Tag Archives: Heritage Party

Blood in the water and the End of the Barevolution

It’s been almost a week since the Inaugurations and protests of April 9—and my last blog post, apologies. The short of it is that, if the lack of tweets is any indication, the barevolution is next to dead as a movement.

After the significant criticism Raffi got from his own camp regarding the events of the 9th, he gave a long response on facebook. The core of his defense is that he wouldn’t engage in actions that could lead to bloodshed, and that he was forced to be “flexible” because of the people. The first argument is defensible while the latter is not. In any coalition, you’ll always have differing views; the point of the leader is to select a path that the people support and can follow. Otherwise, the coalition starts to break down at the critical moment. The brutal weather did make it hard to communicate his plan, but there is no reason he couldn’t have communicated his steps earlier. Overall, Raffi was stuck between a rock and hard place, but the people expect a leader to be able to navigate choppy waters.

CivilNet has a video that summarizes the rally of the 12th. Armen Martirosyan, Yerevan mayoral candidate and arrestee on the 9th, has a nice quote:

“[A] leader is not hiding behind black walls … but standing in front of the people with his  family … leading the way. A leader like him might make mistakes, he might fall back for a second, but a leader like him never falls down. A leader like him always stands tall and leads us to victory.”

Unfortunately, Raffi didn’t provide any concrete plan to lead the people in the upcoming weeks and months and primarily echoed previous statements. He told people to come next week to another rally, the norm at his events.

Without any stated plan, Raffi’s coalition is breaking apart. The youth activist crowd is willing to fight “leaderless.” Pre-Parliament is starting to organize its own rallies. ARF-D backpedals from its support of the movement. The ANC criticizes Raffi’s actions and handling of the day and dismisses all of his rallies as “never pos[ing] a serious threat” (to the Republican’s delight). Everyone can sense the blood in the water, and there are plenty of sharks in the opposition that would love to knock Raffi down a notch or two for their own personal benefit. With ANC’s recent reorganization, they have a good chance to steal the momentum away from Raffi/Heritage/Barev Yerevan.

One group that deserves special mention in regards to the events of the 9th is the police and how surprisingly well they acted. There are activists that criticize the police for what they did. Just looking at some of the videos from the day demonstrates the aggression the police showed, at the height of the conflict. Just a short time after the conflict, the Armenian Chief of Police Vladimir Gasparyan walked with Raffi to the Genocide Memorial and even went as far as praising Raffi and calling him a “peaceful person.” Maybe it’s because of that praise that the authorities were openly annoyed at the “leniency” the police showed the protestors. The Ombudsman Karen Andreasyan did ask for explanation from the police for their actions, but the explanation the police gave is actually fairly reasonable, for a police department and especially for a post-soviet police department. [Updated:] The Ombudsman points out concerns but seems generally supportive of the police’s actions.

Of course, it’s easy to be upstanding when you have plain-clothes cops ready to rough people up, as this CivilNet video alleges. The video is heavily edited but appears to show aggressive members in the crowd shoving protestors with impunity, while the cops do nothing. When called out about it, Yerevan’s police chief says in the video that they would never have cops in civilian clothes and to bring a written complaint to his desk the next morning. Unfortunately for him, Gasparyan decided that he needs a fall guy and dismissed  Yerevan’s chief of police yesterday evening.


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Yerevan’s Municipal Election

With Raffi just finishing his hunger strike but still protesting the presidential election results, the Yerevan Municipal election is heating up. Even though the vote is over a month away on May 5, this is a good thing for Armenia as people need to care more about the political processes. The hottest topic is whether this will be a coup for Raffi and Heritage or whether the opposition is thoroughly crushed.

The opposition could not agree on presenting a combined list, but they are working together to prevent election fraud. Raffi has a large support base in Yerevan, so there is a great possibility that the opposition can win this election, (of course, it would have helped if they had a combined list…). But, with separate lists, it’s more likely that oppositional figures will get more lower level seats (I believe called the Council of Elders), but less likely they will nab the mayorship.

Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, people supporting Heritage in the upcoming election are getting harassed. The former rector of the Yerevan State Linguistic University has been summoned twice for interrogation by the National Security Service. His crime? No idea, nothing has been stated, but it is notable that he supports Raffi and is on Heritage’s list for the election.

Prosperous Armenia is trying to change the discourse of the discussion to practical tasks of the position. Their frontrunner, former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian of Civilitas, is focused on the practical tasks of ensuring constant water in the city and promoting a more business-friendly environment. In contrast, the Republicans view this election as an opportunity for the children of current national leaders to cut their teeth and develop into the party’s new guard.

Sadly, who wins at the polls and who actually wins power can be two different people. So, there is a big push to get election observers, both locals and foreigners. Without the attention that comes with a presidential election, it is much more difficult to get outsiders to observe the 469 precincts in Yerevan. With that in mind, there is a big push to get Diasporans currently in Armenia involved. Locals can be easily intimidated, but foreigners can stand up to intimidation (secure in the fact that their embassy will support them). If you’re here in Armenia and want to help, I’m happy to connect you. Either contact Transparency International directly, or email me (Gabe.Armas-Cardona@nyu.edu), and I’ll be happy to connect you with the organizers.

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Constitutional Court Constitutionally Barred from Conducting Thorough Examination of what might be Constitutional Violations.

Today is the last day for arguments at the Constitutional Court regarding election violations. Unfortunately, it’s also the day the Constitutional Court must give its verdict. Heritage and Andreas Ghukasyan have called for recounts in 576 suspect polling stations and for more witnesses, including President Serzh Sargsyan. The Court has to categorically reject these valid claims because of Armenia’s Constitution.

Armenia’s Constitution states that (in Article 51):

“If the Constitutional Court admits a case on the results of presidential elections, it must render a decision within ten days following the receipt of the application….”

Today is the 10th day, thus the Court is extremely limited in its abilities to collect more information. Thus, it can only rely on evidence that has been presented to it. Considering that Raffi and Andreas didn’t have the support of state institutions in gathering evidence, they’re at a severe disadvantage to disprove the legitimacy of the CEC’s official results.

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March 1 Recap: Quieter than Expected

Today is 1 March, and the day was probably quieter than anyone expected. Hovannisian held his “open press conference” at noon at Freedom Square where he answered the questions of anyone who wanted to come up to the mic. During that time, he criticized foreign powers, criticized the government for using the pretext of national security to scare people and delegitimize the protests, and vowed that no Armenian’s blood will be spilled on Armenian land. Then he led a march to Myasnikyan square and to a church to pray for the victims of 1 March 2008. It would have been insane for the government to repeat the actions of 2008, and one commentator said that Sargsyan knew what Kocharyan was planning five years ago and had learned from his predecessor’s mistake. The rally tomorrow is expected to be much bigger, as people don’t need to cut out from work to attend.

As mentioned before, the ANC cancelled its event and told its supporters to join with Hovannisian’s event. Interesting, and significantly, Levon Ter-Petrossian did not attend the event. Hovannisian has made a conscious choice to not associate himself with the ANC and, especially, all the baggage that comes with Levon Ter-Petrossian. While there are some hardcore Levonites, most Armenians think negatively of him and remember the corruption and poverty that occurred during his presidency.

One Republican commentator noted that this five-year anniversary brings a sense of “closure” to the killings. While he acknowledges the lack of any legal restitution, he acknowledges a sense of political closure. A Rule of Law MP (aligned with the Republicans) views the matter as completely closed. There is still the issue about the textbook that is heavily against the protestors. The parents of the victims said they were going to sue the textbook, but I can’t find any updates on a possible suit.

Yesterday, the comedian/performer (and overall good guy) Vardan Petrosyan spoke to the crowd. He was speaking as a normal person, and as a normal person he was proud that a movement had begun that is making Armenians shake off their indifference. Videos and pictures of yesterday are available all over.

Heritage has drawn a line and said that they will not decrease the pressure for government positions, not wanting to “cooperate with thieves.” ARF-D also views itself as part of the “new opposition” with Heritage.

Assorted links

  • RFE/RL has a longer analysis of the BAREVolution.
  • Sara Anjargolian has a great montage of photos from Raffi’s recent trip to the regions.
  • People are spreading guides and pamphlets for non-violent civil disobedience on facebook. It’ll be interesting to see how this movement organically develops, especially if Raffi does something to remove himself from it.

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Hopefully the Last Monolithic Post on the Presidential Election

I just got internet at home, so my posting should be a little more regular from now on. This also means I won’t ever need to have a ginormous post like this one again.

Student Protests

Today was the third day of the students protesting, and it’s getting tough for them. School administrators, other students and the police have aligned against the protesters and are stopping them from spreading their message at the school. Hetq’s reporter overhears some of the police criticizing the protestors as not true Armenians and having “alien” values. In an even stronger reminder of last year’s pro-diversity march, the reporter notes that the protestors are a mix of genders while the opposing students are all male. (more photos)

One political commenter supports the general protests but not the student protests because the student protests have nothing “to do with education.” Political education and engagement may not be taught in textbooks, but it’s hard to say those aren’t connected with education.

I work in the old Yerevan State University black building, and yesterday I saw a number of orange sheets of paper with “Բարև” (“Hello”) written on them, referring to the #barevolution theme. They were all gone by this morning.

Other Protests

Yesterday, Hovannisian went out to the regions to do another round of protests while giving the yerevantci a rest. Amusingly, the police blocked the road as the government regularly asks them to do to stop people from assembling. The problem is that they blocked the road to Yerevan, not from it. The government is not used to an opponent that willingly leaves the center of power because they don’t think of regions as a source of power except during an election.

Yesterday, people in Yerevan protested in front of the embassies of countries that have congratulated the President.

The protest in front of the Glendale consulate office gathered around 100 residents. The organizer said that the protest will be repeated every Sunday until Sargsyan gives up power.

Are you Down with the System? (terrible pun, I know)

One amusing episode of this election conflict is Serj Tankian’s (from System of a Down) open letter exchange with Serzh Sargsyan. Yesterday, Serj wrote Serzh a letter “congratulating” him on his victory. My favorite line: “That’s quite funny isn’t it? That you, the President of Armenia are not really sure, deep inside, whether you are the true chosen leader of your people or not.”

Amazingly, Serzh responded later that day! Here is the President who has kept quiet during all of these protests officially write a response to a US rock star. While the letter’s terrible English is laughable, the real significance is that the President was willing to communicate and explain himself with a Diasporan but not to his own people.

Serj wrote a second letter where he points out that the President didn’t answer any of his questions. Amusingly and confusingly, one of Sargsyan’s spokespeople said that Serzh “agrees with Tankian on the overwhelming majority of the questions raised.”

What Comes Next

Tomorrow, Raffi gets back into Yerevan and will be hosting another rally. The bigger news is the rally on March 1st, the anniversary of the use of force against protesters after the last election that resulted in (officially) ten deaths. I’ve heard from people with family in the military that the real number is around 30, but I obviously can’t prove that. The ANC typically has a March 1 rally, but as Heritage got the permit first, ANC is cancelling its protest and instead telling people to join with Raffi at Myasnikyan square.

The National Assembly will discuss the “consequences of this post-election situation and put forward proposals to ease this tension.” Who knows what that means and what the Republicans (who have a majority in the National Assembly) will allow or push through.

Assorted links (Enjoy!)

  • Mayors who “failed” the Republican party by having Raffi win in their areas are resigning. The obvious rumor is that they’re being forced out. Because of the trend of resignations only in areas where Sargsyan lost, there’s rumors that the Sargsyan is rejecting one mayor’s resignation to break the trend of resigning mayors. (Armavir is happy their mayor resigned, wishing it happened sooner.). Today, Sargsyan rejected the resignation, putting him back in power, to the annoyance of many of the citizens.
  • Prosperous Armenia’s position is interesting. Their vague statement  shows that they don’t want to join the opposition, but then aren’t going to blindly support the government. Perhaps Prosperous will try to use the opposition as a bargaining chip to extract more power from the government? Even if they might slightly prefer the opposition to the Republicans, they might be worried about becoming the de facto 3rd party rather than the de facto 2nd party in Armenian politics. “Hey look, we’re still relevant!”
  • The Human Rights Defender is pushing the police to releasing the information regarding the electoral fraud claims they rejected.
  • Stunningly, the police are charging someone with election fraud. It’s only the head of a village and not anyone of importance, but something is better than nothing (remembering that the police literally investigated and charged no one with any type of electoral fraud in last year’s parliamentary election).
  • Amusingly, Azerbaijan is highly critical of Turkey congratulating the President for his reelection.
  • A great in-depth article on the difference between Raffi’s goals and the popular movement.
  • Ianyan magazine has two great articles about the election.
  • 19 NGOs say the election “had no precedent[] in terms of public distrust” and demand a publication of the signed voter list. Considering that the Constitutional Court rejected this demand last year, it’s not likely anything is going to happen this time.
  • Raffi met with the Russian ambassador yesterday. While Raffi is often painted as a solidly pro-west candidate, there are a number of factors that make that not quite so, which I hope to get to in another blog post.

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Hovannisian going for the Vote

I earlier laid out three strategies the opposition could be following:

  1. Have a low voter turnout to delegitimize the election
  2. Have Hovannisian obtain a large share of votes to make it seem like Sargsyan doesn’t have a mandate and re-cement the opposition’s role as the opposition, or
  3. Communicate the lack of competition to international actors.

It looks like #1 is struck off the list as Raffi Hovannisian is calling on citizens to vote. It’s completely possible that the ANC’s strategy was #1, and Hovannisian simply has a different strategy, but I’d be shocked if his Heritage party and the ANC have not been in discussions on how best “to win” this predetermined election.

Hovannisian is also calling for a public debate with Serzh Sargsyan, which goes along the lines of strategy #2.

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Quick but Exhaustive Collection of Election News

There’s been a lot going on in the election. EurasiaNet has a good analysis of things, so I took a different route. Below is a broad array of links to recent news pieces to help bring people up to speed at a glance.

Who supports whom

  • The Free Democrats are undecided on who they will support and will wait until the candidates present their programs, a commendable decision.
  • Socialists are supporting Raffi Hovannisian. Unfortunately, their rationale is based on his character rather than his platform.
  • United Liberal National Party supports Sargsyan.
  • President of the Union of Yezidi supports Sargsyan.
  • Rule of Law Party will work with the Republicans.
  • Aram Haroutyunyan, National Consensus Party Presidential Candidate, believes he’s “the only one with the moral right to criticize the government,” as he’s never served in it.
  • Andrias Ghukasyan, Presidential Candidate and Director of Radio Hay, has called for the nuclear option: all opposition candidates “unanimously pull out of the election race.”
  • Heritage responded to Ghukasyan’s suggestion calling it pointless and is against a joint opposition candidate.
  • Ghukasyan also threatened to go on a hunger strike if the Republicans don’t nominate someone else besides Sargsyan.
  • Kocharyan said he didn’t run for a number of reasons, including not wanting to start a “fight for power between two natives of Karabakh.” Full interview here. Money quote: “The political situation in the country is so uninteresting that the reason I agreed to this interview is just my promise to give one.”

What they claim they’ll do (note how empty this section is)

  • Hrant Bagratyan, Freedom Party Presidential Candidate, presents his economic program.
  • Vardan Sedrakyan, the “epics expert,” said that he would recognize the independence of Artsakh and Nakhijevan. He also said that he wants to annex Javakhk, which has pissed off all the Georgians who don’t know that he has no hope of winning.

The electoral process itself

  • It looks promising that the media will treat each candidate fairly and impartially.
  • Policy Forum Armenia has a new report aimed at helping election observers spot the subtle types of fraud that were perpetuated in previous elections.
  • A special taskforce has been created in the Special Investigative Service to coordinate election observation.
  • The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) is concerned over the lack of popular trust for the election. Color me shocked.
  • Fourteen organizations have applied to observe the election. The deadline to apply is February 8.
  • One political analyst says that the government will rig this election by giving votes to an opposition figure to make it appear that the elections were competitive to the West.

Criticism and blame

  • The Democratic Party believes that half the people won’t vote, and that Armenia is not ready for elections “as one part does not believe in justice and the other part takes money.”
  • A Republican Minister comments on the inevitability of big money to enter the election and a few steps to limit its negative impact.
  • A well-written critique of the opposition “hiding in its den” instead of engaging in the election.
  • A former ANC member wrote a scathing “Ground Zero” article on the failings of the ANC. One of the criticisms is the ANC “flirting” with Prosperous Armenia, which may have led to some of the in-fighting within the ANC. Unfortunately, I can’t find the publication on the internet. It’s possible that the rumors of ANC considering turning into a party instead of a bloc is connected.


Regardless of the buzz of activity I list above. Don’t forget that a lot of Hayastanci simply don’t care about the election. Armenia is permeated with an air of pessimistic fatalism that this predetermined election will not cure.

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Elections! Elections! Read all about it!

Election season is in full swing. The Central Election Commission (CEC) has certified eight candidates for the February election; the other seven did not pay the required eight million dram ($20,000) fee to appear on the ballot. David Hakobyan, Chairman of the Marxist Party of Armenia criticizes the high fee as a means for the authorities to control the competition and wants a fee proportional to the candidate’s wealth. For the record, Armenia’s average annual salary is 1.45 million dram, making the registration fee comparable to $275,000 in America. The eight that were willing to pay the eight million dram are:

  • Incumbent Serzh Sargsyan (Republican Party)
  • Raffi Hovannisian (Heritage Party)
  • Hrant Bagratyan (Freedom Party)
  • Paruyr Hayrikyan (National Self-Determination Union)
  • Andreas Ghoukasyan (Director of Radio Hay)
  • Aram Haroutyunyan (National Consensus Party)
  • Vardan Sedrakyan (architect or “epic studies specialist”)

The official campaign begins on the 21st, and there is a lot of work to do. The CEC still needs to decide whether the portraits of Sargsyan that are up in sites that will be used as voting sites should come down (the answer is yes as it gives unfair preference to a certain candidate, the candidate in power, and may bias the electorate). Some Republicans openly admit that Sargsyan’s victory is a foregone conclusion but quickly add that that the election still is competitive.

The government has received OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) election monitoring team. The OSCE/ODIHR team is the primary international election observing institution. I wrote about the 2012 parliamentary election, including OSCE/ODIHR’s report, in this post. Here is an outline of the current mission and the list of the core team members.

As I stated earlier, this election is likely to be the cleanest ever as Sargsyan has no real opposition. The question is whether the opposition will be able to embarrass Sargsyan by either 1) having a low voter 2) Hovannisian obtaining a large minority of votes, or 3) communicate the lack of competition to international actors. Some of these goals are mutually exclusive, so the opposition will need to be tactful if they want to make it appear that Sargsyan doesn’t have a mandate from the electorate.

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The ANC Boycotts the Election, and how the Intrigue Around the Election is more Interesting than the Election Itself.

As mentioned earlier, the Prosperous Armenia party decided to step out of the election. They’ve now been followed by the ARF-D and the Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s Armenian National Congress (ANC). With these parties standing by the sidelines, the only political parties with any name recognition standing up in opposition to the Republicans are the Heritage party and Freedom party. Neither party has a chance, but at least Heritage’s Raffi Hovannisian can act as a lightning rod for the angry opposition. Thus, my prediction for the election is the incumbent Serzh Sarsgyan with 75% of the vote, Raffi Hovannisian with 20% and the rest of the candidates playing their “clown roles” getting 5%. There are currently only three people that have submitted the paperwork for candidacy, none of which is a recognized name. The other candidates have until 4 January 2013.

The more interesting question is what will be the election turnout. Either through active protest or passive submission, one political analyst feels that Armenians have no interest in the election because they know it won’t change the regime. This assumes that many Armenians vote thinking their vote has the power to change things and isn’t simply something to sell for a 10,000 dram bribe. However, if the outcome is guaranteed, the major parties may not engage in any bribery. Will Armenians engage in the election for its own sake or to show their support of their preferred candidate even when their vote has no democratic power or financial value?

Maybe to promote a low turnout, or at least change the narrative of a low turnout to active resistance rather than passivity, the ANC is boycotting the election entirely. In a public statement, the ANC declared “[a]fter rigging the 2008 presidential election and drowning the popular protest against election frauds in blood, the Serzh Sargsyan regime has for five years been doing its utmost to eliminate every possibility of democratic and competitive elections.” This boycott removes the possibility of the ANC supporting its constituent Freedom party’s Chairman, Hrant Bagratyan, who is likely to run. This boycott is being done to strip legitimacy from the ruling Republican party by illuminatingthe predetermined outcome of the election. Another political analyst describes it as taking away the appearance of a fair election, which the West demands on the government.

We will have to wait to see whether this delegitimizing strategy will work or not. Political big-shot Vazgen Manukian puts the blame for the current foregone electoral conclusion on both the government and the opposition. This election will likely be the cleanest ever in Armenia because of the predetermined outcome. If a score of NGOs all approve of the procedure of the election, it’s more difficult for the ANC to delegitimize the whole thing because of the (lack of) substance of the election. Plus, unless the people agree with the ANC that the government has created an unfair system, they are likely to view the ANC as trying to save face from a certain crushing defeat in the polls. The ultimate test could come down to the voter turnout for the election. With this year’s Parliamentary election turnout of 62.35%, it will be easy to see if there is a significant drop in turnout in February. Whether to read that drop as active disagreement with the government or mere passivity will undoubtedly remain a point of disagreement for a while.

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Oppositional Force Joins the Race for the Presidency, Outcome still Determined

It’s official, Raffi Hovannisian is running for the Presidency. Hovannisian is the founder and head of the Heritage party of Armenia. He was born in the United States but returned to Armenia after the 1988 Gyumri earthquake and later became the first Foreign Minister of Armenia.

Hovannisian is essentially the voice of the opposition in Armenia.* For the last five years, the two largest parties, the Republicans and Prosperous Armenia, had formed a coalition. After the 2012 parliamentary election that coalition has broken up, with the Republicans retaining dominancy in parliament. Thus, the role that the current opposition plays is unknown if Prosperous Armenia becomes the “real” opposition. Prosperous Armenia received more than double the votes in the parliamentary election than the Heritage party and Armenian National Congress combined. The weakening of the past opposition is furthered by the fissures that have developed within the Congress, including the possibility of splitting.

Hovannisian is also loved by liberal westerners who enjoy using terms like the “rule of law.” Thus,  Hovannisian as an opposition force automatically promotes the union between the Republicans and Moscow. Whether or not closer ties to Russia is good for Armenia is up to debate, but unsurprisingly, many western-trained Armenians want Armenia to embrace the policies and economic opportunities of Europe.

Realistically, whether Hovannisian runs or not, the outcome is predetermined. Without any “election irregularities” or vote buying—which will likely occur—the current president, Serzh Sargsyan, will win. As stated in the above article, many local Armenians are upset with Armenia’s lack of economic development, but without “an organized and [] united opposition in Armenia’s current political spectrum” there really is no choice besides the current party. On the plus side, the current party ensured that “they’re doing something” by raising the minimum wage from 32,500 drams ($81.25) to 35,000 ($87.50) a month.

*Levon Ter-Petrosyan, the first president, is the head of the ANC opposition block, but it’s hard to paint him as an opposition figure. In his views and methodologies he is similar to the current people in power.

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