Tag Archives: armenian opposition

Yerevan Municipal Elections Over; Long Live Democracy in Armenia

A polling station in Yerevan
A polling station in Yerevan

The Yerevan municipal elections were held on May 5, complete with reported violations and harassment and subsequent criticisms. The ruling Republican Party of Armenia secured 58 percent of the vote and thus will determine the next mayor of Yerevan, who’s most definitely incumbent Taron Markarian. Prosperous Armenia Party and the Barev Yerevan movement garnered 20 percent and 8.7 percent, respectively. Voter turnout was 53.5 percent. All other opposition parties/ blocks were shut out.

Many political parties that are in opposition to the government or still on the fence were putting their faith in these elections, hoping that democracy would work in their favor this time around and system-wide reform would begin in Yerevan. Onlookers from thousands of miles away will be eager to see the election results and make their judgments about political successes and failures accordingly.

Despite past monitoring efforts by European structures like the OSCE and the pretense of transparency, it has been very easy to falsify the vote –not to mention essential in order to retain power–in nearly every election. Not only are games played at the polling stations–forging signatures on voter lists, ballot stuffing, bribing, carousel voting, harassment and so forth, numbers are undoubtedly being conjured behind closed doors at the Central Election Commission (CEC). Naturally, this cannot be proven for certain since the CEC ultimately reports to the president, just as all state bodies do.

In other words, the conclusion that the candidate or party that acquires the most votes is the real winner is a naïve sentiment for the simple fact that democracy and the rule of law are not allowed to function properly so long as the president of Armenia does not value that system of governance. And I don’t only mean Serge Sargsyan–his two predecessors also behaved essentially as dictators. The president has complete control over all governmental agencies and institutions, and ultimately he has the final say as to how something will play out. If governmental corruption for instance is to be stamped out, he must have the will to do it, not only the prime minister, who clearly doesn’t or else is powerless to do so. The judiciary likewise reports to the president; it can act independently in low-profile cases where private interests are not at stake. When the president wishes for a ruling to be made one way or another, the judge holding the verdict is obliged to carry out his wishes, or be dismissed.

The CEC is no exception to the rule. The head of the commission also caters to the whims, or rather the shrewd planning, of the president. In other words, the “official results” of the elections cannot be taken at face value as being legitimate and a just expression of will by the people. The doctrine of legitimacy is prescribed by the president of Armenia alone.

Sunday’s vote was falsified again simply because the authorities could get away with it, as was made quite obvious in February’s presidential elections, while managing to gain praise from Russia, Europe and the United States in the aftermath.

And when communities in the Diaspora continue to ignore violations of democratic values by blindly embracing the outcome of the vote (or remaining indifferent), despite any blatant flaws that were revealed, the Armenian citizenry is let down knowing that its compatriots based abroad are unsupportive of its plight.

Until the Armenian nation fully embraces democracy, the same free and fair elections that Western nations covet as the purest demonstration of freedom cannot be held. The determination is necessary, along with the much-needed collective consensus on the vote from the Diaspora.  This time around, it is vital for Armenian communities worldwide, which have expressed their concern and support for Armenia’s freedom, to carefully read about the violations that were reported by the Armenian press throughout the day (notable news sources include Hetq Online, RFE/RL, A1+ and Civilnet).

One hundred observers from the Diaspora were purportedly monitoring the municipal elections. Their crucial findings will need to be considered quite carefully in determining whether democracy in Armenia can indeed flourish, as it should.

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

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

Interview with Raffi Hovannisian

My interview with Heritage leader Raffi Hovannisian was published on the Armenian Weekly web site yesterday. I recorded the interview while he was on his hunger strike in Yerevan’s Liberty Square on Saturday.

Here’s an excerpt from one of his responses:

Raffi Hovannisian at Liberty Square, March 17, 2011. Karen Minasyan photo.
Raffi Hovannisian at Liberty Square, March 17, 2011. Karen Minasyan photo.

If we postpone to the next cycle of elections the resolution of the issues that face us today, we’ll find ourselves in front of a predetermined election, in other words the people will become more fatalistic than they are today. We talk about what is real in Armenia, which means do nothing or there’s a great danger of renewed violence because there’s a lot of pent-up frustration based on the injustice, inequality, and unlawfulness that reigns in the country today. So my one expectation is from the authorities, and the second expectation is from civil society, from the Armenian public, to find itself the master of the public agenda and not to wait for anybody, whether it’s the incumbent president or opposition parties, to tell it from rostrums and podiums and elsewhere what to do, to empower the Armenian public with the message that their rights are in their hands, that this square, the symbol of liberty, democracy, and liberation for Artsakh, belongs to all Armenians, and there’s no reason for Armenians to be displaced from this square, from their expression of their free will and different views. And I’m happy to report that thousands of people entered the square for the rally on Thursday [March 17] to express solidarity, to take back the square, and to exercise their constitutional rights to be the masters of the square. The important thing now is for the Armenian people to be the master of their own destiny and their own political agenda.

You can read the interview in its entirety on the Armenian Weekly’s web site.

Do Armenians Want a ‘Revolution?’

The Armenian Weekly just published an opinion piece that I wrote in which I discuss whether “revolution” is bound to happen in Armenia, given the opposition’s alleged encouragement by the events unravelling now in Libya and Egypt not too long ago. Here’s some excerpts:

A convincing, compassionate leader is needed in the opposition camp, a person who would be able to negotiate with the oligarchs from the start of a “revolution” to ensure that a somewhat smooth transition can be effective without much obvious turbulence. The oligarchic structure in place is deep-rooted in the economy, with certain families enjoying monopolistic control of staple foodstuffs or basic consumer goods; any abrupt rupture could feasibly cause the entire Armenian economy to collapse within a day.

Nevertheless, for change in the form of “revolution” to happen, it will mean massive upheaval as an indignant public attempts to transform an institution known to be undemocratic, corrupt, and unjust into one that satisfies their interests of proper government. As we’re seeing in North Africa now, change will also bring about violence, death, and more importantly, wild uncertainty. And no one who is living a relatively decent life today, especially those comprising the nouveau riche of Armenian society, is willing to take such a gamble—to risk their own lives and those of their loved ones without promises of a better future.

You can read the entire article here.

What do you think? Please leave comments here or on the Weekly’s site (or even better, on both sites).