Monday, 2 March 2009

Armenia: Opposition leader outlaws “revolution”

Thousands rally in Yerevan to mark the anniversary of 1 March 08

Reuters: At least 10 000 anti-government protesters in Armenia on Sunday demanded early elections. (photo - Nazik Armenakian / Reuters) Other estimates - 10 000 to 20 000, or more.

One year ago, these days… Brutal force crushed hopes of many in Armenia who wanted changes in their country. It was a movement comprised of people of varying political/social views/backgrounds who were sick of the current state of affairs in Armenia.

Regardless of my critical opinion of some in the movement, I did support it, as I believed this was the only right choice for me considering the circumstances and alternatives. One year on, I have no regrets for my choice. I could not have done otherwise. There were simply no other channels for people to exercise their rights and hopes for democracy and human rights to arrive in Armenia.

For me, the matter of ultimate responsibility for 1 March tragedy is apparent. I do not need court cases or commissions for that. It’s Armenian authorities who bear the ultimate responsibility for all good and bad happenings in the country. It’s them who issued the orders…

Today, remembering events of 1 March 08, I’d like to express my sincere condolences to families and friends of those killed.

Despite unprecedented tragic consequences, restrictions of civil liberties, political prisoners, the movement had resulted in some important positive developments. It was an awakening for the society in hibernation for more than a decade. Number of genuine, albeit small, civil groups and initiatives were developed, particularly among youth, aimed at democratisation of our society.

For me, one of the main positive outcomes of the movement was the fact that Armenian government, authorities, started paying more attention to public opinion. To the various degree, of course, but they can no longer completely ignore it. Like they used to do pre-movement…

Still, one of the ultimate aims of the movement – free elections, key feature of democracy, seems something of a dream than a reality any time soon. Initial signs of the upcoming Yerevan mayoral (municipality) elections do not look particularly promising.

It is not surprising, therefore, that key slogans of thousands protesters who defied the ban by the authorities to mark the 1st anniversary of 1 March 08 in Yerevan were: "Free Political Prisoners", "For Early Elections", “Punish 1 March Perpetrators”, and… “No To Tax Terror”.

Previously announced opposition hiatus was partly ‘justified’ by the Karabakh conflict. The point was that Karabakh deal is imminent, and 'we do not want damaging our country’s interests and make it even more vulnerable to external pressures'. The ‘hope’ was that the authorities would sign up to the unfavourable settlement plan which would stir popular anger and... All ‘hopes’ now on socioeconomic/financial crisis, as was evident from the opposition leader, Armenia’s first president Ter-Petrosyan speech, which was remarkable by a change in rhetoric, a kind of U-turn.

There is nothing wrong with the opposition using current problems to their advantage. It may not seem ethical, but it is within the rules of game. Any opposition party would do so, whether in Armenia or abroad.

However, there is a feeling among some opposition supporters (past or present) that its leaders are lacking a clear vision on ways forward.

One more remark. While (from the opposition side) there was no ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’ divide in relation to those killed, police chief of Armenia was speaking the other day of “we also had 2 dead”, as if you could divide those who were killed on 1 March into ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’.


armen said...

Any movement led by a corrupt hypocrite is bound to fail. Levon's constant changing excuses for his movement's failure only reiterates his agenda based on lies and deceit. It's amazing that there are still people out there being constantly fooled as if they're clowns. Fortunately the numbers are a lot less.

artmika said...

BBC: Armenia rally marks deadly riots

Thousands of opposition supporters in Armenia attended a rally on Sunday to mark the first anniversary of its worst political violence since independence.

The protesters in the capital, Yerevan, demanded early elections and the release of "political prisoners".

Opposition leader and former President Levon Ter-Petrosian said the government needed to change its methods and open a dialogue with the opposition. [...]

During Sunday's demonstration, tens of thousands of protestors marched through central Yerevan carrying banners painted with the words "Freedom for political prisoners".

Dozens of police officers looked on as people chanted "victory" and "freedom" and laid flowers where the worst clashes took place. [...]

The BBC's Tom Esslemont in Yerevan says that one year after the violence, deep divisions remain in Armenian society.

More than 40 people have received jail sentences and some are still on trial, including the former foreign minister, Alexander Arzoumanian.

The government has come under mounting pressure to address what some organisations see as urgent human rights concerns, our correspondent says.

Last week, Human Rights Watch said the authorities were conducting "politically motivated" trials against members of the opposition while failing to investigate the excessive use of force by police during the clashes. [...]

Anonymous said...

When will they sentence those in the opposition responsible for the bloodshed last year and free the rest?

Move on, already!

Onnik Krikorian said...

Anonymous, to be honest, I think we have moved on. That is, with Levon identifying the importance of a constitutional and legal struggle. As some of us pointed out on this blog months ago, this is the only way a truly democratic movement can change things.

Ter-Petrosian, who had touted his 2008 campaign as a “classic bourgeois-democratic revolution,” made clear on Sunday that he is now against attempts to effect “immediate regime change” and favors instead a “prolonged struggle” with the Sarkisian administration. “The old-fashioned ideas of revolution or uprising must be finally driven out of our country’s political agenda,” he said. “As long as that hasn’t happened, Armenia can have no chance of becoming a rule-of-law and democratic state.[...]

Yes, it won't be easy, but the alternative is just the flip side of the same coin which some criticize so much. Stirring up anger and confrontation, does not win the support of most of the population and certainly not the international community.

On that, the next "legal and constitutional" battle has to be the coming municipal elections in Yerevan.

As rumor has it that Chorni Gago is likely to be "elected" Mayor of Yerevan, and as the financial and political power is in the capital, nobody should overlook the significance of this coming vote.

Mika, re. your point about the formation of groups in society etc, sure, but they need to mature now. Also, I wouldn't want to see problems "exploited," but rather rational criticism of government policy when it is clear that this is the case.

Anyway, it's arguable as to why Ter-Petrossian is more cautious and restrained now, but on the other hand, it is to be welcomed. Many in diplomatic circles did not see him as a choice -- as many voters couldn't either.

Using language about the importance of democracy and the rule of law including when it comes to regime change might actually make people notice HAK as a real alternative now. Of course, that's if the population also understand their importance.

Still, contest the municipal election, nurture the fledgling civil society groups and someone please, introduce a proper program of civic education, and this is an important step for Armenia. Meanwhile, I'm just happy the day passed without problems.

1 March anniversary passes without incident

Whether you like them or not, Kocharian, Serge Sargsian and Levon Ter-Petrosian have changed the political environment in Armenia. Serge is not Kocharian, and Levon probably prevented him being appointed as PM. The opposition-government dynamic between Sargsian and Ter-Petrossian also allows the possibility for change, unlike the post-2003 Kocharian-Demirchian standoff, for example.

Onnik Krikorian said...

BTW: A link I included in my last comment didn't come through although I noticed you linked to it anyway. Am posting again as I really do think that the next focus should be on the election of Yerevan's Mayor.

One head of an international organization has already noted a dangerous provision in the new law governing the election. If true (I can't find the actual law online) it's very "undemocratic" in my opinion:

Concerns emerging over May municipal election

artmika said...

Agree, Mayor's election in Yerevan would be a key test, although it would be a miracle if it passes as 'free and fair'.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Well, it's not even a matter of it being free and fair. As Yerevan is the political and economic center of the country with a third of the population in, an elected Mayor would be a very powerful rival to the presidency.

Basically, this election has to be taken seriously as not only a test, but a crucial election where many issues regarding governance, policing, local services, crime etc can be raised.

But sure, if Chorni Gago is the likely victor under present circumstances, it's not going to be clean. However, contest this seriously and the election could be seen to be a major opportunity for change in Armenia.

Probably, it's more important than a parliament that merely rubber-stamps legislation based on presidential orders, and the most perfect staging ground for ensuring elections are held democratically (in the capital, at least) in the future.

That is, if it's taken seriously, and I can't help but think that the announcement of the 1 May rally is with this in mind. Remember, the Mayor of Yerevan is effectively its governor, and should be taken seriously.

Nevertheless, yes, if the opposition does plan to contend it seriously, and if residents of the capital understand it's importance, it's also likely to be very dirty as well. Incidentally, the election is open to ALL residents of Yerevan -- including NON-citizens as long as they've been registered at an address for longer than a year.

nazarian said...

Are we seriously discussing the 'election' of the mayor? It is going to be an appointee of the regime.

I don't know why they still go through the charade of pretending to be tolerant of democratic principles. All it does is cost more money for the country. They need to suspend the constitution and just appoint whomever they want wherever they want. At least they'll save a buck or two.

Or maybe the elections are their stimulus plan, Armenian style. Instead of tax rebates, you just distribute vote bribes to the citizens.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Nazarian, in the post-2008 environment with the CE looking in and just as the economy looks set to collapse -- and with the position of Mayor controlling many aspects of life in the city -- yes, we are seriously discussing it.

The problem is not whether it will be free or fair, but rather whether the residents can understand the importance and significance of the vote in time. And maybe for that reason the next opposition rally will be on 1 May?

For sure, seems like Heritage and ANC will be working together and taking it seriously. Here you have a serious election coming up so why consider presidential and parliamentary elections if you can't consider this?

For once, I am impressed by LTP's words. Now, the question is, does anybody understand them?

Ter-Petrosian, who had touted his 2008 campaign as a “classic bourgeois-democratic revolution,” made clear on Sunday that he is now against attempts to effect “immediate regime change” and favors instead a “prolonged struggle” with the Sarkisian administration. “The old-fashioned ideas of revolution or uprising must be finally driven out of our country’s political agenda,” he said. “As long as that hasn’t happened, Armenia can have no chance of becoming a rule-of-law and democratic state.[...]

This isn't a presidential election so the stakes are not so high, but also understand that an elected Mayor of Yerevan would have considerable power in the capital.

And even if the opposition don't win, if they manage to protect their vote and gain enough seats, this has enormous significance for democratization. Anyway, elections are not just about the presidency.

The population keeps on thinking about electing a King, but for real democratization to occur, and even to ensure democratic presidential elections, local governance is of incredible importance. My only fear is not the conduct of the vote, but rather to what extent residents of the city are apathetic towards it.

nazarian said...

Onnik, I don't know if this time the regime will have enough resources to suppress the law. If the opposition tries to protect its votes, their members will be beaten up, killed or put in jail. There is a very long and sad history of that.

My hope is that no, we may see some positive improvements. But realistically, there is no chance that anyone but someone appointed by Serj Sargsian will be 'elected' as a mayor.

The CE can go and do you know what to themselves. No one should ever rely on some Europeans or Americans to restore the constitutional order in their country. I just don't see it happening the way LTP says. But I can understand why he rejects constitutionally unsanctioned tactics. You can't really restore law and order with illegal means. When you look at the laws, they usually are good laws. It's the implementation in civil, criminal and Constitutional courts that sucks.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Nazarian, one more repetition of 1 March and it's all over for the authorities. They just can't afford it, and also, I think that Kocharian was the one that was willing to crush by any means possible anyone who stood in his way.

As for LTP, as you know, I usually don't like his rhetoric, but I am encouraged by this. Moreover, if it's genuine and the talk is of the constitution and the rule of law, then yes, Europe will sit up and take notice.

Whether the population will understand, however, is another matter. Still, I believe, do not underestimate the importance of these elections. Indeed, the time might be ripe for some change.