Levon Ter-Petrosyan as a Tool of Armenia’s Destabilisation
A long awaited happening, the interest to which had been fanned for months, took place in Armenia. On October 26, 2007 former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan, currently an actual leader of Armenian National Movement (ANM), the former ruling party made a 90-minute speech in Theatre Square in Yerevan. Despite quite a few logical discrepancies, pseudo-historic excursions, dubious allusions and populist declarations he declared his intention to run for presidency in February of 2008. Many people attended the meeting, but those who are still sincerely fond of the former president were evidently in the minority. There were many people who were there out of sheer curiosity and those who are always displeased with any acting authority.
On the eve of the meeting radical opposition from the pro-Western movement “Alternative” provoked clashes with police, which were immediately taken advantage of for the stirring up the situation, given that usually the authorities do not prevent their opposition from holding meetings, asking them to observe the law and order. Some Armenian media characterise the tactics used by the ex-president and his supporters as the willingness “to aggravate the internal situation, forcing the authorities to make another mistake at any cost.”1 Unsanctioned meetings, office capture raids and blocking the bodies of state, stirring up of domestic disorder and interference in the work of election commissions can be disguised as “spontaneous” people’s protest. A dramatic rise of foodstuffs prices can stimulate the spreading of rumours about “inevitable” political and socio-economic upheavals. This tactic has been tested many times in the countries where the “colour” coups were organised; in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and Kirghizia. An attempt of a coup undertaken by the radical opposition in Yerevan in 2004 (organised, along with others by Aram Sarkisian and Stepan Demirchian, who were seen together with Ter-Petrosian October 26) met with hard but legally correct suppression. Another Western project in the republic was Artur Bagdasarian, who finally discredited himself during the May 2008 parliamentary elections. What are we to expect this time?
The tonality of many statements of “the soft intellectual” Ter-Petrosian proves that the new election campaign will be quite acute. Again, as in the late 1980s, when Ter-Petrosian was desperate about gaining power, the wedge of a slogan “Struggle, struggle till the end!” has been forced in. But the fact that the “mafia-type clan regime” is criticised by none other than the genuine architect of this regime, is amusing. Ter-Petrosian’s call for bringing order to the nation looks especially mocking, given that the destruction of Armenia’s economy and key elements of its infrastructure (except for, maybe, the young national army) during his stint was systemic and targeted.
The rampage of arbitrariness was written off as inevitable aftermath of hostilities and Azerbaijanian blockade, which in particular were to deepen the “anti-Karabakhs” sentiment in the Armenian society. Using the Karabakh issue as a springing board for his leap to power, all his years as president Ter-Petrosian was obstinately pushing through his idea of making Karabakh prisoner of Azerbaijan (under the guise of “autonomy”), calling that “realism”2. However the fact that head of the Armenian state promised the earth to Ankara, reassuring the nation that a day will come when Turkey would unlock the frontier while Karabakh Armenians were on the brink of a physical destruction, spoke about helplessness and incompetence rather than the pursuance of foreign policies that could meet the nation’s interests…
The 1996 presidential elections were openly falsified to give the victory to Ter-Petrosian; opposition was suppressed never stopping of using tanks. In 1997, when the setoff between Ter-Petrosian on the one hand and other members of the political and military establishment on the other became evident, it was exactly the presidential side that resorted to a political combination aimed at the removal of the president’s opponents from the bodies of power. Attempts to provoke a political crisis by way of a series of acts of terror leading the way to a dismissal of prime-minister (Robert Kocharian) or the Minister of Interior and Security (Serge Sarkisian)met with the hard public opposition of Defence Minister Vazgen Sarkisian3.
And in 1999, shortly before his tragic death, speaking at parliament prime-minister Vazgen Sarkisian said to the nation that the energy crisis was not a result of the Karabakh war. To quote the documents of the interim parliamentary committee that investigated abuse of power at the time: “2058 railway cars with 115,000 tonnes of fuel oil shipped to the Razdan and Yerevan power stations in 1992 were not registered, as well as 1184 tank-cars at the Razdan power station (66,000 tonnes) and 874 tank-cars at the Yerevan power station (49,000 tonnes)4…
There were many other facts of this kind. The real cause of the crisis were rampant theft, total irresponsibility and the lack of experience of running the state of the ANM activists. The situation in the republic was precisely characterised by the statement of the former interior Minister Vano Siradegian in one of his interviews when he called the then prime-minister Grant Bagratian, the follower of Yegor Gaidar, “a madman”, who was running the national economy. In turn, Siradegian was accused of organising a series of contract killings5, and is now hiding somewhere outside of Armenia.
At present, a decade and a half after that many were naïve enough to expect former president Ter-Petroisan to admit his mistakes, recalling the hardships Armenians suffered in the first half of the 1990s. And naturally, their expectations were futile. According to the BBC7, he was not going to explain anything, as he did not think it necessary to give explanations in the early 1990s when the country was chilled to the bone without electricity and hot water for three years and when trees were cut in Yerevan for fuel. The former president did not change and did not learn his lessons. He confirmed that at the October 26 meeting saying: ”I am what I am, and that is the way I will stay.”7
Robert Kocharian must be right thinking the Armenians do not wish to see a comeback of things of the past. During his stay in Megri, Kocharian made first evaluation of his predecessor’s intentions to return to power. He observed that Levon Ter-Petrosian was not a principal candidate for presidency, so he would hardly be in the focus of public attention. Recalling the sad results of the ANM parliamentary campaign he added:”Seeing that the national economy has been restored, ANM again decided the time came to rob. With their mouths watered, they decided to lean on the resource of the former president8.
Certain groups in Armenia (a rather small country where informal relations and kinship play an important role) and influential players abroad (also a significant factor) are undoubtedly interested in the “advancement” of Ter-Petrosian. Confidence in self-righteousness of some of the ANM activists is organically combined with the anti-Russian rhetoric of a tonality close to that of their “senior brothers” in Georgia and Ukraine. It is curious to mention that Azeris also back Ter-Petrosian, doing that in a very unusual way. The most frenzied are yearning for blood9, while others wage the information war more skilfully, stating in particular that the hypothetical arrival of Ter-Petrosian to power will not be to the advantage of Azerbaijan as the man will – allegedly – rapidly put an end to the Russian presence, maintaining good relations with Washington, thus weakening Baku’s positions in negotiations on Nagorno Karabakh. Such propaganda ambiguities are made largely with an eye to Armenian Internet users who scoop their information from Azeri web sites…
There is no one questioning the importance of combating corruption, protection of human rights and the rights of a citizen, unless that becomes a pretext for interference in internal affairs of another state, a total or partial liquidation of its sovereignty and the formation of a state power system managed from outside10. The current Armenian leadership can be assessed differently. It has not yet solved many acute socio-economic problems. For example, the system of central heating in Yerevan that had “passed away” in the “glorious” days of Ter-Petrosian’s rash liberalism has not yet been restored. Karabakh, once a well-developed industrialized suburb of the Armenian capital now looks like a battlefield with its half-broken buildings with yawning broken windows that previously housed production workshops, robbed during the wild privatization campaign. However, one cannot fail but acknowledge positive changes Robert Kocharian spoke about: in 1997 Armenia’s budget amounted to a mere 300 million dollars, whereas in 2008 its revenues are expected to amount to $2.28 billion with expenditure amounting to $2.5 billion. The sizes of state budgets and GDP of Armenia and Georgia are about the same11, even though Georgia is in a much more favourable situation, given bigger territory and population, an access to the sea, and its sizeable revenues thanks to implementing together with Azerbaijan and Turkey joint communications projects. Lavish contributions to the current Tbilisi leadership for its anti-Russian line should not be disregarded either (by the way, one of the accusations Ter-Petrosian’s backers lay on the authorities is Armenia’s isolation from these much touted projects). However, expansion of the Turkish capital into Georgia in mid-term perspective can have quite unexpected consequences affecting its ethnic and confessional situation and stability.
Meanwhile to meet its national interests Armenia started implementing its own projects. They include the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Iran to Armenia, potentially with a branch to Europe, and the project of establishing single energy space with Russia, Iran and Georgia, commissioning of a new automobile road crossing the Megri pass in the mountains, plans of installing the second unit of the Metsamor nuclear power station, a petroleum refinery and a railway line from Armenia to Iran. In the times of Ter-Petrosian who cherished the idea of turning Armenia into a “Middle East crossroads “ the like of Lebanon, and who recently stated that the border between Armenia and Iran is effectively non-existent due to the complicated surface geometry of the region, such plans could not be even dreamed of. Peace and stability are required for the implementation of such projects, but given the unyielding stance of Azerbaijan in the issue of Nagorno Karabakh12 and its rapid militarization, the republic of Nagorno Karabakh in its present-day borders is a significant element of maintaining the balance of forces in the region.
Ter-Petrosian’s chances of winning the election are as good as nil. According to serious observers, in reality he can only count on the support of not more than a fraction of several percents of the electorate. His only hope is provoking meetings in the streets, pumping up destructive emotions, provoking dissent in the armed forces and law enforcement agencies and what is more dangerous, fanning parochial sentiment (for example, using the scenario of Aiastan – Karabakh setoff), the distinguishing feature of Ter-Petrosian’s “leadership” (especially in the last period of his presidency). Such event would inevitably throw the country back to late 1980s, the period of general upheaval, revolution-like street meetings that pushed him up to the top of presidential power in 1991. Such upheavals spell no good whatever.
Significant effort will be made to dupe the republic‘s citizens. This is an organic component of a possible scenario of the internal political destabilisation. The potential role of the indefatigable minority charged ideologically and amply fed from outside in both organisational and financial terms. In the event anyone else but Ter-Petrosian win the elections Western observers could come up with a bulletproof statement acknowledging their results as illegitimate. For greater persuasiveness some exit-pool results can be presented that would allegedly unequivocally support the “right” candidate. The outer legitimisation of the capture of political authority usually goes hand in hand with a strong information and propaganda pressure, including diplomatic channels (statements of official representatives of the U.S. State Department, PACE and OSCE foreign observers)13. What will be important at that stage will be the final result, hectic work to fit Armenia into the pro-Western “sanitary cordon” along the borders of Russia and Iran, whereas the actual transparency of the elections and presence or absence of falsifications will have no meaning whatsoever14?
The Russian presence in the Transcaucasia in the wake of the hasty and ill thought-out withdrawal of troops from Georgia as well as the forced Azerbaijan’s western drift (the summit of “the Caspian group of Five” would hardly reverse this process) is safeguarded, first and foremost, by union relations with Armenia and mutually advantageous cooperation with Iran (which still is to take its final shape). Implementation of major economic projects with the Russian participation in this region is hardly feasible due to the absence of Russia’s firm military and political positions. So Moscow is interested in the maintenance of stability in Armenia, continuity of its policies after the presidential elections and the continued presence in power of forces oriented toward consolidation of union relations with Russia. It is in Russia’s interests to back Armenia in this complicated period, promoting the smooth-going inner political processes in that country.
Moscow’s clear and unambiguous position in the eventuality of boosted attempts to shake Armenian situation during the pre-election period would by and large be decisive for ensuring stability both in that republic and in the Caucasus.
_______________________1 Azg. Oct.25,2007.
2 Due to the efforts of Ter-Petrosian and his team attempts to formalise the international subject’s legality of Nagorno Karabakh were undermined at the turn of 1991 and 1992 The move was extremely important in the wake of the break-up of the USSR and the referendum in the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh. Dec 10, 1991. – See: Shavarash Kochiarian’s interview to newspaper “Voice of Armenia” Oct.6,2007.
3 A.Migranian. Armenian Lessons (politics)// Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Feb.25, 1998.
4 VDK Gave the Facts and Called Names// Voice of Armenia, March 23,2000
5 Se for ex.: Voice of Armenia, Feb.2,2000 and other reports.
6 M.Grigorian. Ter-Petrosian Aims at Presidency// http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/russian/international/newsid_7064000/7064729.stm
8 Novoye Vremya (Yerevan) Oct.27, 2007.
10 V.Krasinski Elections as a Mechanism of Capture of Political Power and Pursuance of Foreign Policies // Military Political Journal No.3, 2006
12 Reports on Georgia. See V.Kazimirov. Is There a Way Out of the Karabakh Cul-de-sac? // Russia in the Global Politics. No.5, 2007.
13 V.Krasinskli (Elections as a Mechanism… – see above).
14 A short while ago Russia proposed limiting the activities of the OSCE observers on the post-Soviet space. This organization has long been a tool for interference into internal affairs of a number of states. Nevertheless, observers were already invited to attend the elections in both Russia and Armenia, but this proposal deserves to be kept in mind should some people get caught in another fit of pseudodemocratic phraseology.