Tag Archives: 2013 armenian presidential elections

Long Live the BAREVolution

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Another BAREVolution rally was held on March 2, this one more effective than the one held just days before. The movement leader and proclaimed president of the Armenian people Raffi Hovanissian spoke twice, and this time his demands were enunciated clearly. He calls on President Serzh Sargsyan and Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan to attend the next rally on March 5 so they can answer to the Armenian public and defend themselves against claims (which, despite what some Republican lawmakers and supporters have denied publically, have been proven with recorded evidence of fraud by observers and even the official results) that the vote was rigged. He also called for Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian’s resignation for essentially forcing school teachers to take their students to campaign events for the president. Today he will decide whether he will file a claim with the Constitutional Court to dispute the election, which would likely be a fruitless waste of time and energy.

Other notable speakers included Jirayr Sefilian, Andreas Ghoukasyan, Nikol Pashinian and Zaruhi Postanjian.

The number of people in attendance was noticeably lower yesterday than previous rallies, which can be attributed to the “police press” shooting everything that moves with their compact video cameras. The collected footage can easily be used to identify people in the crowd and then persecute them in one way or another, for instance by having them fired from their jobs or sending the tax authorities after them (or else simply beaten up). At first I attributed that to dwindling interest before I realized what the real reason was. Many who are able are watching the rallies being streamed live online, too, and that’s obviously happening worldwide judging from the rallies being scheduled elsewhere.

I was waiting patiently in the wings to see if I could ask Raffi a couple of questions (I have interviewed him twice for the Armenian Weekly and Hetq Online) regarding whether he was concerned that the movement could potentially lose its momentum, as had been voiced in the social media.

But the longer I stood there watching Raffi occasionally thrust his fist into the air and sway to the rhythm of Ruben Hakhverdian and other performers singing songs with messages criticizing the anti-freedom establishment, I became convinced that he’s not worried in the slightest. Raffi is pumped, and he’s using all his energy to channel that vibe of confidence to the Armenian people that change is possible. He wants everyone to comprehend that change comes from within, and it’s up to the people to succeed. He’s been hammering that message home for weeks now.

Let’s make no mistake–this is not about a struggle for the throne. It’s about enabling Armenian citizens with power to take control of their own country. It’s about liberating themselves from the tyranny of the Republican-controlled oppressive regime. It’s about being able to express yourself in words or attend public gatherings where oppositional voices are heard, without fear of incrimination or losing their means of livelihood as punishment. It’s about being able to run a small business without the interference of the tax authorities trying to extort bribes rather than obtaining procurements from big business for the state revenue so the government can ensure they hit their artificial GDP targets. It’s about a competitive free market being allowed to thrive.  It’s about dissolving growing fascist sentiments within circles of power and finally making democracy work after 21 years of independence from communism. It’s about basking in freedom of self-expression as cultural stereotypes and antagonism break down. It’s about living in a society that is governed by the rule of law, where everyone is equally subject to the constitution without immunity from prosecution. It’s about citizens working together peacefully to build their communities and strengthen civil society without interference from state-sponsored bodies or special interests. It’s about the long-term viability of the Republic of Armenia and the entire Armenian nation worldwide. These are just some of the reasons why the regime must change, that this BAREVolution must succeed.

We hope and pray that the transition will be made peacefully. History has shown however that violence hampers movements for change in Armenia, and we must be vigilant of that. But if the pro-government forces and the opposition should come to blows, those fighting for change cannot back down this time around. This struggle for freedom must prevail, and it must do so by April 8. It must not be allowed to fail.

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Photos by Anush Khachatryan

The BAREVolution Continues

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It appears that the opposition camp, at least part of it, is in this for the long haul. Raffi Hovannisian will keep holding rallies until he has enough public support to take the protests to another level. Thousands of people were present tonight. There must have been a dozen or so speakers before Raffi approached the microphone to remind people why they are there, and that their country belongs to them. There is still no concrete plan of action outlined, and that’s now obviously intentional.

Tomorrow at noon he will give a press conference in Liberty Square. Afterwards he and the crowd will march in a vigil to the site where the chaos unfolded on March 1, 2008, near the Myasnikian Statue, across from what is now known as Russian Square. Leven Ter-Petrosyan’s followers are also going to converge on that same spot, so it will be interesting to see if there is some kind of public interaction between Hovannisian and the Armenian National Congress camp. Then on Saturday, there will be another rally at 5 pm. Since it is a Saturday there potentially will be even more people in attendance.

Naturally, the more people that wake up and realize something serious is going on, the sooner the regime can change. Raffi has to keep the momentum going. And again, the people need to decide whether they want change to happen, or continue with the status quo. But from the looks of things, most people still need convincing that it can be done. If only they remember that in their collective strength they can retake control of their country and its future.

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Photos by Anush Khachatryan

Raffi’s ‘BAREVolution’

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On February 28 Raffi Hovannisian is expected to reveal his plan of action for his “fight for freedom” to his supporters in Yerevan’s Liberty Square. Opponents to the government, which comprise the vast majority of the Armenian population, are eager to learn just how he intends to topple the ruling regime lead by President Serge Sargsyan, who was reelected president on February 18 despite strong objections from the opposition. Sargsyan has received congratulatory messages from Russia, the European Union and the United States despite the contested vote.

Using actual polling results and reports of blatant fraud at numerous voting stations Hovannisian claimed himself to be the real winner, having won in Gyumri, Vanadzor, other major towns and parts of Yerevan. And he has vowed to achieve victory for the Armenian people by peacefully toppling the ruling regime in his so-called “BAREVolution,” which has spread throughout society as evident by the protests by students at Yerevan State University.

But kindness can only get you so far.  Sargsyan categorically rejected Hovannisian’s requests for new elections and snap parliamentary elections when they met on February 21. In the meantime, Hovannisian has been touring the country in hopes of garnering wide support for his movement to eventually dethrone the president. The problem is, the Republican party is not about to yield power because he is asking nicely. Despite the voiced assurance by Republican party leader Galust Sahakian on Tuesday that the authorities want to have a strong opposition and are unfazed by the protests, they ultimately won’t relieve themselves of the positions of power without putting up a fight, and that is exactly what will be needed for the opposition to take the reigns for leading the nation.

An inevitable clash will mean more persecutions, indiscriminate incarcerations and potential loss of life, perhaps more severe than what transpired in March of 2008. Hovannisian and those closest to him would be blamed for inciting turmoil and likely be imprisoned. So would some of his new allies, like the radical prominent member of the Armenian National Congress Nikol Pashinyan, who was released from prison in a general amnesty in 2011, and ARF-Dashnaktsutyun, whose leaders could wind up in the slammer and face new or existing charges–it’s important to remember that the defendants of the “Trial of 31” were simply released from custody and not acquitted.

Backing down now will undermine all of their reputations ever more so, and public apathy will only widen in scope.  In short, Hovannisian and this newly forming opposition bloc has no choice but to persevere or else be forever demonized. They cannot afford to lose the respect of the public that secretly or outspokenly demands change.

How far are they really willing to take this revolution? Are they all quite prepared to serve jail time in this fight for freedom? What would be the public’s reaction to a new crackdown on civil liberties? Clarifications will be made on Thursday afternoon for an eager crowd of supporters expecting perseverance and a committal to the promise of victory. Let’s hope they are not disappointed.

Photos by Anush Khachatryan

Power to the People

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Raffi Hovannisian held another rally today at 3 pm in Liberty Square before a crowd of several thousand people. Lots of youth in attendance, which was great to see. Since it was not sanctioned he only spoke for a little more than a half-hour and also announced his schedule for the next few days. The square was mostly full and there was a steady stream of people entering, although I expected to see a much larger crowd on a Sunday afternoon.

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His tour of communities throughout the south will commence tomorrow, due to visit Armavir, Ejmiadzin, Masis, Ardashat, Ararat, Areni and Yegheknadzor on Monday. Tuesday morning he’ll be in Agarak, which is on the Iranian border, then he’ll go on to Meghri, Kapan, Goris and Sisian. This is the only effective way to get his motivational message across to citizens nationwide. In order for this populist momentum to continue he has to convince as many citizens as he can that change is indeed possible.

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In order for Raffi to succeed the people have to buy that simple premise. And the language Raffi’s using, urging citizens to be proactive and excited about the potential change, seems to be working. The main challenge now is to sustain the momentum. And needless to say, he has a tremendous amount of work yet to do to get everyone on board. But all the reports coming out about specific cases of election fraud will only help him, while the authorities still don’t seem to give a damn. This struggle is likely to continue for days and weeks to come, although again, it’s up to the people to decide. But with many oppositional parties and individuals behind him now, he’s certainly their man.

We’ll see what happens.

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Photos by Anush Khachatryan

Elections Over. Now What?

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As the press and politicians predicted, Serzh Sargsyan won the 2013 Armenian presidential elections in a landslide victory with 58.6 percent of the vote. His main challenger, Raffi Hovannisian, came in second with a rather impressive 36.7 percent, much higher than Levon Ter-Petrossian’s “official” count back in 2008.

Naturally we don’t know how realistic these numbers actually are since there was widespread vote buying, ballot stuffing and arranged voter turnout with some people purportedly being bused into Yerevan from Gyumri according to one account. RFE/RL reported other specific cases of voting irregularities.

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Nelli Shishmanyan photo

There is already discussion of revolution in the air–Hovannisian’s press secretary Hovsep Khourshoudyan said today that “Even Serzh Sargsyan wants a constitutional revolution. A revolution is in the making.” And on Feb. 15 Aghvan Vartanian of ARF-Dashnaktsutyun told reporters that the party foresees a post-election “radical transformation” in Armenian politics. Naturally, such comments don’t seem serious when you have voters purportedly drawing caricatures on their ballots–one person actually ate his ballot at the polling station. This shows blatant cynicism in society, not a call for transformation.

As Armenians will likely tolerate another five-year term of Serzh Sargsyan, here’s a list of equally important issues and concerns that he should examine immediately in order to win over the confidence of the apathetic, hopelessly fatalistic public:

– Double the minimum wage to  increase the standards of living for 99% of the population, most of which is struggling, to further stimulate the economy with consumer spending.

– Dissolve the monopolies shared by several oligarchic clans to invite competition in the marketplace.

– Attract foreign investment by continuing to offer tax breaks to would-be investors. Waiving customs fees, a good chunk of which ends up in the pockets of officials anyway, would also be a nice incentive.

– Persuade oligarchs to create jobs by actually investing in the manufacturing sector instead of relying on selling cheap Turkish and Chinese imports at exorbitant prices to earn profits.

– Boost foreign investment in the IT industry. The importance of this cannot be stressed enough. There is a plethora of talented young software engineers in need of jobs and career growth potential. They are leaving the country en masse–I personally know about eight people who have departed for the US, Canada and Russia and are extremely successful there. That talent has to stay put and help build the country.

– Overhaul the social welfare system to ensure that the plight of the very poor and homeless (yes, people without shelter roam Yerevan’s streets) is assuaged by providing free housing, health care and employment for those who need it urgently.

– Either stop or retract the complex web of governmental corruption. President Sargsyan best knows what needs to be done so there’s no need to elaborate here.

The Armenian diaspora can do the following:

– In memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide, actively become involved in curbing emigration and cease justifying the inevitability of it. As I have written on this blog the continued exodus has become an issue of national security for Armenia and it urgently has to reverse, people need to return to their homeland. Armenia needs to be populated, it’s that simple. Armenia is fast becoming a serfdom, and the middle class will likely shrink with continued cynicism and the infectious desire to be “anywhere but here.”

– Stimulate  civil society in Armenia through trainings and by promoting initiatives.

– Become proactive in democracy building efforts. The mentality that “you can’t do it” fostered by Armenians from Armenia living abroad needs to change.

Good luck, everyone.