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Armenia: Return of the King President

Levon Ter Petrosian Rally

Levon Ter Petrosian, Opposition Rally, Liberty Square, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia

Without a doubt, the most significant event this winter has been the return of the first president, Levon Ter Petrosian, to the political scene in Armenia. Resigning in 1998 and living virtually as a recluse, Ter Petrosian came out of self-imposed retirement on 21 September — the 16th anniversary of Armenia's independence — to launch a blistering attack on the government and his successor as president, Robert Kocharian. Most observers took the criticism as indication that Ter Petrosian intended to again run for office.

On 26 October, at his first public rally, he confirmed such speculation by declaring that he would indeed run, but not everybody was happy. While considered an educated and formidable politician and statesman, many Armenians still hold Ter Petrosian responsible for the dire economic situation they found themselves in during the early to mid-90s when electricity shortages were commonplace, and corruption and cases of political persecution sky-rocketed.

In 1996, it is widely believed that the presidential election which secured his second term in office, was falsified.

In the wake of opposition protests following the '96 election, Ter Petrosian sent the tanks out onto the streets of Yerevan and opposition activists were persecuted and harassed. No wonder then, that not only did many expect the first president to account for his time in power, but they also demanded it. A rally staged Friday in the capital's Liberty Square was billed with that intent. Unzipped sets the scene.

Friends report from Yerevan that there are leaflets all over the capital inviting people for a (second) mass rally by ex-President and presidential hopeful Levon Ter-Petrosyan on 16 November. The main expectation of people who plan to go to the rally is that Levon at last will answer to the criticism over his period of presidency. They hope to hear his reflection over such issues as corruption, 1996 presidential elections (which many consider was a green light to all subsequent election frauds), Karabakh and so on. People expect and hope. Will Ter-Petrosyan deliver? We have to wait and see.

Even those opposed to Ter Petrosian's return such as Raffi K at Life in Armenia were intrigued.

Today is the 2nd Ter-Petrossian speech at the Opera (tonight). I don’t know if I’ll go – most the people I know who have gone have been rubberneckers, not supporters, and I am not sure I want to contribute to the swelling of his supposed ranks with rubberneckers. However, he is supposed to provide an explanation for his shortcomings today, which would be quite interesting – though I’m not sure I’d understand all the academic Armenian.

Levon Ter Petrosian Rally

Opposition Rally, Liberty Square, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia

Setting the scene for the event, and inadvertently adding to the intrigue, the government did all they could to disrupt the meeting. An open-air pop concert scheduled for the next day in the same location, even though such events are unheard of in the winter, meant a huge stage erected would take up a significant amount of space. The concert was sponsored by the Yerevan municipality and the ruling Republican party of the main government candidate for next year's election, prime minister Serzh Sarkisian, as Unzipped explained.

Election period is the best for Armenian pop music loving crowd, more specifically youth, and it is officially started. We've seen it during parliamentary elections. We've already seen an introduction for presidential elections on 26 October.

This Saturday, just a day after ex-President Ter-Petrosyan 2nd rally, there will be an open-air free concert in Opera square (Freedom sq) with invited pop stars from Russia, including Dima Belan. Formally, concert is organised “for students”. However, it is sponsored by Yerevan mayor and Republican party.

“You go do your rallies, we will do concerts. Now see who will have more numbers.” […]

As it was, however, the stage was used by Ter Petrosian and his political allies as The Armenian Patchwork explains.

Once again opposition parties supporting the candidacy of Levon Ter-Petrosyan for president organized a rally on 16 November.
Ter-Petrosyan spoke from the stage on Freedom Square, from which Russian singer Dima Bilan and Armenian singers would perform the next day, a concert sponsored by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia.

The crowd reached more than 10,000 […]

Khachatur Sukiasian, Opposition Rally, Liberty Square, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia

Local multi-millionaire businessman Khatchatur Sukiasian, also known as Grzo, was subject to tax inspections due to his support for the former president. Ironically, it has been frequently alleged that Sukiasian has evaded taxes during his time at the top of the pile under Ter Petrosian. His family is also reportedly related by marriage to former Minister of the Interior Vano Siradeghian still wanted by Interpol for masterminding several political assassinations in the 1990s.

A few days before the event, a youth activist from a minor political party, — the Democrat Hnchakian Party (SDHK) — was beaten by masked men while distributing anti-Sarkisian leaflets in a district of Yerevan. The Armenian Observer decried both the beating and the nature of the leaflets. Pro-Ter Petrosian and opposition activist Aramazd even reported that some leaflets advertising the rally were being systematically removed or defaced by government supporters, but despite the added publicity such tactics offered to the opposition, turnout at Friday's rally was little more than the previous one.

Even if the organizers put the number at 85,000, a figure impossible to achieve in Yerevan's Liberty Square, Reuters reported 12,000 while Radio Free Europe said 20,000. Bloggers, however, put the number at 10-15,000, but nonetheless said the gathering was impressive even if far smaller than the 50,000 recently reported in neighbouring Georgia. Even bloggers, such as The Armenian Observer, who have been highly critical of Ter Petrosian said that the speech by the first president was inspirational.

The crowd [responded] to the speech very enthusiastically, at least in the tight center where I was standing, and for a moment I felt inspired and elated. I felt, that it’s great after all, that Ter-Petrossian decided to come back – the political struggle has become so much more interesting by that. LTP is definitely much more charismatic and a better speaker then any of the politicians in the opposing camp – and today I felt for the first time ever, that he might actually have a chance of winning, because compared to him, Serge Sargsyan seems dull and weak to say the least.

Although not present at the rally, Unzipped was also pleased that Ter Petrosian finally addressed some outstanding accusations and criticisms of his time in power. Ironically, however, his greatest regret was bringing the current president and prime minister to Armenia from their native Nagorno Karabakh, the mainly Armenian-populated self-declared but unrecognized Republic in neighbouring Azerbaijan. The current favorite to take over from the current president is the prime minister, Serzh Sarkisian.

“Seeing the latest steps by Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian, I am increasingly convinced that I need to repent and ask for absolution,” he told about 20,000 people who gathered in the city’s Liberty Square. “Therefore, I belatedly but sincerely apologize to you for bringing Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian to Armenia and foisting them upon you.”

“If I made mistakes in my staffing policy – and I really did – this is the biggest one. In fact, this is not a mistake but a disaster which I inflicted on our people. So help me rid you of that disaster,” he added, drawing cheers from the crowd.

[…]

My initial impression is that the speech […] “contained a long-awaited critical analysis of his track record in government”. People may agree or disagree with what he said. But importantly, for the first time, he faced up his past in public and, overall, delivered expectations of the rally. His speech contained other important statements too which may be crucial in shaping up further developments in pre-election Armenia. Once more Levon proved that he is the one who is setting the ‘theme’ for the election campaign.

With three months left before the 19 February 2008 presidential election in Armenia, The Armenian Observer rightly concludes that Levon Ter Petrosian is now shaping up to be the main opposition candidate aiming to contest the vote against the prime minister. Given the dynamics of Armenian politics, the race is now likely to get very heated and potentially volatile. Moreover, with the objectivity of the media in Armenia questionable, bloggers are taking on a very crucial and important role.

And while there might not be many posts on the election for now, what is lacking in terms of numbers is more than made up in terms of quality. Photographs of the 2008 presidential election in Armenia to date are here.

All photographs © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2007.

Levon Ter Petrosian Rally

Hovannes Hovannisian, Opposition Rally, Liberty Square, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia

Levon Ter Petrosian Rally

Stepan Demirchian, Opposition Rally, Liberty Square, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia

Levon Ter Petrosian

Levon Ter Petrosian, Opposition Rally, Liberty Square, Yerevan, Republic of Armenia

25 comments

  • Voter Apathy Appears Widespread on Eve of Parliamentary Poll

    By Marianna Grigoryan
    Published May 9, 2007

    With just over a day left in Armenia’s parliamentary campaign, many voters say that it will take more than promises of a strong army or increased pensions to get them to the polls on May 12. Some sociologists put the disinterest down to political parties’ failure to use professional public relations techniques. Many parties, however, counter that they see no reason for experts to help them engage with voters.

    Frustration with past elections, which many voters believe were rigged, appears to drive much of the apathy.

    […]

    International observers have already noted this mood. During an April 27 press conference, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Armenia Office Head Vladimir Pryakhin stated that OSCE surveys indicate that more than half of Armenian voters do not want to participate in the elections.

    “It is difficult for me to say why it is so, but the latest surveys show that 90 percent of eligible voters do not connect their and their families’ future with the outcome of the upcoming elections,” Pryakhin told reporters. “It is not that they mistrust politicians, they simply do not feel dependent on them,” he noted about the elections. The fact that many Armenians rely on relatives abroad for financial support could explain the low interest in domestic politics, he added.

    http://www.eurasianet.org/armenia/news/050907.html

    European MPs Concerned About Armenian ‘Voter Apathy’
    Friday 13, April 2007

    By Ruzanna Khachatrian

    Visiting parliamentarians from the Council of Europe expressed concern at what they see as a widespread voter apathy reigning in the run-up to Armenia’s parliamentary elections as they ended a three-day visit to Yerevan on Friday.

    […]

    “The delegation was concerned over its overall impression of a lack of popular interest in the election process by the electorate,” read the PACE statement. “Such attitudes of apathy, or even cynicism, are not conducive to the development of democracy in Armenia.”

    http://www.armenialiberty.org/armeniareport/report/en/2007/04/5D952C49-1EA5-462D-A186-963341E1C7A2.ASP

  • And I think an apology or at least an acknowledgment that you were wrong in saying that I “didn’t have enough empathy to show up at” a rally I was obviously present at is in order.

    Regarding your accusation that I am attempting to silence you, to point out to readers that I never have.

    However, I have placed Armen on moderation on my personal blog as he always reverts to personal attacks and I have to edit out his expletives.

    An example of how his comments usually end up.

    Armenian relations with the Muslim world, for you, are exclusively limited to that one Iranian trucker you saw walking through your village, on his way to rape your sister. That’s what keeps you up at night. That’s the only thing that exists in your pea brain. Hell, you can’t even tell the fucking difference between Arabs and Persians. You deserve to live in the paranoid, rape fantasy prison that is your Armenoid, London-Peabody-Museum-measured skull.

    Another one which you used expletives in and which I had to edit out on my blog but which I post in full here now.

    New comment on your post #1632 “Vernisage, Yerevan”
    Author : Armen Filadelfiatsi (IP: 69.249.180.65 , c-69-249-180-65.hsd1.pa.comcast.net)

    Whois : http://ws.arin.net/cgi-bin/whois.pl?queryinput=69.249.180.65
    Comment:
    Patrik [sic] the Tiger wrote: “It’s always easier to be politically correct then having a real opinion.”

    Did you get an impression of me as politically correct person when I said that you think Iranian truckers in yours village are there to fuck your sister? Or was it when I said that you have pea brain? I don’t think anything that I said about you is “politically correct.” I think I made quite clear that I think that you’re a dumb fucking hick.

    Let me tell you something, Patrik [sic]. I’m a diasporan but I can carry gun. You understand that?

    Moving on, let’s look at your points.

    Patrik [sic] says “Countries like Lebanon, Egypt and Syria have a secular based political system, if they would for a second have a more Islamic regime the Christians in Lebanon and Syria would be extinct.”

    Iran is a NON-SECULAR MUSLIM NATION, bu there are Armenians in Iran.

    That pretty much blows your thesis to hell.

    Let me be politically correct and ask you: What are you talking about, you racist Armo, sister-fucking paranoid?

    A question for other bloggers out there. I edited out his insults and put him on moderation. What would you guys do? Does he breach the standard rules for commenting or not?

  • Armen Filadelfiatsi

    test

  • Armen Filadelfiatsi, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that you don’t read. Look below and it’s quite clear:

    * Comments on Global Voices are moderated.
    * If your comment does not appear immediately, there is no need to submit it again.
    * Please treat others with respect.
    * Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

    Basically, send as many test messages as you like, but they’re all moderated as is the case with anyone else.

    However, given your past record and inability to treat anyone with respect, I will stick very firmly to the said rules when considering yours.

    So, you have a choice. Make proper comments and polite reasoned arguments without insults or attacks, or not comment at all. I will not allow you to disrupt this section of the Global Voices site as you tried to do on my blog.

  • Armen Filadelfiatsi

    Um, I sent a rather comprehensive explanatory message that you did not put up.

  • Armeni – I have to support Onnik on this, as I’m sure, that you can do perfectly sensible, reasoned judgments, and sometimes highlight angles to the problem, that I’d never even think of. However, you very often prefer to become personal. Why? A smart guy like you definitely can crush the opponent in a civilized debate!

    PS: by the way – the Observer who has commented above is not me, and the positions s/he has stated have nothing to do with my standpoints whatsoever.

  • No, you didn’t send a thing.

    There was nothing and the past speaks for itself. I have always let your comments through although I have often had to delete offensive and personal attacks and remarks from my blog. However, I will NOT LET you destroy and disrupt this one as well.

    As I have pointed out, put your opinion forwards, but if you continue to make personal attacks on me or others you will be permanently banned because to be quite honest, I have enough to get your ISP to block you access for offensive remarks.

    Make your points, argue your case, but DO NOT EVER make attacks ESPECIALLY when you are nearly always wrong. Your history shows you usually swear and insult people while also not being able to distinguish fact from fiction or reality from your own imagination.

    And to repeat, there was no “comprehensive explanatory message” because you are lying. Sorry, that’s it and GV can quite easily check their server records to determine that.

    But, because I know you are unable to write such a “comprehensive explanatory message” because let’s face it, you’re not here and everyone who lives in or knows this country would consider you so uneducated as to the reality here they’d be in stitches, I urge you to post it here AND send it to Global Voices to avoid you being able to make such claims on this blog again.

    http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/contact/

    I’ve already suggested to them that you should be kept under tight control because of your inability to remain civil or discuss. Personally, I think you should be banned because you’re not interested in discussion, you’re interested in destroying any attempts at reasoned debate.

  • You wrote:

    So, you see, my last post, like most of my posts, was not an outburst at all. They are, rather, carefully considered positions based on facts interpreted in a theoretically informed way.

    Ok, so explain your “carefully considered positions based on facts interpreted in a theoretically informed way” when you wrote this:

    Did you get an impression of me as politically correct person when I said that you think Iranian truckers in yours village are there to fuck your sister? Or was it when I said that you have pea brain? I don’t think anything that I said about you is “politically correct.” I think I made quite clear that I think that you’re a dumb fucking hick.

    Let me tell you something, Patrik [sic]. I’m a diasporan but I can carry gun. You understand that?

    […]

    Let me be politically correct and ask you: What are you talking about, you racist Armo, sister-fucking paranoid?

    Also, please explain your “carefully considered positions based on facts interpreted in a theoretically informed way” when you accused me of not being at a rally that I was. As there are photos on this post which prove I was there, I think this says a lot about you.

    Again, my opinion is that unless you can make comments without attempting to disrupt, without attacking other people commenting, and without making personal attacks, you should be banned from Global Voices.

    You waste my time with your rants and you scare off other people with something to say and you usually do so by personally insulting them.

  • Onnik, I’ve used one of your photos in my post here (http://uzogh.livejournal.com/116401.html).
    While I have no information about the copyrights, credits, etc., I’ve put links to this post as a source for picture, and a link to your main blog under your name.
    Please let me know, if I’ve done something wrong

  • Uzogh, pics on this page are by me and are licensed under Creative Commons for use for not-for-profit purposes as long as they are not altered and a credit is given. Anyway, they may be freely used within those guidelines. Cheers.

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