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The current phase of Armenia’s election campaign has become most active in the past several months and is now close to its apex. For nearly a year the republic has been in a state of pre-election commotion (with a brief break in summer). The example of Ukraine’s early elections, when different branches of authority and insiders withstood one another, the political crises that permanently changed one another, clearly demonstrated what the genuine orchestrators of this “holiday of democracy” drove at. They aimed at splitting the society as best they could, provoking different groups to fight one another, enfeebling and discrediting institutes of state authority, and riding this wave trying to bring about a change in the foreign policy of the “experimented on “ country. Moreover, discourses of Ukraine’s potential NATO entry in 2009 are now hoary tales, and the West has stopped making special attempts to conceal the fact that the early parliamentary elections were a show aimed at dragging Ukraine into this Western military bloc.
We see a similar picture in Armenia, even though elections there are to be held as scheduled.
The election campaign could be called quite civilised but for the extremely noisy, aggressively malicious and hysterical acts staged by one of the candidates. The diversity of dirty tricks ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosian and his team demonstrated to “urbi et orb” defies imagination. (The political force that supports him, AOD [All-National Movement] found themselves outside Armenian parliament following the March 2007 elections. One can hardly agree to some experts who argue that in terms of funding his campaign Ter-Petrosyan is pressed for money. The cost of the production of only DVDs with his speeches full of revelations distributed in Yerevan may amount to hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars. The rhetoric of the former president is very reminiscent of Berezovsky’s speeches, and media (not only Armenian) offer story upon story about the links between the Armenian ex-president and the notorious oligarch. It is anyone’s guess whether there are other sources of funding, taking into account – for one – the encomium heaped on Ter-Petrosian by retired Turkish politicians and diplomats. For example, the newspaper “Zaman” writes: “Armenia needs a new government. Let us see if the Armenian nation realise that as much as does Ter-Petrosian.” “President Ter-Petrosyan’s good intentions with regard to Turkey were acknowledged, and I think that the present-day situation in the Caucasus could be better for all, had his policies been given the upper hand in its time,”- said Ozdem Sanberk, former foreign policy adviser to Turkey’s premier Turgut Ozal. To remind the reader: those “good intentions” boiled down to a never-ending ravaging of Armenia’s economy, the destruction of production sector infrastructure and a steady deterioration of Armenia’s foreign policies. Ter-Petrosian keeps repeating that nothing has changed about him since then.
Therefore the election campaign maintained by the ex-president is carried out with the serious financial and organisations support also provided from abroad, whereas his pre-election team is made up of most odiose characters. One is Vano Siradegian, the former head of the Ministry of Interior that under him sheltered a team of contract killers and mobsters (speaking at Siradegian’s “small home country”, the village of Koti, Ter-Petrosian said his victory at the election would automatically mean the return of Vano to big politics). Then it is ex-foreign minister Aleksandr Arzumanian, Armania’s Ambassador to the United Nations, who totally spoiled his mission. His only “advantage” is his American wide Melissa Brown. Then it is a former Armenian prime-minister Grant Bagratian, a reincarnation in Armenia of Russia’s Yegor Gaidar. Then it is the “heroes” of the April 2004 riots Aram Sarkissian and Stepan Demirchian, who stubbornly try to exploit the tragedy of October 27,1999, the shoot-out in Armenia’s parliament, when Vazgen Sarkissian, the brother of premier Aram Sarkissian and the former first secretary of the Central Committee of Armenia’s Communist Party Karen Demirchian (the father of Stepan) were murdered.
During a meeting staged by the supporters of Ter-Petrosian on February 9 (when according to some sources, busloads of people from the provinces were brought to Yerevan, which is something not just any candidate can afford), “sensational” discoveries were made to the effect that the genuine reason behind the 1999 events was the intention of R.Kocharian and S.Sarkissian to “secede” Armenia’s Megrin district to Azerbaijan.
On the eve of the event newspaper “Aikakan Jamanak” owned by another “screaming” opposition representative Nikol Pashinian published what it described as allegedly secretly obtained text of the agreement on secession of the Megri district in exchange for Nagorno Karabakh and the Lachinsk corridor. When tested, the document proved to be a banal “Gobble plan”, with descriptions of its gist along with geographic maps published by media, including Russian media, whereas a photocopy of “the agreement” was a poorly botched up flam. It should be taken into account that the Megri card has become an ace in the hole for the politician who just a few months before argued that the Megri road was not a path of economic development, and was consequently worthless. Meanwhile, Armenia’s south is exactly the place where communication projects important for the republic have been implemented in the past several months, including the Iran-Armenia natural gas pipeline, the construction of segments of modern automobile roads in that high-mountain region with a complicated relief, etc. Even the most adamant critics of Armenia’s authorities can not accuse them of an attempt to isolate Armenia from Iran, whereas the result of a potential loss of Megri would be exactly this. The danger of losing it would become much more real provided the success of the adventure nourished by the former president, who is known for his predilection to a certain type of “compromises.” One of these should evidently be his intention to dramatically reduce the national armed forces. The unilateral withdrawal of Nagorno Karabakh’s Defence Army from the buffer neighbouring territories would make the districts of Zangezur, and first and foremost, Megri extremely vulnerable. On the other hand, should the railroad Akhalkalaki-Kars be extended to Nahichevan, Azerbaijan and its supporters would be tempted to complete the transport and communication encirclement of Armenia, turning it into a completely isolated enclave. All this is a direct threat to Armenia’s statehood and – which is not out of the question – a part of plans of those who are so actively supporting Ter-Petrosian, a man who has no other objectives but revenge for his defeat at the 1996 presidential elections and his ignominious sacking in 1998. Attempts to destabilise the situation and a deliberate aggravation of the domestic political situation in Armenia completely coincide with the strivings of certain geopolitical forces, interested in changing Armenia’s foreign policies.
Instead of uniting Armenia’s opposition parties and groups, ten years after the above events the figure of Ter-Petrosian has further separated them. Other presidential candidates are Artur Bagdasarian, Vazgen Manukian, Artashes Gegamian and others. As often as not they are fighting one another. Vazgen Manukian, the leader of the National Democratic Union continues debating with Levon Ter-Petrosian about the outcome of the scandalous 1996 presidential elections. Artashes Gegamian accuses the ex-president of plagiarism for using his own ideas during the pre-election campaign, while Tigran Petrosian, president of the People’s Party uses the TV channel he owns to render indirect support to Serge Sarkissian. The rumoured coalition with Artur Bagdasarian and rumours about the support of Ter-Petrosian by the “Naslediye” (Heritage) parliamentary party and its leader Raffi Ovannisian proved to be groundless. On top of that Ter-Petrosian’s electorate cannot in principle be numerous, made up of the members of AOD and their families, a certain part of young people and pro-Western intellectuals (including those trained at special centres abroad). There are also a number of business people and leaders of small parties of different shade, for whom such a move is stipulated by inner reasons or the grudge they bear against the authorities. Many of them have no clear enough understanding of Realpolitik, willing to remove themselves as far as possible from what is known as the Karabakh clan” (given that Armenia’s top governmental jobs are given to many other people than just the residents of Nagorno Karabakh). All this makes Ter-Petrosian resort to populism, making advances to all those with a grudge against the present-day authorities aggressively appealing to different Western organisations. Signing assorted appeals that are accompanied by loud statements (the likes of “We have already won!”, “Yerevan is on our side”, “99% of people in the law enforcement agencies support us”, etc) the supporters of the former Armenian president are effectively calling on international organisations to put pressure on the official Yerevan regardless of what the actual results of the elections will be. “We have won!” Ararat Zurabian, the formal leader of AOD shouted February 9, 2008 at a regular meeting. “What is left for us to do is consolidate our victory on February 19!” And these are more than just words, given that a certain scenario of action has already been worked out. Irrespective of actual election results, on February 20 Ter-Petroisan (who, according to all opinion polls without any exception, does not stand a chance of getting to a second round of elections1) is to make a statement about mass violations during the elections. Before doing that, in the night of February 19,2008, mass provocations at the polling stations are to begin, the likes of mass clashes in Talin and Artashat. On February 20 members of Erkrap (organisation of the veterans of the war in Nagorno Karabakh) along with a number of small groups are to claim that the elections were illegitimate, declaring Ter-Petrosian’s victory and pledging allegiance to him, whereas Vano Siradegian would suddenly come out of nowhere to give an order to all the staff of the Ministry of Interior to obey “the legitimate president.” On February 8, the newspaper Aikakan Jamanak published another flam – an anonymous letter aiming to provoke Armenia’s National Security Service to get involved in the domestic political standoff. This way the classic dual-power situation can be installed with the follow-up attempts to capture the premises of law enforcement agencies and staging armed clashes in Yerevan with the participation of AOD military bodies. The organisers of the upheaval could then turn for support of the U.S. Embassy and other foreign missions. The state of unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan should prevent the public from resorting to extreme measures in the face of an adversary that can take the advantage of the mess in that country. Of course, Armenia’s socio-political situation remains complicated, as a number of acute problems are still unresolved. But no matter how critical many people are about the present-day authorities, they all remember perfectly well what was happening in the republics in the “glorious” 1990s; it was not accidental that no other than Ter-Petrosian now has the highest “anti-rating” among all the candidates. Opting for correct foreign policy guides has never been more important for the Armenian statehood. Prime-minister Serge Sarkissian, a presidential candidate from Armenia’s Republican party, stands for the continuation of Armenia’s cooperation with all power centres (Russia, Europe and the USA). This foreign policy line comes under fire from his competitors, but what they propose instead, is no alternative to his line.
Sarkissian’s victory suits both Russia and the West. He is viewed as a pragmatist and a strong politician with a sufficient resource of popularity; a man who is capable of finding a common language with statesmen both in the West and the East to ensure Armenia’s further development in the complicated geopolitical conditions. As for cooperation with Russia, it is a top priority issue, and the people in power in that republic know that very well.
Starting from 2006 and up to October of 2007 Russian investments in the Armenian production sector amounted to almost $1 bln, about one-third of the republic’s total investments. Different energy projects are underway, in particular, those for prospecting and development of uranium fields in Armenia; joint work is underway in the construction of a new unit at Armenia’s nuclear power station. New projects in Armenia’s extracting and processing industries are discussed with an eye to doubling the trade turnover between the two nations. Russia’s railway company RZD is obtaining a concession for operations on the Armenian railways (with prospective interconnection of Armenia’s and Iran’s railways). Should the situation in the republic is destabilised, these projects would undoubtedly be put off; moreover, a number of experts suggest that in such an eventuality Moscow would reconsider its attitude towards the “maverick” republic. How that would tell on Armenia’s security and economy that in the recent years have been showing good enough results, is clear.
Almost 700 000 permanent residents left Armenia in 1991-1996. The nation can hardly survive a second arrival of “Levon’s Witnesses”, especially if it is imposed by outside well-wishers
. ___________1 According to British Populus agency, 50.7% of Armenia’s electorate would vote for Serge Sarkissian, 13.4% – for Artur Bagdasarian, and 12.6% for Ter-Petrosian