In this interview that I did for Hetq Online, National Assembly and ARF-Dashnaktsutyun Bureau member Vahan Hovhannisyan discusses the lack of democracy in Armenia, the methods to prevent electoral fraud, cooperation with other parties in the National Assembly, implementing a socialist agenda and strengthening civil society.
Reading yesterday’s headlines I came across a major news story of a Kajaran mayor in Syunik, Rafik Atayan, resigning from his position and from the Republican party in protest to the government’s decision to confiscate 181 hectares of land in the area. The land will be turned over to the German-owned mining company, Zangezur Copper-Molybdenum Combine (ZCMC). The lands will become an “open-pit mine,” meaning that all the dust created in the excavation process will drift and pollute the surrounding areas. Water supplies and agricultural lands will be ruined as well. The Armenian MP living the village, a former executive of the mining company, is obstinately indifferent.
The mayor’s protest is admirable but will ultimately prove nothing since his replacement will obligatorily sign the paperwork formalizing the new mining initiative.
Land has already been given to the Chinese in Syunik in a different government-backed plan, ironically nit to far from Tatev, which was anticipated to be Armenia’s top tourist attraction when it opened just over a year ago. There are still other controversial projects that are stalled or about to get underway in Teghut and Hrazdan.
The justification for opening the mine (and others) is the following, quoted from an article published by RFE/RL:
The German group [Cronimet, the parent company] insisted that the planned expansion of the ZCMC’s mining operations stems from “a number of agreements” with the Armenian government. That will also boost Armenian exports and “economic stability in the country, it said.
These types of statements have become totally laughable and even insulting. The monthly minimum wage in Armenia is absurdly low at 32,500 dram ($83) and a bill introduced by the ARF last month to nearly double it was shot down by the Republican controlled National Assembly. In other words, most people in Armenia — factory or mining workers being no exception — live hand to mouth. Most people can’t save up and have little or no pocket money to spend to benefit the economy. ZCMC prides itself as supposedly being the top tax paying corporate institution in Armenia (untold sums of collected taxes are, in turn, eaten), but that doesn’t mean government officials will not reap the benefits of kickbacks from profits. The money made in this deal (and others) will not be vested in the Armenian economy realistically simply because it will end up in several peoples’ pockets and foreign bank accounts instead at the expense of Armenia’s fragile environment. That’s the way things work in capitalist Armenia.
So let’s stop kidding ourselves that high exports in metals are good for the economy. When rural areas are still underdeveloped in and around Armenia, with some new settlements in Armenian-controlled territories doing without roads, running water and electricity as I wrote in a previous post, these statements from government officials are paradoxical. Mining businesses benefit the elite, while the rest of the country’s potential along with its ecological longevity suffer.
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (ARF-D) has managed to change its position on the government’s signing and subsequent expected ratification of the protocols at least four times since October.
Just after the signing of the agreement to introduce the protocols last August, the ARF-D Bureau Chairman Hrant Markarian claimed that the party would do everything necessary to stop the anticipated signing of them. RFE/RL reported the following on September 16, 2009 alluding to the end of Serge Sarkisian’s reign should the protocols be signed:
President Serzh Sarkisian will lose power if he presses head with the signing of controversial agreements with Turkey, a top leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) warned on Wednesday.
“I think that he must finally sober up and refuse to sign them just because of his own interests,” said Hrant Markarian, the de facto head of the hard-line opposition party’s top governing body, the Bureau. “You must not cut the tree branch on which you are sitting.”
Markarian claimed that a deal with Turkey negotiated on the existing terms would the last straw for a considerable part of Armenia’s population unhappy with the government. “The people would sooner or later hold him accountable, and the price would be heavy,” he said, adding: “I believe that we would not be able to carry on.”
On October 8, Markarian gave even harsher criticism, calling to seek regime change should the protocols be signed.
Dashnaktsutyun, which was represented in Armenia’s ruling coalition until April, has so far refrained from seeking to unseat Sarkisian despite its harsh criticism of the two Turkish-Armenian protocols finalized by Ankara and Yerevan. It has instead proposed several amendments to the documents and tried to prevent their unconditional ratification by parliament.
“We will fight and are even ready to find a way out with the authorities,” said Hrant Markarian, the de facto head of Dashnaktsutyun’s top decision-making body. “But if we don’t meet with a corresponding attitude, we will not hesitate to go to the end, to go for regime change.”
I’ve been silent lately because there aren’t really any exciting topics to discuss lately, whether in politics, culture or economics.
Sure, there’s always cultural events happening—concerts, plays, ballets and so forth. But I can’t manage to attend them most of the time, so obviously there’s nothing to write about. Jazz guitarist and singer George Benson is coming soon, which is a first-time event in Armenia. Rock star Arthur Meschian is making a comeback tour after three years, and I’m definitely going to attend his concert to be held at the Opera House on November 15.
The political situation at the moment is rather dull it seems. The ARF-Dashnaktsutiun in Armenia mentioned last week in a press conference that it would be seeking regime change, but without calling for President Serge Sarkisian’s resignation, which doesn’t make much sense to me—this holds true for the majority of the decisions the party has been making for several years now. The Armenian National Congress has changed its tune from being supportive of the rapprochement process between Armenia and Turkey to being highly critical of the deal, having recently rejected the protocols. Yet there are no anti-protocol rallies to speak of lately. Seems that politicians are waiting for something to happen, but what?
One thing that I’ll bring up which I also talked about on my other blog is the new law prohibiting people of Yerevan to jaywalk–in other words, to cross the street anywhere they like to. Now they must go to crosswalks or use pedestrian bridges and underpasses, wherever they are available. It’s made driving a lot easier for sure, I no longer find myself having to steer around people standing in the middle of the street—or even between lanes of traffic. This was a huge problem and now it seems to have been curbed, although a few adamantly stubborn jaywalkers are still out and about.
Unfortunately because of my office job I am not able to get out as often as I would like during the day, in search of something interesting to post about. However, I’m past due on tax payments on land that I own in the Aragatsotn region, not far from the town of Kuchak, and I’m anxious to get to Aparan so I won’t have to think about paying them anymore. I will be required to pay late fees for sure, but I can’t assume how much in advance. I’ll definitely post something about my experience here.
A sit-in protest and hunger strike in opposition to the protocols was initiated yesterday by the ARF-Dashnaktsutiun. So far about 75 party members are camped out in front of the government building on Republic Square. They are expected to stay on site until the date of the protocols’ signing which will be in about a month.
The party has already made several draft changes several points of the protocols that it has distributed to parliament members, particularly to those of the pro-government block. Unsurprisingly they were dismissed as being “unacceptable” by Galust Sahakian, the head of the Republican party majority, and not “very serious” by Orinats Yerkir’s Heghine Bisharian, who has been very enthusiastic about the protocols in public. Naturally the ARF is opposed to the forming of a historical commission to study the events that amounted to genocide, which Turkey fails to recognize. Also they are adamant about changing the point that calls for Armenia’s recognition of the current Turkish-Armenian border. The party is scheduled to meet the president with members of other parties on Thursday to discuss the proposals. Why he didn’t meet with them two weeks ago is anyone’s guess.
The ARF in Armenia has been calling for the protocols to be signed without preconditions—in other words anything that Turkey is expecting, such as Armenia’s recognition of the current border, should be omitted or revised. However, the party has been sending mixed signals as the ARF bureau is insisting that preconditions should be attached by the Armenian side, namely Turkey’s recognition of the Genocide. In that case, since that stipulation is certainly not in the protocols, it doesn’t make sense for the party to submit its revisions to the Armenian government for consideration. We know there is nothing in the protocols about Turkey’s required recognition of the Armenian Genocide, which means that they should be categorically rejected by the party according to its statements, not revised. So it’s not exactly clear what the ARF expects, particularly from the hunger strike. Many Armenian citizens do not take the ARF seriously, considering its influencial members sell-outs. The fact that they left the government didn’t seem to impress non-supporters.
Based on statements that pro-government politicians are making, especially by Bisharian, it seems they are quite positive about the protocols as they stand and the Armenian parliament will be sure to ratify them once they are signed. I don’t expect any progress to be made tomorrow during the meeting with the president, which means the Armenian opposition is going to have to be a lot more active and vocal in protest to the protocols. The Armenian National Congress has been fairly silent recently, with no rallies being held in Yerevan to activate its followers, so it’s not clear why they are asleep. No one from that opposition block has been facilitating any kind of public protest to date.
Things will be clearer on Friday or even Monday (politicians usually take the weekend off) about where the opposition really stands. But one thing’s for sure—the ARF cannot follow the route they have chosen alone; they need the backing of other political parties to stop the signing of the protocols, if the party is indeed intent on doing just that.