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Saturday, 2 August 2008

Armenian opposition gets organised: protests to heat up in September


Despite unbearable heat and vacation season almost at its height, thousands joined the opposition rally in central Yerevan sending a very clear message to the authorities that discontent with the current state of affairs has no signs of fading away. It was despite reportedly blocking the roads to the capital (surprise-surprise!) to prevent people from the regions to attend the rally. It was despite the ‘killing’ heat which forced many people to gather in surrounding areas, under the shade, and then join the post-rally march, which was impressive by any standards. With its inability to alleviate political crisis, administration of Armenia’s incumbent president Serj Sargsyan faces the very real possibility of high scale popular upheaval in months to come.

There was one pretty simple step that Serj’s administration could have done to relieve the situation and take the initiative – to release all political prisoners – but they failed to do so. With their actions, the authorities managed to beget the modern day Armenian martyrs even among those who under any other circumstances could easily be questioned for human rights violations, but now considered political prisoners, and rightly so. I should congratulate Armenian government and president for such an ‘achievement’.

Consequently, the opposition rhetoric became more radical, and they are now taking steps to make their movement more organised. The announcement of the Armenian National Congress (ANC), signed by various parties who supported former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan during the February presidential election came as no surprise. Even parties which refrained from signing the ANC declaration for now, including the influential opposition Heritage party, made it clear that they consider themselves as part of the movement and showed no signs of stepping down from initially stated aims, as commentary published by the newly elected head of Heritage party Anahit Bakhshyan proved.

In an apparent reference mainly to the Heritage party (but others too), the ANC declaration clearly states that parties united in the Congress remain independent, including their right to participate in any elections separately. Formal programme of the ANC would be finilised during the upcoming conference. As it is not a unified political party but rather a kind of confederation, other political parties or NGOs in Armenia and Diaspora are eligible to join, and in fact encouraged to do so by the opposition.

Main demands stated by the newly formed ANC are not new:
- release of all political prisoners;
- freedom of speech and assemblies;
- independent investigation of 1 March events with international presence;
- snap elections (of president and parliament)

Despite reiterated calls for resignation of incumbent president Serj Sargsyan (as one of the key objectives of the protest movement), the opposition stated its readiness to engage in a dialogue with the authorities to discuss reforms aimed at democratic development of Armenia provided that at least the first point on the release of all political prisoners is met.

P.S. This rally was noticeable by the absence (as much as I followed the speeches) of divisive - unacceptable! - language which occasionally happened during previous rallies. It’s clearly a consequence of recent call by one of current Ter-Petrosyan allies, recently released from serving a politically motivated prison sentence, Karabakh war hero Jirayr Sefilyan who urged (along with others) for immediate stop of using any language which may cause divisions between various segments of Armenians, and particularly Armenians from Armenia proper and Karabakh (reference to Karabakh origin of former and current serving presidents Robert Kocharyan and Serj Sargsyan and some other high level officials).

Next rally is scheduled for 5 September, and sit-in protest will continue till then to coincide with the crucial Council of Europe hearings on Armenia’s progress (or lack of it as such) in meeting its European obligations and PACE resolutions.

I will blog about next rally directly from Yerevan.

*photo - via mk.am

17 comments:

parisan said...

This week I've heard of two pro-Serjh families leaving Armenia after they sold everything they own in the country. That doesn't mean much in itself, but it could be the start of a trend, and a sign of changes to come.

me said...

Parisan, that's terrible news. We want to have Armenia where it's a good place for everyone, including "pro-Serjh" families, to live in.

The HAK is a good idea, if for nothing else than to weed out all the client oppositionists. The opposition hasn't been this united since at least '99, a development that should be welcomed by everyone.

Anonymous said...

I agree with me that a united opposition is a good thing.

I think that while there are retreads or populist demagogues like LTP or Styop Demerchyan leading the charges, it will go nowhere.

Armenia needs a new generation of real leaders, not losers of the king-of-the-hill game who are proven trough-feeders. They have proven themselves to be happy sitting at the top of the pyramid clan-structure society. After all, they created it.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Incidentally, it was interesting to see Rouben Hakhverdian at Friday's rally. I know you've posted about his position on the situation in Armenia post-1 March, but it was surprising for me nonetheless.

Anyway, looking forward to you being over and will be interesting to read what you have to blog about from the ground, so to speak. It will also be interesting to discuss many related issues with you in person over a beer if you have the time.

artmika said...

I read last night A1+ reports that he was there with singer Artur Umroyan. Reportedly, they were kind of tipsy :), and therefore were not allowed up by security people.

Ի դեպ, այսօր հանրահավաքին մասնակցում էին նաեւ երգահան Ռուբեն Հախվերդյանը եւ երգիչ Արթուր Ումրոյանը: Նրանց սակայն հանրահավաքի անվտանգություն ապահովող երիտասարդները հարթակ բարձրանալ չթույլատրեցին, քանի որ վերջիններս գինովցած էին:

Would be good to meet up, for sure. Look forward to be back to Yerevan. I want to try live blogging too (not only rally related) provided that mobile internet connection is of reasonable quality.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Yeah, I was at a friend's niece's bday party tonight and most of the people there were Levon supporters (actually one was married to Alexander Arzumanian's niece) and they said Hakhverdian was drunk.

To be honest, though, he nearly always is, but didn't look as rough as I've seen him at other times. Didn't want to say that in the comments section of your blog, but you've done so already so yeah, that's what they say.

Still, he was pretty much able to stand and walk which is not something I can always say.

artmika said...

True, but regardless he remains one of the most talented and rare truly independent (regardless of the authority in place) voices in Armenia's cultural scene. My high regards to him for that.

me said...

anonymous, regardless of who comprises the opposition, it's good to have a united front, as opposed to bickering about who's more popular and who should get to field a candidate, a tendency that has plagued many a post-Soviet country. A strong and united opposition is oxygen to all democratic systems; only good can come out of this.

A "new generation of leaders" might very well spring up from HAK; certainly some of the young members of the so-called "movement" inspire more hope that the Ashotyans and Sharmazanovs of the world do.

parisan said...

I certainly was not suggesting that "pro-Serjh" families should leave en masse their country, if they love it, or that it would be a good thing if they did. I was merely reporting about the departure of some of them who obviously have the means to go. I suppose they believe there is more safety or money to be had or made elsewhere than in Armenia, unless it's to reunite with their loved ones under the Californian sun or somewhere else. I wish them good!

In the mean time, I wonder when they'll finish their work at Cascade, if only downstairs, by the Cat, where it looked okay-good, last year, but now it's just a mess again. What is the mayor doing? He is also busy, preparing his leaving?

Anonymous said...

anonymous, regardless of who comprises the opposition, it's good to have a united *fifth column*, as opposed to bickering about who's more popular and who should get to field a candidate, a tendency that has plagued many a post-Soviet country. A strong and united opposition is *the only way to make revolutions* to all democratic systems; only *way is to defame all other non-revolutionists oppositions*.

A "new generation of leaders" might very well spring up from HAK; certainly some of the young members of the so-called "movement" *are the same zombies as* Ashotyans and Sharmazanovs of the world do.

me said...

Fifth column arguments in this situation are just bizarre, and directly contradict any definition or understanding of democracy.

Yes, yes, there's such a thing as "constructive opposition", people like Vazgen Manukyan or Hayk Babuxanyan who have no popular support and essentially no chance of winning anything, let alone national elections. Any force outside this realm, with (shock and horror!) a real chance to unseat the ruling party or "coalition" is a fifth column, undoubtedly financed by foreign forces and there to undermine the foundations of our statehood.

Anonymous said...

me

probably its hard to understand it, but the problem is that all so-called parties joined to establish this unknown congress are ideologically bankrupt

the popular movement which you call is only "against" and there is nothing to unify "for"

yes, no one denying that there is popular hatred towards incumbent and making populist movement of hatred against doesn't make democracy to work, we have seen such democracies before, and Hitler's 1932 popular support or Lenin's 1917 popular support do not justify the actions taken by those leaders.

there is rule of thumb "means should not contradict the end"

LTP movement do not pass this exam, defaming VM was harm to democracy, also CHI already hinted to defame Raffi H. if he does not join.

LTP plays dirty games. I am not saying that SS and RK do not play dirty, but I don't undertsand why dirty games are such praised. For some youth I can understand it since they represent heirs of HHSH clan, I don't know about you, but if it personal as for the youth I categorized, then I can understand it.

me said...

HHSh is a very broad concept; you'd be hard pressed to find anyone over the age of 40 in our politics who wasn't at one point or another affiliated with it (that includes all 3 of our presidents, btw). If it matters, I am not a HHSh "heir".

VM disgraced himself when he told people to go after him in 15 minutes if he doesn't go back; if he had won the election in '96, he lost it right then. You know the irrelevant, support-less, marginal political corpse everyone WANTS LTP to be? That's VM in a nutshell.

As for the "movement"; I mean what it is for and what it is against is a question of subjective perception depending upon where you get your news, but comparing it to Lenin and Hitler is a bit much.

Anonymous said...

LTP plays dirty but as long as he attacks the authorities, there will be a small committed % who support him.

Same arguments are used across the board, such as with the media: although H1 is terrible, A1+ can lie consistently and provide worse quality reporting and news, but because it is anti-government, some praise it.

This hypocrisy is the reason why the current opposition collection of political has-beens will never coalesce into something bigger.

It just feels like a bunch of sour grapes coming from these guys.

garen said...

Thanks ArtMika for a nice article. And it seems to be very popular too. On Khosq.com it's already rating among the highest for this week.

Looking forward to your live reporting on September 2.

artmika said...

Maturity of Armenian opposition: upcoming rally postponed till 12 September, sit-in protest ends ahead of Armenia - Turkey football game

artmika said...

12th September opposition rally moved (again) to 15th