Analyst: Georgian Revolution Holds no Lessons for Armenia

Analyst: Georgian Revolution Holds no Lessons for Armenia

Civil Georgia
2004-04-15 15:39:58

Q&A with Richard Giragosian

Armenian police has disbanded the rally on April 13 and dashed the
hopes of the oppostion leaders for the regime change similar to
Georgia’s “Revolution of Roses.” Use of force by the government has
underscored the need for further protests against Armenian President
Robert Kocharian, opposition says. However, as the analysts suggest
the political situation in Armenia today is significantly different
from that of Georgia in November 2003 when former President Eduard
Shevardnadze was forced from power on the wave of peaceful protests.

Richard Giragosian, Washington-based analyst and a frequent
commentator on events in Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus, who
contributes to RFE/RL Regional Analysis Reports, talked to Civil
Georgia about the key differences between today’s Armenia and
Georgia’s `Revolution of Roses.’

Q.: Armenia President warned the opposition they would fail to import
the revolution scenario from the neighboring Georgia. Do you think
there are preconditions for bloodless revolution in Armenia? Â A:Â
The political situation in Armenia today is significantly different
from that of Georgia in late 2003 when former President Eduard
Shevardnadze was forced from power in a peaceful `revolution of the

The key difference lies in the power of the state, as the latter
period of the Shevardnadze era in Georgia was marked by the cumulative
effects of a loss of state authority and power, devolution from the
central government in Tbilisi to the increasingly assertive and
restive regions, as seen in Adjara. This trend resulted in a
substantial loss of legitimacy as well as authority.Â

Thus, it was this vacuum of power and weakening of the state that
emerged as the most significant opportunity for Mikheil Saakashvili,
Burjanadze and, by the end, Zurab Zhvania, form taking advantage of
the situation to force Shevardnadze to resign. It also became
apparent that it was up to Saakashvili and his political allies to
emerge as the `saviors’ of the Georgia state.Â

This also means, however, that the Georgian people’s expectation are
very high and the demand for a fight against corruption and a
restoration of Georgian national pride and strength now rests on the
shoulders of Saakashvili and his still new government. There is hope,
however, that with the success in three areas, the Georgian government
is on the way to finally correcting the decline in state power,
authority and legitimacy.Â

For Georgia, these three successes comprise the following gains:
managing the Adjarian situation and taking on Abashidze, as well as
the ambitious reforms in the Defense Ministry and positive results in
tax and revenue collection and some early effective measures against

In Armenia, however, the reverse is true. A strong and assertive state
is exercising its powers of control and intimidation against the
traditionally marginalized and usually divided opposition. The key
difference between the revolution and Georgia and the outlook for
Armenia, rests in the Armenian government’ s overreaction to events.Â
The threats posed to the regime by the opposition are neither as
serious nor as illegal as the authorities in Armenia have contended.Â
In fact, the Armenian opposition remains limited by a reliance on
personality over platform, although the sate is locked in a cycle of
violence and an `arrogance of power’ that threats to only bolster the

Moreover, the Armenian state, through its use of harsh repression,
mass arrest and by an arrogant demonstration of `disdain for
democracy,’ is actually only legitimizing the politics of the
opposition. By acting, or reacting, with the full weight of the state
and by utilizing the coercive levers of state control, there may
actually be a point where Armenia reaches a pivotal period of
confrontation between an overbearing state acting under cover of
defending law and order with a disregard for democracy.  Â

Q:Â Non-governmental organizations have played a prominent role in
Georgian revolution. Are Armenian civil society groups influential

A:Â Despite some initial comparison, for Armenia, the Georgian model
of transition is unique and holds no real lessons for the Armenian
situation. The change in the Georgian government stems from a
complicated combination of factors, very few of which are seen in
neither of Georgia’s neighbors. In many ways, the outcome in Georgia
was due as much to the weakness of the state as from the strength of
civil society.Â

But the most significant difference with the Armenian situation is the
fact that the Georgia’s civil society was able to emerge victorious
fromits confrontation with the Georgian state apparatus because the
state (under Shevardnadze) had lost its authority and legitimacy. The
Georgian state under Shevardnadze was marked more by a looming state
of collapse, with discredited political elite, a bankrupt state
economy and constrained by corruption and a failureto exert any
control over many key parts of the country. Although this is rapidly
being corrected under President Saakashvili, the Armenian state
remains in full control and retains authority and legitimacy.

Specifically, the Armenian state remains firmly entrenched, with a
monopoly over the elements of force and power that it has not
hesitated to use, most recently even overused in a naked pursuit to
hold power at all costs. And despite the potential of the Armenian
civil society, there is no easy or open avenue to confront the
government, despite the illusion of the opposition’s demands for
impeachment and sporadic demonstrations in the streets.  Q: Is
opposition in Armenia strong enough and popular enough for staging
more protest rallies?

A:Â The opposition remains hindered by a fairly shallow reliance on
personality, at the expense of a political platform, and is mainly
united on the inherently limited basis of anti-government feeling or
ambition. But just as the opposition is only superficially united,
the pro-government camp is also aligned in an unnatural combination of
four political parties, united only in support of President Robert

There is also a key internal divide separating the Republican Party
from its more democratic, but weaker partners in the pro-government
camp. Specifically, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) and
the `Country of Law’ party (Orinats Yerkir) are increasingly troubled
by the outright swaggering ambition of their larger partner.Â

This may actually lead to some changes or shifts within the ruling
camp. This internal discord provides President Kocharian, who is not
tied to any political power base or party of his own, with an
important opportunity to exploit the internal dissension by utilizing
a fractured political base as a means to rule by coalition, without
the emergence of any one overwhelming party to potentially challenge

But the main point is that the true test for the stability and
legitimacy of the Armenian government rests on its handling of the
current crisis. The Armenian government may very well be the author
of its own demise, by overreacting to an exaggerated threat posed by
the opposition. The disdain for democracy may become too much for the
international community, and too much for the Armenian population (and
its Diaspora).Â

But the power for `regime change’ in Armenia is held by theauthorities
and not the opposition. It remains to be seen whether the Armenian
government’s recent pattern of violent reaction will continue or, if
the leadership recognizes the danger of their actions, will be halted
and replaced with a return to toleration and discourse.

The fundamentals of governance and power in Armenia can be seen by the
Kocharian government’s preference to look to Russia as a political
idol. The Russian political model offers Armenia specific tactical
and strategic lessons for the less experienced Armenian president and
his associates, including precedents for restraining an independent
media, marginalizing the opposition, subverting the rule of law, and
keeping the parliament powerless and ineffective.Â

Specifically, this Russian model of a strong authoritarian presidency,
free of effective `checks and balances’ or oversight, has appealed to
most of the post-Soviet Armenian political elite. The lessons from
Putin’s moves against the opposition and independent media have not
gone unheeded in Armenia, just as attempts at meaningful
constitutional reforms remain relatively symbolic and incomplete.

Thus, the real threat to Armenian democracy is most clearly
demonstrated by the tendency for governance by strong individual
leaders over strong institutional leadership. This dominance of
`strongmen’ over statesmen has emerged as one of the most
formidable obstacles to conflict resolution and regional