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Armenia: Post-Election Revolution Scenario?

revolution

That there would be mass demonstrations immediately after the presidential election held last week in Armenia was known long ago. Many observers also figured on yet another attempt by the radical opposition to stage a colored revolution of the type seen in Georgia and Ukraine. However, few expected it to succeed, but a week after the 19 February vote, the situation is now gearing up for what might be serious confrontation between opposition supporters and the authorities.

At the heart of the post-election dispute lies the issue of succession to the incumbent and outgoing president, Robert Kocharian, who is unable to run for a third term in office under the constitution. Indeed, the 19 February presidential election was seen by most critics of the government as merely a formality for Kocharian to pass on power to his trusted lieutenant, prime minister Serge Sargsyan.

Serge Sargsyan

The radical opposition put its hopes on the return of Armenia's first president, Levon Ter-Petrossian.

Levon Ter Petrosian

However, with many such as The Armenian Observer believing that Sargsyan would be unable to pass the 50 percent + 1 threshold to win outright on election day, a second round was expected by most independent observers. Analysts and journalists alike were all convinced of that eventuality.

I still see Serzh Sargsyan as the front runner – he might have close to 35% of voter sympathy. […] I have a feeling, that excellent PR and aggressive campaigning finally did it – and Levon Ter-Petrossian now has perhaps 20% of vote. […]

But while most polling stations were reported as calm, albeit with international observers reporting “bad” or “very bad” problems with the vote and count in 16 percent of polling stations, civil society received many complaints of violence, intimidation and ballot box stuffing on polling day. Working in the newsroom of Internews, The Armenian Observer received many such complaints himself.

[…] Complaints and information on various violations kept pouring in. The situation was apparently several times worse in the Regions. Our journalists visited several sites of violations and noted the boldness with which those were being carried out: ballots stuff, voters intimidated, journalists hindered from their work. Reports […] give me enough background to state, that the authorities most coldheartedly raped the concept of free and fair elections and might as well get away with it.

It wasn't long before videos of ballot box stuffing and other disturbances soon found their way on the Internet. Faced with a generally positive verdict on the conduct and outcome of the election by international observers, however, it was no wonder that the final results did not change much by the time they were confirmed at the weekend.

Election Day

Of course, the final results — 53 percent to Sargsyan and 21 percent to Ter-Petrossian — didn't surprise most election observers. Even on the day of voting, The Armenia Blog wasn't expecting the presidential election to be fair.

Ah yes, today is the day where corruption, blind nationalism, and fraud all come together in the form of Armenia's Presidential Election! Who will win? Who will lose? One thing's for certain, this is not going to be a demonstration of democracy and whoever is elected will first and foremost get himself rich, then those near him, and whatever is left will be spread among the lower individuals in power.

The blog later commented on the post-election mass protests.

It seems tens of thousands of people unhappy with the results of the election have decided to take to the streets in protest. It appears that this minority isn't happy with the fact that Serge Sarkisian received the majority of the votes in a landslide election or that Russia and the OSCE have approved of the election and its results. […]

All of which didn't really concern the radical opposition much. Since the day after the 19 February presidential election, protests were being staged daily in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, and pulled large crowds averaging about 30,000 in terms of attendance. On 21 February, Ter-Petrossian's supporters announced round the clock demonstrations which included occupying Yerevan's Liberty Square. The Armenian Observer spent a night with demonstrators.

…and all that time I couldn’t help feeling guilty and responsible for everything that’s happening now. We all are responsible, aren’t we? But some are brave enough to stand up and fight, some, like me – look for excuses in not liking Levon or supporting Vahan – and some openly admit they are being raped by Serzh, and they even like it.

[…] Anyways – I’m not here for Levon. I’m here, because I deeply sympathize with these people. I always feel emotionally attached to people who sincerely believe in their cause. And I feel guilty for not supporting Levon – but, I just can’t! I dislike him. I don’t think he has ever done anything right! […]

Now I just really want to sleep. What was I doing out there all night anyway?

Opposition Demo

Such demonstrations are not new to Armenia. However, what has made the past week's turn of events somewhat different is the consistency by which that part of the opposition led by Ter-Petrossian has managed to gather tens of thousands of people on a daily basis in Yerevan's Liberty Square.

Unzipped reports that several officials and diplomats, albeit those mainly linked to the former president, either joined protesters or resigned their positions in a show of solidarity.

Four senior Armenian diplomats […] have resigned in protest of the conduct of presidential election and in support of opposition movement led by the first president of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrosyan. This information has just been confirmed by Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ruben Shugaryan was Armenia's first president Levon Ter-Petrosyan's press-secretary in 1992-1993, before (1991-1992) he was Ter-Petrosyan's aide.

Regardless of conflicting news of support by some high-rank officials in government, judiciary, military etc (some of them confirmed, others – not), it is clear that Levon Ter-Petrosyan has loyal group of supporters in governmental structures, who even after 10 years of him not being in power, retained their loyalty [and] joined the protest movement which is evolving to become a movement for democracy.

Moreover, to date there has been no attempt by the authorities to violently disperse protesters and that's even though they have simultaneously held marches through the city center which have disrupted traffic and have not been sanctioned by the municipality. More significantly perhaps, faced with a lack of coverage by the mainly government-controlled broadcast media, the marches were a powerful tool in conveying a message on the streets.

[…] one foreign correspondent at yesterday’s march by a few thousand female supporters of former president Levon Ter-Petrossian remarked that the move was a smart one. It was perfect for foreign news, he said. Another Western journalist agreed, specifically pointing out that riot police are less prone to violent suppression of such rallies when there are young women present.

[…]

Ostensibly, the march was to protest the lack of coverage of Ter-Petrossian’s protest rallies by Armenian Public Radio and Television, but to be honest, the reason wasn’t important. What was is that Ter-Petrossian’s team managed to score a publicity coup by giving both local and foreign media exactly what they needed. It was also a way to highlight to society that his movement, regardless of its real size, has diverse support.

Womens March

Ter-Petrossian, an academic who rose to power riding high on dissent within Soviet Armenia at the end of the 1980s, is also a skilled orator and considered a master at exploiting such situations. If anyone possesses the ability to destabilize the situation in even the most authoritarian of environments, it's him.

[…] Just watching him gesticulate and promise everything to the crowd is quite different than being present at a speech by the prime minister and president-elect, Serge Sargsyan. When people say that Ter-Petrossian has the ability to mobilize and retain the interest of his supporters with his presence, it’s true.

Ter-Petrossian

The rallies, such as one staged today, have encouraged many of Ter-Petrossian's supporters, and especially those now living outside of the country. Even though more and more key allies of the former president are being rounded up in swoops staged by masked National Security Service (NSS) agents, their mood is optimistic. One of them is Artmika at Unzipped.

Never before (in a decade or so) Yerevan saw such a big rally and such a huge protest against falsified elections, in support of their right to vote and the chance for democracy in Armenia. […] Ongoing arrests and detentions of a number of opposition supporters did not manage to intimidate people. Quite the contrary. […]

[…]

Whether current ruling regime will eventually manage to break down these protests, remains to be seen. They can only do it by imposing Stalinist methods (they already started – arrests, Bolshevik style propaganda…).

The fact that they lost already is out of question.

Archuk's Blog is a little more reserved and and says that reliable information is scarce.

Last few days I've been trying to figure things out before writing anything, because the information coming from Armenia is so contradicting, it's impossible to say what's true and what is not. My own friends in Armenia have divided in two camps, each one of them saying that are definitely going to come out victorious.

Opposition Protest

In a sense, The Armenian Observer agrees, but says that if Ter-Petrossian's demonstrations turn into a genuine pro-democracy movement, events can hardly be criticized. As a result, the blogger concludes, perhaps its now time for every Armenian citizen to take sides.

There is a lot of confusion in Armenia today. Information and misinformation flows follow each other – it is becoming harder to distinguish truth from lies. Protests continue in Yerevan’s Freedom Square, where opposition candidate, First President of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrossian’s supporters demand recognition of their candidate’s victory, although there was no objective indication throughout the electoral process, that Ter-Petrossian’s claims are true.

[…]

A very large part of voters, who are fed up with the incumbent authorities […] are still not ready to support Ter-Petrossian either, but would otherwise support anything that is an expression of opposition to the current regime and condemnation of election fraud. […] In this respect, I guess it would have been a wiser move, if Ter-Petrossian stopped claiming his dubious victory, and instead demanded justice and new elections – I mean – who can be against justice, even if calls to restore it come from a controversial figure like Ter-Petrossian?

[…]

Everything indicates, that as the opposition protests continue, undecided people are faced with the challenge to make a choice, and join one of the two opposing sides. It is becoming exceedingly hard to stay indifferent. In fact, it can no longer be justified.

A week after the 19 February presidential election in Armenia, that appears to be the situation with Ter-Petrossian hoping to attract the greater part of society, fed up as it is with high levels of corruption despite record economic growth, to his rallies. Meanwhile, as both the opposition and government apply pressure on officials to side with them, the scenario of post-election revolution in Armenia looks closer than its ever been.

Interior Ministry

However, when and how this will end is still not yet known. For now, the advantage appears to lie with Ter-Petrossian even though the international community and media does not appear to support his attempt at post-election regime change. On the other hand, bloggers such as The Armenian Observer still fear that it might all end in violence with a state of emergency being declared in the country.

Even so, the blog casts doubts on the ability of the authorities to control the situation later.

People have awakened, and Serzh Sargsyan, even if he manages to tackle this somehow, will never be a president with real power, authority and legitimacy. Even if Ter-Petrossian doesn’t become president (and I still see his chances as rather vague), he has already won.

Marilisa Lorusso's Blog calmly assesses the situation and says that how post-election events play out is not yet certain.

[…] It’s hard to say that in the last 10 years Ter-Petrosyan made the general public regret too much that he was no longer the President, and that a overwhelming majority of population is ready to follow him in his “struggle till the end”. […] Those who backed his run stand by him, but it’s hard to foresee, with international recognition of acceptably free and fair elections, if such a strategy can lead to a stroke, as he seems to expect.

But, as the first president and radical opposition leader appeals to the Constitutional Court, and as the authorities show signs of resorting to more draconian methods to stop opposition protests, some observers expect this week to shed light on what the eventual outcome might be. Interestingly, unlike past elections in Armenia, that will undoubtedly be first discussed on the Internet.

Photos: © Onnik Krikorian / Oneworld Multimedia 2007-8

41 comments

  • GT

    Armine +1000

  • Eric

    Hey Armine
    Levon is juts impudent and abusing the pelage of people for his dirty games! That is way Levon has to exagrate almost everthing

    The proble in Hayastan are not the election but first of all the lack of political culture and respect for opponents. Levov´s primitive statements are the best examples !!..

    Levon´s election program is and was: to take revenge nothing else! Levon has destroyed the chances of other healthy forces in this election..

    I am aware of the reality in Hayatsan so please try to be a bit tolerant while calling for “democracy” (this apples to Levon too) ;-(
    and do not make yourself a tool in the hand of Levon and extremist around him, who are after revenge!! Levon should first learn to respect his opponents this is the A and B of democracy and free and fair election

    IF LEVON was in a fair , free and a better political culture in Hayasatn interested he wouldn’t start such a primitive and aggressive election campaign still in Set. 2007.

    Levon has his own “plan” for oligarchies around him . all ex Ministers around Levon have in this or other way have broken the law in the past. YOU ARE READY TO CLOSE YOUR AYES TO THESE REALITES BUT ME NOT ! EVEN I WOULD NOT VOT FOR SERJIK! BUT BAD IS BETTER THAN THE WORST! LEVON IS THE WORTS THIS MAN HAS NEVER HEARD TO THINK AND THAN OEPN THE MOUNTH.

    Democracy for Levon means. Stay 10 years at home that trying to become a president by declaring a war to the ‘authorities’ As if Europeans have build democracy in one or 10 days.

    We all like to see a country of rule and low but to achiev this goal . one doesn´t need to destroy what was achieved. Levon 1988 made speeches without having a program or without knowing what he wants know he is holding one stupid speech after another and insulting who ever he dislikes!!! Levon in his last speech even had insulted other nations (e.g Mongols) I have the feeling this man is sick or just mental ill!

    There are many democratic elements in Hayastan which is not he case in Russia and CIS countries. SO Levon is the last Armenian in the world whom I would call a “democrat”.

    This was Levon´s regime who had opened the door for the immigration because he was not able to solve any social problem beside this some around Levon and Levon´s wife believe: Armenia is to small for 3 mil people!

    Levon is the last to call for “fair and free” election because he is the godfather of corruption and falsification of election in Hayasatan !

  • Narek

    Dear Armine, I don’t think that we will waste time to condemn people like Eric. None of them for their thoughts haven’t any guiltnessness. The major problem is our journalists` uinproffesionalism.
    It’s awful but it is real that Armenia is currently in informational blockade and our authority use all uninformed people against opposition. They never tell that people who are forced by Serj Sarkissyan supporters to take part in his organized “meeting” foster that the same people joined Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s rally.
    Currently I vie for Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s favour, though I didn’t vote him…Unfortunatly this time I also was a victim of our “national television campaign” and vote for A. Baghdasaryan,,,,,,who never save his energy to criticise Serge Sarkisyan and now it is told that he is the supporter of Sarkissyan…
    Unfortunatly we live one country where even politics are currupted and flattered, and if A. Baghdasaryan Signed such cooalition agreement to S. Sarkissyan, from that moment he was drawn forever,,,
    But I beleive that we will live one country where freedom, democracy and indipendence will be prominent characteristics.
    I beleive that journalist someday will realize that stimulating injustice and concealing truth will cause nation’s collapse… I hope that this country will be ARMENIA.

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  • karen

    this movement is not about LTP, it is awakening of armenian people. it is possible LTP got 25-35% of votes and sargsyan got about that much or little more. but people have seen all injustices during, before and after elections. LTP is a good orator and good leader that can use peoples feelings and thoughts and turn this into a democratic movement, even those that did not vote for him, many of them today protest elections and want justice. it is time for armenian people to fight for their rights and democracy. no one will bring that to them until they fight for it. no matter how will end this struggle at this stage, the result already is that armenians realize that they are in 21 c. and stalinist methods cannot be used to rule the country, to establish monopoly on everything- including information, economy, political and cultural life. this gives a good hope that there will be a change.

  • eric

    @ adear armine

    I came back from hayastan one week a go !

    i disagree with you any way I am not so emotional i respect your ideas but i assure you if you would read my anonymous articles about hayastan in internet you would understand me better

    i have answered your comments in length but my answer were not published…!

    the problem in hayastan is first of all lack of political culture and respect for opponents this is the A and B of democracy and free and fair elections!

    LTP is free to ask G. Bush for support the same Bush who twice had stolen the victory from his opponents !

    there are many strong elements of democracy in hayastan e.g to have reall altrnatives in elections which is not the case in other CIS countries… step by step we s
    ould built a true democracy in hayastan witout allowing extrimist to abuse te pelage / problem of people

    for me Levon Ter-Petrosyan is not a democart but somebody wäo is after revenge! LTP is responsible for a lot of misdeeds in hayasrtan people should not make out of LTP an hero ,

    If LTP were Kocharjan he would bring tanks just in the first day of protests !

  • eric

    @ dear Narek:

    If A . Bagdassarian has criticized S. Sarkisyan it doesn’t mean politicians should remain enemies for ever …

    Only a true coalition gov. can fight corruption etc . in hayastan healthy political forces should try to create a balance in system!

    According to Levon Ter-Petrosyan who ever is not joining him is a “traitor” is this democracy , tolerance and freedom fro you and armine?

  • you know wstop living in lala land because serg and levon dont care about arminia and distroying our country isnt gonna heip because it dosnt matter who wins because nothings gonna change peoplewho are rich are gonna stay rich and people who are poor unfortunatly will stay poor unless serg and levon and everyone else get off there lazy ass’s and do something about it. i love arminia but im glade im not trere.

  • politicts is gonna distroy us

  • Narek

    Again and again ordinar people are served as an instrument for the “achievment” of social end.
    Our president R. Khocharyan is only president for policemen, they served for president, they are prepareing “professional” reports in favour of president, that’s why he visits the police hospital where are only wounded policemen and ordinar people are ignored again. After declaring state emergency Armenia become policeland. Armeneian journalists report only the reportage that are prepared by police state. I am afraid that Armenian people will also start to think as police do.

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