The Armenian people and the dialogue between authorities and opposition

While calls for dialogue between president Serzh Sargsyan and the opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian come from all sides – government, opposition and the international community alike, all those speaking about “dialogue”, starting from Raffi Hovhannisyan and ending with the PACE and US Helsinki Commission seem to take it for granted, that such a dialogue will put everything right. Nobody seems to ask what this dialogue will be about, anyway? Nobody seems to ask, who do these two people – Serzh Sargsyan and Levon Ter-Petrossian, represent, to engage in a dialogue and put things right in this country?

If these two – widely dispised and disregarded politicians are to meet and discuss how to share power between the two of them, and between their clans, what value does this “dialogue” bring to the citizens of Armenia? While Ter-Petrossian supporters stage protest actions and marches in the country, raising the stakes for their leader – some genuinely beleiving, that it is democracy and freedom they are fighting for, most citizens of Armenia seem to have preferred to hide under shells of indifference and watch for someone to do something good for them. The bad news for those who are indifferent is that – politics is about standing up and taking control of one’s destiny. And so it seems, that we will all continue watching the fight between the two power hungry elites, until they reach a compromise – mutually beneficial for both of them, or until one of them wins and gains full and unrestricted freedom to exploit and drive this poor country further into ruin.

Artur Papyan

Journalist, blogger, digital security and media consultant


  1. I think if you wait for the whole of society to stand up and take control of their own destinies I’d suggest not holding your breath. On the other hand, a combination of international involvement as well as the participation of active political groups as well as civil society with genuine intent and full transparency is something that could result in some albeit limited progress. I’m afraid this is probably the model for development in most countries such as Armenia.

  2. Basically, we have a framework for a possible solution and way out of this malaise. Is it too much to ask that we at least try?

  3. Observer, do you think international bodies and Armenians have the same understanding of “dialogue”? (the process and its purpose). I have the impression that Armenians usually confuse dialogue with collaboration and power-sharing. And this may be coming from their misunderstanding of and archaic views on the role of the political opposition and on democracy in general.
    A rather typical case:
    There was this journalist yesterday who was covering the NA discussions on the new government’s programme. Kind of surprised, she was criticising the Heritage party for voting against the proposed programme because the PM had included some of the Heritage’s remarks and suggestions on the draft programme.
    If the opposition party votes for the governement’s progamme, then how can it still be considered in the opposition?
    If the PM asks for the views of the opposition on a proposal (an example of dialogue), does this mean he is seeking their collaboration?

  4. Well, it should be pointed out that a) not all the Heritage MPs voted against the government programme (it was 3 out of 7 — not sure whether the others voted for, abstained or weren’t present — if the RFE/RL report is correct), but anyway, having some suggestions incorporated in a document does not necessarily mean you have to endorse the whole thing. On the other hand, an opposition can also vote for a government measure if it believes it is the correct path to follow.
    This is the nature of democracy and a “constructive” opposition. It is not just opposing everything and hoping one day to come to power. It is showing a mature approach to the process of nation building and governance to such an extent that people trust in you and consider you a viable alternative.
    Regarding dialogue, however, who knows what would happen. Perhaps it would succeed, perhaps it would fail, but I have to say I have little respect for any political force that isn’t interested in giving it a go. This means both sides have to drop preconditions and at least meet. They can always fail to come to an agreement, but the point is that they can at least enter into some dialogue and in my opinion, the CE’s resolution is a strong basis to do so.
    Pretty much it’s the following:

    the recognition by all sidesof the authority of the Constitutional Court and its ruling on the outcome of the Presidential elections while having legal means open to challenge the decision through the European court;
    the release of all jailed activists who have not committed violent crimes;
    the establishment of an independent inquiry into the circumstances that led to the events on 1 March 2008 and the monitoring of the on-going investigation process;
    the initiation of a dialogue between all political forces, in the following areas:
    – reform of the electoral framework with a view to regaining public trust in the conduct and outcome of elections;
    – reform of the political system with a view to providing a proper place for the opposition in the decision-making process and governance of the country;
    – media reform, especially aimed at the creation of a truly independent public broadcaster.

    Ultimately, whether both sides are willing to at least discuss the CE resolution indicates (to me, at least) whether they truly are concerned with the future of this country or taking power for the sake of personal and financial ambitions. Even just sitting down even if one or both sides walked away would be the right step.
    And ultimately, that is how things develop in countries. What is the other solution? More unrest, more polarization between two sizeable minorities? Serge retaining power and not having to cede influence but actually becoming more authoritarian? Levon coming to power through street protests only to find us still in the same position afterwards?
    This is a test and there are a few paths Armenia can follow. It can take a democratic path where dialogue might yield significant concessions to push the country towards democratization or it can take an undemocratic path where both the government and the radical opposition remain intransigent and self-obsessed to the detriment of the country.
    Anyway, the government needs to drop its precondition that the radical opposition recognize the constitutional court ruling and the radical opposition needs to drop its precondition that those detained are released. Instead, those two points are enshrined in the CE’s resolution and can be discussed during any meeting.
    Whether they are adopted will no doubt be dependent on the details of the other points and whether either cares about pushing Armenia forwards or keeping it in such a state that they can retain or come to power. There is at least the possibility for dialogue which may or may not result in something positive in time for the next round of elections.
    (and by the way we can consider local elections — especially the Yerevan municipal ones which will determine the next Mayor — quite important before the next parliamentary and presidential elections. Of course, this requires a change in mindset that seems only concerned with who wields presidential power)
    Or we can expect more of the same and consider that keeping power will always mean falsified elections and coming to power means street protests and violent clashes. I know which I’d prefer and consider more beneficial to the country. I know which one I’d consider more the basis for democracy-building in Armenia.

  5. Azadakan – none of the calls for dialogue, including the CE one, seen to encourage the kind of discussion, which would be beneficial to the people of Armenia in general. No word is said for example about governments fiscal policy, which is something every Armenian is worried about. What is the value of dialogue, if the issues people are really concerned about aren’t discussed? This is the point I want to make!

  6. Onnik, as far as I know, only 3 Heritage MPs were present when the voting took place.
    I certainly agree that the opposition may vote in favor of a government measure or for a proposal coming from the parliamentary majority (and of course vice-versa). But I was talking about the government programme/policy statement (for the next 4 years), and not a specific measure. I don’t see how even the most constructive and conciliatory opposition can vote for the government programme/policy statement.
    I totally agree with you on the necessity of dialogue, the need to move forward, and the importance of local elections.

  7. I suppose fiscal and other policy would be covered by two of the points outlined above (in terms of public information and involvement of various players in the decision making process).

    – reform of the political system with a view to providing a proper place for the opposition in the decision-making process and governance of the country;
    – media reform, especially aimed at the creation of a truly independent public broadcaster.

  8. Basically, the point of the CE dialogue recommendation is not to sort out specific policies from outside, but rather to end the post-election standoff and create the environment for such matters to be discussed, debated and determined by informed and democratic public and political consensus.
    Of course, Armenia has certain international obligations to abide by, but the problem is that there is no democratic process (and I don’t mean just elections).
    Allowing the opposition and other civil society groups into the decision making process can address that and this is what the CE is suggesting. Easier said than done, but given the severity of the recent situation, both sides have to understand that what is at stake is more than just their own personal political and economic ambitions and interests.
    It is pretty much the future of the country and how it evolves in the next 5 years. Like I said, is it too much to at least try? If it fails, it fails, but it sure as hell isn’t going to succeed if there is no attempt to get both sides together to discuss the PACE resolution. The only other solutions are a) retaining power through even less concessions backed up by authoritarian measures to silence dissent or b) trying to gather the numbers for more more street protests which will again end in clashes.
    And those other solutions benefit who? The elites in both camps who will either gain or lose political and economic power? The country? I think the former and it’s not a solution to the problems facing Armenia. We need people to put aside their selfish interests and make concessions as well as to understand that a variety of political forces have the right to be part of the process of nation-building.
    Of course, I still think we need a properly representative parliament, but the CE resolution would set the grounds for that in the next round of elections.

  9. Observer, I don’t think CE’s mandate allows it to intervene in economic and fiscal policies of its member states. Even at the EU level, except in Euro-zone, such interventions are extremely limited.
    This is how CE defines its mission: “An international organisation in Strasbourg which comprises 47 democratic countries of Europe. It was set up to promote democracy and protect human rights and the rule of law in Europe”.

  10. On the topic of “dialogue”, in addition to what has already been said here, I think one should not underestimate the importance of dialogue between the authorities and the civil society. I mean direct, regular and constructive relations with various NGOs, professional and trade associations, etc. This is a rather common practice elsewhere in Europe despite the fact that they have no democracy deficit or legitimacy crisis.
    I don’t think the current situation can be reduced to a duel between Sergik and Levik (I am using their followers’ vocabulary not mine) or their teams, and I doubt we would be able to come out of the crisis only if these two sit down and talk.

  11. On the topic of “dialogue”
    Recently, Raffi Hovhanisian said
    […] I think it important that those two important leaders meet face to face and tackle problems like real Armenian men […]
    I thought they have been tackling the problems like real Armenian men. At least when I was in high school in Armenia back in those days that is pretty much how we settled our conflicts.

  12. Grigor, I have to admit that Hovannisian’s words were inappropriate and as you point out, somewhat ironic. Like “dignified statesmen” or “mature politicians” or hell, even “adults” would have been better. As you say, slugging it out is pretty much how things are settled here which, of course, is part of the problem.

  13. It’s sexist, too. I guess it’s a result of the ‘I’m the only man in Armenia’ syndrome that RK invented.

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