbent president of Armenia declared an effectively unlawful state of emergency. This meant, in breach of every national and international norm of civil and political liberty and of common democratic ethics, that there would be no free speech and assembly, no free media, and no political pamphlets that the government did not approve.
Against this background, sadly so reminiscent of the Soviet era, international broadcasters, when beginning to report on Armenia, would be interrupted by darkness or by advertisements. Websites were blocked and radio stations kicked off the air, all in an effort to keep the Armenian people ignorant of the actions of their own government and the world beyond.
And now to the actions. On the morning of March 1, and deep into the night of the same day, the authorities began a systematic crackdown upon their fellow citizens, unleashing professional provocateurs to stir up the crowds and giving themselves and others an excuse for violence. Freedom was squelched, seven civilians and a police officer were killed, hundreds were injured, and all were deprived of their fundamental human rights. But for the forcible dispersal of Liberty Square in the early morning, the tragedy of that night would not have befallen the nation.
Deprived of their voice, the protesters began to lose their leaders. On a daily basis, security personnel including masked men wearing various uniforms took away or arrested opposition figures and rank-and-file participants and proceeded to indict them on various creative charges up to organizing a coup d’etat. Four members of Parliament who had dared to endorse the opposition candidate were stripped of their immunity and also charged. The intent of the special operation and ensuing state of emergency was simple: to attempt to drive the Armenian people into fear and to warn the Constitutional Court against any fantasies of reaching an independent verdict. The brute tactics worked and the authorities, once again, upheld in court the elections they wanted on February 19.
Today emergency rule continues in force, citizens remain in jail often with restricted access to attorneys, and the media—the role of which it is to serve as an informed and informing watchdog against government conduct and corruption—have been pushed into oblivion or complicity. The political arrests and detentions show no sign of abating, and the measures of the Prosecutor General’s Office have now extended to interrogating Heritage’s members of Parliament, immorally attacking their integrity, and announcing the deprivation, however illegal, of their right to visit citizens at their place of incarceration.
The unconscionability displayed on February 19 and the brutality used to protect it on March 1 remain unresolved issues. No state of emergency, accompanied as it is by an aggressive, one-sided “public information” vertical which deepens the public divide rather than healing it, will succeed in securing the collective amnesia of state and society. It must be lifted forthwith.
What the country needs—what the people require and their government can no longer postpone—is a brave, new national discourse. In that discourse the Heritage Party will continue to serve in any capacity which Armenia’s citizenry demands, and it will use its every resource to achieve the reconciliation of the body politic with its government, and the government with its past. To that end, Heritage calls for national solidarity, a multi-partisan public project for a dignified dialogue, the release of obviously political detainees, and an immediate plenipotentiary inquiry into the tragedy of March 1—its causes and consequences both—whose just and comprehensive findings might help the recovery of democracy in Armenia.
Only in this way will we, at this most critical hour in modern Armenian history, be able to realize the national transformation that is long overdue but now imperative for the sake of Hayastan and her people’s future.
The Heritage Party
17 March 2008