On Saturday evening, March 1, on the eve of presidential election in Russia, Armenia’s Yerevan witnessed the mount of tension after the February 19 presidential election, when the country’s opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosyan lost to Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. The climax of political crisis in Armenia, Russia’s strategic ally in Transcaucasus region, will by all means have serious consequences both for Armenia and Russian foreign policy in the region.
Mass riots took place in Yerevan on 1-2 March, when “peace marchers” destroyed everything they found on their way and attacked the police officers. The crowd of protesters gathered near the city administration building at night. They set a few cars on fire, including some police cars, and destroyed a few bookstalls and “The Moscow House” shop built in 2007. As a result of clashes between the police and the opposition, 8 officers received bullet wounds and were taken to a hospital, some of them in critical condition. Witnesses reported all rioters were young.
There was a moment when the authorities let the situation go out of control. Thus, Armenia’s President Robert Kocharian had to declare a state of emergency Saturday night, which, he said, could last until March 20. The decree was later approved at the parliament’s extraordinary session. It was decided that troops and armored vehicles would patrol the streets to bring order to the city.
On Saturday morning the police dispersed an unofficial rally of the members of radical opposition who gathered on the Opera (or Freedom) Square after the February 19 presidential election. Two weeks before the election, the opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian announced he would not recognize any other results of the election except his victory over Sarkisian.
An “open-ended” rally in Yerevan and the “orange revolution” in Kiev in 2004 look very much alike with its loud music, tents, chants, mobile ring tones, mentally unbalanced public speakers and other traditional for such kind of “revolutions” methods, including Levon Ter-Petrosyan`s “Satanic dance”. It is remarkable that many of the “defenders of democracy”, who had traveled from the nearby districts specially for taking part in the riots, were very aggressive towards anyone who did not share their views. The “messiah” Ter-Petrosian even called Sarkisian supporters “the dregs of society”. As their hopes to split the authorities, and- first of all- the defense and law enforcement agencies- became weaker, some of the rioters attempted to distribute drugs among the people. A group of armed people called on the opposition members to seize control over Yerevan`s key objects, including the TV tower.
The Armenian authorities should be praised for being reserved enough to avert clashes between the civilians, especially in view of the 20th anniversary of the Sumgait Uprising (Michael Saakashvili suppressed a more peaceful rally of the opposition in a shorter period of time and by using even tougher methods). However, the rally could not last forever as the crowd of aggressive people would have certainly affected the work of civil and state institutions. On March 1 the rioters were ousted from the Opera Square. They moved towards the French Embassy and then divided into several groups not to let the police approach closer and started raising barricades in the center of Yerevan. The organizers of the riots found shelter behind the backs of women and children. Some of the drunken protesters had bottles of benzene, stones and guns. “The worst thing is that they start shooting when dozens of unarmed people could be injured. A gunman suddenly appears, makes a few shots and then hides again. The police cannot return fire as innocent people can be wounded. It seems that the rioters deliberately started shooting to cause numerous victims”- Robert Kocharian said. To bring order to the city the authorities asked the army to patrol the streets in Yerevan.
Experts had long been talking about an orange revolution scenario in Armenia. Now the moment has come. Of course, Armenia lived through harder times, but the current situation may cause a serious confrontation between the Armenian people. Turkey and Azerbaijan are keeping a close eye on the tensions in Yerevan. It seems that the outgoing President Robert Kocharian and his handpicked successor Sarkisian would manage to resume control over the situation. However, the country’s international prestige was shattered. And that was the main task of the opposition forces. Ter-Petrosian and his allies relied on the support from the West- the method widely used in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
These “western missions” have already demonstrated their interest in the recent uprising in Armenia. On March 1 some ambassadors from the EU, the OSCE and the UN held talks at the German Embassy with the opposition activists. After the meeting, street riots in Yerevan only mounted. The European delegates made a few cynical statements as they condemned the Armenian police and the authorities for the lack of “humane attitude” towards the protesters. The west has again demonstrated its adherence to a double standard policy. At first, the observers praised the February 19 voting but now they think it is the right time to change their views and accuse the government of vote fraud. “We must be ready to become even more critical if it is demanded by our (U.S-Aresehev) national interests,- a former co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, Special Negotiator for the Nagorno-Karabakh and Eurasian Conflicts, Steven Mann, used to say. –We have already taken some measures to escalate chaos in the countries where we would like to see democratic regimes and market reforms, and we also provide financial support for the development of private mass media sector”.
“Measures to escalate chaos” in Armenia, which were taken exactly ahead of the presidential election in Russia, mean nothing but an attempt to break off Yerevan`s political and military cooperation with Moscow. As a result of these western geopolitical games, Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh region may face very serious threats.
Of course, it is too early to make a through analysis of the recent protests in Yerevan but some conclusions can be easily drawn already.
1) The authorities need wide support from the population and should act in advance. “Levon Ter-Petrosian and his supporters were very upset to know that all candidates for presidency accepted Sarkisian`s proposal of cooperation”, Robert Kocharian said. Indeed, after the Republican Party, “The Prosperous Armenia” and the “Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law) Party reached a coalition agreement, the opposition had no chances to legally carry out their policies. But they had to work off the sponsorship money. In the long run, Ter-Petrosian called on his supporters to end riots for a while, until the state of emergency expires on March 20. But it is very likely that at the end of March Levon and his supporters will continue their protest campaign, stirring up separatist sentiments among the Armenians.
2) The presidential decree on the state of emergency in Yerevan says that the supporters of Ter-Petrosian, being unable to recognize the defeat, undertook illegal steps, including the delivery of arms and explosives to the places of mass gathering, and organized unlawful meetings and marches. The authorities are obliged to nip such activities in the bud despite any statements made by various non-governmental organisation or international observers. When a member of a foreign diplomatic mission, its headquarters in the country of residence looking more like a fortress, summons the officers of the law enforcement agencies to rebuke them, such country will no longer be treated as a sovereign state. Sooner of later, Armenia’s defence and law enforcement agencies will be forced to hand power to these “orange plunderers”.
3) In the world ruled by a “global hegemon”, any state needs clear-cut landmarks to carry out successful foreign policy. A well-conceived state ideology would also be a plus. Once Levon Ter-Petrosian was the first to say the country could easily do without national ideology. He imposed a set of “human liberal values” on the society, and, amid the ongoing political confrontation, Armenia took a path of destruction. The situation serves the purposes of criminals and instigators. If, after suppressing the riots, the Armenian authorities continue to lull people into a sense of stability and security by reporting annual economic growth, the recent “orange” campaigns in Yerevan could mark the decline of the Armenian statehood.