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February 18, 2008 — The Candidates (special report)
Those citizens of Armenia who are present in Armenia on Tuesday,
February 19, will have the opportunity to head for the polls and
choose one of nine men as the country’s third president. Over the last
few weeks, the Armenian Reporter has published profiles of six of
those candidates. For readers’ convenience, the profiles are collected
in one place below.
To see the printed version of the newspaper, complete with photographs
and additional content, visit and download the pdf
files. It’s free.
1. Artashes Geghamian: "The first step is to create confidence in the
authorities" [Dec. 29, 2007] (by Vincent Lima)
* Repeats call for national unity
2. Vazgen Manukian’s priority is an independent and incorruptible
judiciary [Jan. 12, 2008] (by Vincent Lima)
* Calls for a national movement for change
3. Ter-Petrossian says 2008 is his year in the sun [Jan. 19, 2008] (by
* Promises jobs to those who support his campaign
4. The Candidates: Vahan Hovhannesian seeks to restore checks and
balances in Armenia’s governance [Jan. 26, 2008] (by Vincent Lima)
* Calls for an Armenian-Georgian union
5. The Candidates: Artur Baghdasarian promises to increase the birth
rate and decrease taxes [Feb. 9, 2008] (by Armen Hakobyan)
* Calls for Armenia to embrace the West
6. The Candidates: Serge Sargsian believes that Armenia’s future lies
in a knowledge-based society [Feb. 16, 2008] (by Maria Titizian)
* Promises fight against poverty
* Touts record as defense minister
1. Artashes Geghamian: "The first step is to create confidence in the
authorities" [Dec. 29, 2007]
* Repeats call for national unity
by Vincent Lima
YEREVAN — "The state is a living organism," presidential nominee
Artashes Mamikoni Geghamian told the Armenian Reporter on December 24.
"Now we have a sick organism. To heal a sick organism, it is necessary
to diagnose the sickness. In our program we do that diagnosis," he
added, referring to his National Unity Party’s "Anti-Crisis Program."
Mr. Geghamian, the last Communist-era mayor of Yerevan, who won 18
percent of the vote in Armenia’s last presidential election in 2003,
made these remarks in a meeting with the editor of the Armenian
Reporter, Associate Editor Maria Titizian, and correspondents Tatul
Hakobyan and Armen Hakobyan. The meeting was the first in a planned
series of encounters with candidates running in Armenia’ presidential
election, which is slated for February 19, 2008.
Mr. Geghamian, whose party won no seats in the National Assembly in
the May 2007 elections, said his first step as president would be to
work with the National Assembly through "consensus building" to
implement his program through legislation.
What cure does Mr. Geghamian propose for Armenia’s "sick organism"?
"The first step, in my view, is to create confidence in the
authorities," he said. "The first step must be to overcome the
boundary between the people and their government, so that every person
in the country considers himself the owner of his or her destiny, the
destiny of his or her family, and the country’s destiny."
* "A mission from on high"
Next, Mr. Geghamian said, "Armenia must announce to the world that as
one of the most ancient Christian civilizations, originating from the
Babylonian, Assyrian, and Sumerian civilizations, it has a mission
from on high. In its geopolitical position, Armenia is a bridge — a
connecting bridge, not a dividing line — between the Jewish,
Arab-Islamic, and Christian civilizations, that Armenia is open to
all, that Armenia has goodwill toward all nations and peoples, and the
issues that exist today in Armenian-Azerbaijani and Armenian-Turkish
relations are not at all a result of any ill will on our part toward
those countries or peoples."
Acknowledging that in Armenia the president manages foreign policy,
Mr. Geghamian proposed: "We must, in our minds, return to the seventh
century." He said Christian holy sites in Jerusalem were under siege
and Armenians showed the besieging forces a command from the Prophet
Muhammad calling on them to "show special consideration and
sensitivity toward Armenians, because Armenians have behaved in a very
Warming to his theme, Mr. Geghamian continued: "When you know that
your nation has been accepted and recognized by the holiest of holies,
the Prophet Muhammad, you are obligated to use it for your country and
state and for Armenian-Arab relations, Armenian-Turkish relations, and
relations with all Mohammedan countries. You have to publicize all
this. Ten years ago, the book Armenian Art Treasures of Jerusalem
 provided evidence of all of this. How can you not use these
* Karabakh: "Wholesome proposals"
Asked about the Karabakh conflict, Mr. Geghamian recalled that he was
in charge of the Mashtots district of Yerevan in 1987-89, and as the
district surpassed its construction quotas, he sent teams to build two
nine-story 32-unit apartment buildings in Karabakh.
Does he — like President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Serge
Sargsian — agree with the proposal put forth by the French, Russian,
and U.S. co-chairs of the Minsk Group of the Organization for Security
and Cooperation in Europe? The proposal would have Armenian forces
leave at least six districts of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic that
were not part of the Soviet-era Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Region,
leaving Armenia and Karabakh connected by a narrow corridor, leave the
final status of Karabakh to be determined in the future, and have
Azerbaijani displaced persons return.
"Being in opposition does not mean to oppose even wholesome
proposals. I am against that attitude," Mr. Geghamian said. "Here I
must state a simple truth. Alas, today the Republic of Armenia has
been defeated in the economic competition with Azerbaijan. Today,
Azerbaijan’s geopolitical position is more favorable than Armenia’s.
"Let me offer evidence," he continued. "It is already clear that the
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas
pipeline have not only made [Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey] close
economic allies but also strategic allies. Let’s add another
construction project that is most undesirable for Armenians: the
Kars-Akhalkalaki-Maraga-Tbilisi-Baku rail line, for the financing of
which Azerbaijan will give Georgia $200 million at a mere 1 percent
annual interest rate. Considering the fall of value of the dollar,
it’s Azerbaijan paying Georgia interest! Annually 15 million tons of
goods will be transported between central Asia and eastern Europe.
"In addition, Turkey openly announces its support for Azerbaijan,"
Mr. Geghamian said. "The lately dismissed Turkish ambassador in Baku
had announced that Turkey would be roiled by any fighting between
Armenia and Azerbaijan: all you need do is begin the hostilities, he
He said that if the United States goes to war with Iran, Azerbaijan
will come after Armenia and Turkey will aid it as a military ally.
"So I explain the policy of Robert Kocharian and Serge Sargsian as
follows: they are leaving no room for unjustified aggression against
Armenia," Mr. Geghamian said.
"Now, if you have decided to criticize the authorities no matter
what, and attack them on this question, that means you are either an
irresponsible political actor or uninformed. I want neither of those
labels, and I think in the present circumstances, it is appropriate to
agree to the proposals, while posing the following parallel issue: our
geopolitical role in the region should improve so that we can take a
harder stance, and the only way to achieve that is national comity,
national unity, consolidation, which we can achieve only if there is
mutual trust between people and the state," Mr. Geghamian concluded.
* Relations with the United States
Asked about the U.S.-Armenia relationship, Mr. Geghamian said he would
like to see Armenia as the closest ally of the United States in the
region. He said the two countries share an interest in long-term peace
and security in the region and the democratic Greater Middle East that
President Bush has advocated.
"And let us not forget another key factor for us Armenians: the
presence of more than 1.5 million of our compatriots in the United
States, who are proud of both their Armenian origins and their U.S.
citizenship," he added. "We must not only take this factor into
consideration but use it to our common advantage."
Reminded that he long favored Armenia’s joining the Russia-Belarus
union and the introduction of the joint currency (the ruble), Mr.
Geghamian said, "Nothing has changed. The mistake is considering close
relations with the U.S. as contradictory to close relations with
Georgia, Armenia’s northern neighbor, announced its intention to
join NATO, and Russia has been punishing it ever since, Mr. Geghamian
"It is absolutely not right to take Georgia as an example," he
responded. "Georgia mustn’t be likened to Armenia in this matter.
There is no alternative to our strategic alliance with Russia in the
situation that has been created. As for the creation of an economic
zone with Russia, and Armenia’s membership in that zone, yes, in 2003
I found that such a zone must be created, with Russia, Kazakhstan,
Byelorussia, and God willing Ukraine and Armenia. Why are we not
surprised by the Euro zone? No one sees that as a threat. When we talk
of a ruble zone, people take it into the political sphere."
* Charges of high treason
According to the Central Electoral Commission, Mr. Geghamian’s party
won 3.6 percent of the vote (49,863 votes) in the May 12, 2007,
parliamentary elections. How does he plan to build up additional
Mr. Geghamian disputed the election results, noting that opinion
polls showed that he personally enjoyed a 57 percent positive rating.
"In no poll did my party poll below 7-15 percent. Then what happened
happened. In free elections, the results would be different."
Had he not, however, conceded at the time that the numbers were
correct? Asked on May 13 by the daily Aravot whether he would join
those protesting alleged election fraud, Mr. Geghamian had responded,
"The 50,000 people who voted for my program, those 50,000 voted for me
to implement the program, not to start a revolution or take any other
He now said that many of his supporters had received bribes to vote
for one of the governing parties. "Nothing is more dangerous than a
population willing to sell its right to govern its country. Tomorrow
the special services of a country, be it Turkey or Azerbaijan can,
through their agents, spend not $10-15 million as is done now, but $50
million, and tomorrow or the next day, people may come to power in
Armenia who will hand over our victories, especially in foreign
policy, as regards, say, Genocide recognition."
Since former president Levon Ter-Petrossian’s announcement that he
will again seek the presidency, some of his opponents have made an
effort to portray him as Turkey’s lackey. Was Mr. Geghamian accusing
Mr. Ter-Petrossian of treason?
"I raised the question, the reader must make the interpretation. The
careful reader of the Turkish Daily News, Zaman, Cumhuriyet, and other
Turkish media," Mr. Geghamian said, will find articles that seem to
favor Mr. Ter-Petrossian. "I am making a political assessment. As for
moving to a legal assessment, that is up to the appropriate bodies."
On the basis of what evidence does Mr. Geghamian move from some
favorable press in Turkey for Mr. Ter-Petrossian to accusations of a
massive vote-buying scheme by a foreign government? "What I said is
that people in dire financial straits sold their vote in May. The
Bible says someone who sells his soul once will do so again."
Mr. Geghamian took his attack on Mr. Ter-Petrossian a step further.
Mr. Ter-Petrossian’s camp plans "to bring brute force to bear against
the government," he said. As evidence, he referred to past acts of
violence and provocation by Mr. Ter-Petrossian and his supporters, and
particularly a May 1990 confrontation with Soviet soldiers in which at
least 17 people were killed.
"We cannot stand aside and watch them destroy each other and allow
our enemies to take advantage of the situation," Mr. Geghamian said.
* * *
Artashes Geghamian was born December 2, 1949. His father Mamikon was a
Communist Party functionary, and served as first secretary of the
Artik district. Mr. Geghamian is a graduate of the Electro-Technical
Department of the Yerevan Polytechnic Institute (1971) and the Social
Sciences Academy (Higher Political School) of the USSR Communist Party
(1990). He is married, has two children, and grandchildren.
Mr. Geghamian served as the first secretary of the Polytechnic
Institute’s branch of the Communist Youth Union (Komsomol) in 1974-76
and as head of the College Students’ Department of the Central
Committee of the Komsomol of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic in
1976-78. Moving to the Communist Party organization, Mr. Geghamian
worked as instructor, sector head, first deputy of a department head
(1979-85), first assistant to First Secretary Karen Demirchian
(1985-86), and first secretary of the Mashtots District of Yerevan
(1987-89). From 1989 to 1990 Mr. Geghamian was the chair of the
Yerevan City Council Executive Committee — the mayor of Yerevan.
In May 1990, together with Vazgen Sargsian, he negotiated an end to
a deadly confrontation between Soviet troops and Armenian
pro-independence units in the Sovetashen (Nubarashen) district.
Mr. Geghamian was defeated by a candidate from the Armenian National
Movement in the 1990 parliamentary elections. From 1991 to 1992, Mr.
Geghamian worked as advisor to ZakavkazGazStroy and from 1992 to 1997
as president of Prometevs Exchange (trading in metals and foreign
exchange) and president of "21 Century (Dar)."
In 1995-99 he served as a member of the National Assembly, elected
as nonpartisan from the Mashtots district. He ran in the March 1998
presidential elections and collected less than 0.5 percent; he
endorsed President Robert Kocharian in the second round. He then set
up the National Unity Party, which in April 1999 joined together with
several political and cultural groups to set up the Right and Unity
Bloc (IMB), which came third in the May 1999 parliamentary elections
with 8 percent. (His election campaign was backed by Samvel Babayan,
who was then defense minister of Karabakh.)
Mr. Geghamian took an anti-Kocharian line after May 2000 (after an
apparent failure to become prime minister). He tried, unsuccessfully,
to forge alliances with Karen Demirchian’s People’s Party, and others.
In 2001-2, he refused to join the united opposition alliance. He ran
from president in 2003, and came third with about 18 percent of the
vote; in the second round he refused to endorse either Mr. Kocharian
or Stepan Demirchian. His party won about 9 percent of the vote in the
2003 parliamentary election, which brought him back to parliament.
With just over 3 percent of the vote in 2007, Mr. Geghamian’s party
won no seats in parliament.
2. Vazgen Manukian’s priority is an independent and incorruptible
judiciary [Jan. 12, 2008]
* Calls for a national movement for change
by Vincent Lima
"The basic problem of our state is that in the absence of an
independent judiciary, the people are unprotected," presidential
nominee Vazgen Mikhaili Manukian told the Armenian Reporter on
December 25. "Businesses are unprotected; workers and private property
Mr. Manukian, who was a leader of the Karabakh Committee in 1988,
the first post-Soviet prime minister of Armenia in 1991-92, and served
as defense minister at the height of the Karabakh war, made these
remarks in a meeting with the editor of the Armenian Reporter,
Associate Editor Maria Titizian, and correspondents Tatul Hakobyan and
Armen Hakobyan. The meeting was the second in a planned series of
encounters with candidates running in Armenia’s presidential election,
which is slated for February 19, 2008.
Asked about his first steps as president when his party, the
National Democratic Union, has no seats in the National Assembly, Mr.
Manukian noted that the president has broad powers to govern foreign
policy as well as law enforcement.
He also predicted a realignment of forces after an election in which
he — or any opposition candidate — would prevail: "I think that if
for the first time in Armenia’s history an opposition candidate is
able to win and become president, that will mean he has such vast
popular backing that the majority will no longer feel confident in
itself, especially since that majority’s party affiliation is pro
Such a realignment, he added, would bring about the possibility that
the National Assembly would nominate as prime minister someone other
than Serge Sargsian, whose party currently commands a majority of
votes in the parliament. That would be an opportunity, he said, to
form a better government.
* A new constitution
As president, Mr. Manukian would work toward the adoption of a new
constitution. The constitution adopted in 1995 and amended in 2005 was
"not accepted by the people," and does not fit the Armenian people’s
character, he claimed.
The most important point in the new constitution would be an
improvement of the judiciary. "At the same time, we need laws that do
not allow judges to become corrupted," he said, "because you can be
independent of the government and absolutely corrupt."
The new constitution would also greatly enhance local
self-government. The mayor of Yerevan and provincial governors serve
the central government, and "people’s dissatisfaction has absolutely
no significance for them, because they are appointed and dismissed by
Mr. Manukian would also include the right to voter-initiated
referenda, including the right to recall elected officials. He would
advocate for the abolition of the presidency in favor of parliamentary
Initiating constitutional amendments would not, however, be Mr.
Manukian’s first step. "Until then some sort of cleanliness must enter
the republic because the republic has become quite sullied," he said.
Again, Mr. Manukian would start with the judiciary.
* Fear of the future
He would continue with an initiative to abolish monopolies in the
economy. "One person imports all the sugar; one person imports the
cooking oil, the flour; and so on," he said. To bring about
competition, Mr. Manukian would have the government determine how many
shipping containers of each basic commodity are needed in a given
timeframe, and separately auction off the right to import each
"I think many wrongs have been committed over these years —
criminal, political, and economic wrongs," Mr. Manukian continued. "I
am not in favor of sitting down and reviewing ownership stakes.
Redistributing ownership would be wrong, except in cases where the
judiciary finds outright violations of the law." But he favored the
formation of a commission that would review "that which has happened
in Armenia over the last 15-20 years and give opinions, be it
political murders, terror, criminal acts. If the commission uncovers
evidence that is prosecutable, you prosecute. In other cases, you have
a moral assessment."
Mr. Manukian elaborated on his concern about people and businesses
finding themselves vulnerable: Businesses are subject to tax audits,
he said, in which they are fined for trumped up violations, and they
have no recourse. "Workers are absolutely unprotected, even though
there are laws protecting them. But there aren’t unions, and the laws
aren’t enforced because there is no proper judiciary. Our people are
unprotected, and the president has to try to resolve this problem,"
Mr. Manukian said.
People are afraid of the future, he continued. "People are afraid
that the unresolved Karabakh issue can bring a new war and their
children could go and be sacrificed in that war. People know that when
they retire, they cannot live on their pensions, because the pensions
are very low. People know that when their children grow up, they
cannot afford to pay their tuition. People know that if they get sick,
in the hospital they will be asked for sums they cannot afford," he
* Using time to Armenia’s advantage
Asked about foreign policy, Mr. Manukian said he thought "the
Karabakh issue is going to be resolved in the very distant future."
Elaborating, he said Azerbaijan believes that the passage of time
works in Azerbaijan’s interests, and it is therefore unwilling to
settle the issue. "The only way for Armenia is to use time to its own
advantage," he said. In addition, he said, he would make "great
diplomatic efforts" for the maintenance and enforcement of the
agreement on Conventional Forces in Europe, which limits the quantity
of armaments each side can have — no matter its oil wealth.
As the Karabakh issue will remain unresolved, Turkey will remain
reluctant to establish relations with Armenia, Mr. Manukian said. At
the same time, he noted, Turkey has EU aspirations, and it is under
pressure to recognize the Genocide and open the border with Armenia.
Mr. Manukian said he does not believe Turkey will recognize the
Genocide anytime soon; he reasoned that political relations are
therefore not likely to be established; but insofar as Turkey will
allow politics and trade to remain apart, he would work for the
development of trade and economic relations.
Asked about relations with Russia and the United States, Mr.
Manukian noted that Russia is becoming stronger, albeit not in the
most democratic way. The United States, in turn, has many powerful
allies in Armenia’s region, including Turkey. Its alliance with
Armenia is not its first priority. "For Russia, Armenia is important
because Russia has no serious allies in this region," he said. "But it
is not like Russia is committed to Armenian interests; if by
auctioning off Armenian interests it can gain something from
Azerbaijan, it will readily take that route."
Mr. Manukian said that the European countries and the United States
want to see Karabakh handed back to Azerbaijan and only then will they
allow Armenia to develop. "Not only do we not want to pay that price;
we cannot pay that price."
The U.S.-Armenia relationship, Mr. Manukian said, is not just about
relations between governments and NATO. "The United States is a very
important example for us of the development of new technologies, and
of democracy. We are not an Anglo-Saxon people; we have eastern
origins; we don’t have to be like America in every respect. But
relations between us and the United States are very helpful. I have in
mind not only relations at the top, but also horizontal relations,
relations between businesses, the exchange of new technologies,
relations among people."
* The lessons of ’96
In discussing his campaign, Mr. Manukian recalled the presidential
election of 1996, in which he ran against the incumbent, Levon
Ter-Petrossian. Late in that campaign, a fractured opposition rallied
around Mr. Manukian’s candidacy. After the vote, the Central Electoral
Commission announced that Mr. Ter-Petrossian had been reelected with
52 percent of the vote, while Mr. Manukian had come in second with 41
percent of the vote. There were major protests alleging fraud. Mr.
Ter-Petrossian deployed tanks in the streets to quell the protests.
Seeking to avoid bloodshed — and perhaps the kind of instability that
could provide an opportunity for a new Azerbaijani assault on Karabakh
— Mr. Manukian called on protesters to stand down.
"If we have ordinary elections, where people drop ballots in boxes
and someone counts them," Mr. Manukian said in reference to the 2008
vote, "Serge Sargsian will receive say 60 percent of the vote and
become president." If, on the other hand, a formidable "opposition
force" emerges during the elections, with popular support, the outcome
may be different, he continued. "It’s not like all the links in the
chain of authority would give their lives for Serge Sargsian to become
president. No, if they see that there is a big force on the opposite
side, they might cross to that side, or the people who facilitate
fraud may be afraid to do so."
The only opposition politician to hold rallies so far has been Mr.
Ter-Petrossian. Is he going to create the kind of movement that
rallied against him and around Mr. Manukian in 1996? No, Mr. Manukian,
said: "First, Mr. Ter-Petrossian as a person does not have the trust
of the people such that they might stake their hopes for future
changes on him." Second, campaigns "should not be built on
disgruntlement," he continued.
In 1996, there were members of the National Democratic Union who
wanted to organize rallies in Freedom Square, "using people’s
dissatisfaction, and then, like in 1988, take the wave of rallies to
all of Armenia and create a revolutionary situation and defeat the
authorities," he said. But Mr. Manukian rejected that advice. "The 5,
10, 15 percent of the population that detests the authorities with a
vengeance will always be with you. You mustn’t work on them. You must
work on the people who are opposed to the authorities but want
positive changes, those who want to see what comes next."
"I said, ‘Let’s act as if we live in a democracy,’" Mr. Manukian
said, still referring to 1996. He said he refused to hold rallies in
Freedom Square, except a wrap-up rally on the day before the election.
Instead, he traveled the entire country, meeting voters, hearing their
concerns, and putting forward his program. "We criticized the
authorities, but did not incite aggression against the authorities,"
he said. "We proposed a way forward, and slowly the people who wanted
change but were not revolutionaries came to us."
Mr. Ter-Petrossian and his circle "are relying on the angriest mass,
and that base cannot grow," he said. Those who will do everything to
be rid of the current ruling circle are not a majority but a tiny
minority, he added. The rest are dissatisfied, but they all want to
see a road, a team, a leader, who has come forth not to take
vengeance, not to destroy, but to offer something new to the people.
"Ter-Petrossian, it is obvious, will not get elected; he won’t even
take second place," Mr. Manukian said. "The second place will go to
Artur Baghdasarian or me or someone else. So I think the remaining
time should be used so these forces consolidate in some fashion: the
ARF, we, Raffi Hovannisian is very important, Artur Baghdasarian." He
recalled that in 1996 the opposition rallied around a single candidate
— himself — only two weeks before the election.
Why is so much bile being directed against Mr. Ter-Petrossian if his
chances are so slim? At first it was personal, Mr. Manukian said:
"There were people who thought they had an agreement that he would not
criticize them in the way he did." Then it was panic: "There was a
widespread opinion of Ter-Petrossian that he is very smart,
calculating, and would not enter the race if he had no hopes. I did
not think so because I know him, but others thought so." And now, he
concluded, it’s cynical: by focusing on Mr. Ter-Petrossian, his
critics are making the race appear like it is between Mr. Sargsian and
Mr. Ter-Petrossian, knowing "many, many people do not accept Levon
Ter-Petrossian as the lesser of two evils," and they will think about
voting for Mr. Sargsian.
* A golden age
"I consider this time to be a golden age for our people. Never before
has the world been so good for the Armenians," Mr. Manukian said. "I
want to see Armenians around the world develop into a team of free
individuals who first, compete and cooperate in a globalized world;
second, make a contribution to universal values; and third, make
Armenia one of the most important states in the region, which everyone
must take into account."
* * *
Born in 1946, in Leninakan (Gyumri) to a family displaced from Van
during the Armenian Genocide, Vazgen Manukian holds a Ph.D. in
mathematics. He studied at Yerevan State University, Moscow State
University, and the Novosibirsk branch of the Academy of Sciences of
the Soviet Union. He started teaching at Yerevan State University in
1972. He is married and has three daughters.
In February 1988 he became a member of the Karabakh Committee and
later that year its coordinator. He and other committee members were
arrested on December 10, 1988 — three days after the earthquake that
devastated northern Armenia — and spent six months in detention in
Moscow. Upon their release and the establishment of the Armenian
National Movement (ANM), Mr. Manukian became the first chairperson of
its board. He was elected to parliament in May 1990. On August 13,
1990, he became the first prime minister of Armenia since Simon
Vratsian had to hand power over to the Bolsheviks in 1920.
In 1991, as disagreements within the movement intensified, Mr.
Manukian resigned from the post and founded the National Democratic
Union (NDU), which became one of the main opposition parties.
Mr. Manukian was, however, appointed State Minister of Defense in
September 1992. He was instrumental in the formation of Armenia’s
armed forces. His tenure lasted until August 1993.
The NDU took fourth place in the 1995 parliamentary elections. In
1996 Mr. Manukian became the presidential candidate of the alliance of
opposition parties. According to official records, he received 41.29
percent of the vote, with the incumbent president receiving 51.75
percent. This outcome led to riots and the introduction of the army
into Yerevan streets.
Mr. Manukian won about 12 percent of the vote in the February 1998
presidential election, coming third behind Robert Kocharian and Karen
Demirchian. He did not endorse either candidate in the second round,
which was held because no candidate won over half the vote in the
first round. In the May 1999 parliamentary elections, the NDU came in
fifth with just over 5 percent of the vote, and Mr. Manukian was thus
reelected a member of parliament. In the February 2003 presidential
election, Mr. Manukian won less than 1 percent of the vote, coming in
fifth; he endorsed Stepan Demirchian for president in the second
round. In May 2003, Mr. Manukian was reelected to parliament on the
ticket of Demirchian-led Justice alliance. The NDU did not participate
in the May 2007 parliamentary elections.
3. Ter-Petrossian says 2008 is his year in the sun [Jan. 19, 2008]
* Promises jobs to those who support his campaign
by Tatul Hakobyan
YEREVAN — "I am telling you that I have won," presidential nominee
Levon Akopi Ter-Petrossian told journalists on January 11. "The power,
security, and tax structures, 10, 20 days from now will no longer
submit to Serge Sargsian and Robert Kocharian," he continued,
referring to the prime minister and the president. "There will be
dissidents at Public Television. You will see," he said.
These remarks came at a press conference held at the Marriott
Armenia hotel. The last time Mr. Ter-Petrossian had given a press
conference was on the twilight of his presidency, on September 26,
1997, over a decade ago. At that time Mr. Ter-Petrossian had tried to
persuade the Armenian people that Armenia should accept an OSCE Minsk
Group peace plan that called for Armenian forces to withdraw from
around Karabakh in exchange for security guarantees. The plan would
leave the final status of Karabakh to be determined later. That
approach was opposed by the Karabakh leadership as detrimental to its
security. Also opposed were then-Prime Minister Robert Kocharian and
Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan. In the end most of the parliament
members also sided with the Kocharian-Sargsyan position and Mr.
Ter-Petrossian was forced to resign.
The press conference was exceptionally well attended. So much so
that Mr. Ter-Petrossian quipped that he would wait another ten years
to hold another one.
This wasn’t the only light moment at the press conference. A
reporter for the Russian news agency Regnum started her question, "Mr.
Ter-Petrossian, when you become president," and then sneezed loudly
into the microphone. There were fewer than 100 journalists present and
a few hundred supporters of the former president, and they all burst
out laughing. When the room finally settled down, Mr. Ter-Petrossian
said calmly, "Bless you." The supporters gave the press conference a
rally atmosphere, interrupting the candidate’s remarks with loud
* Counting the votes
Asked how he would react in defeat if Western observers judged the
presidential election to be essentially free and fair, Mr.
Ter-Petrossian said, "I am opposed to the notion that democracy will
be established by foreign sources. We have to establish democracy
ourselves. Any external affirmation of that ideology does not bring
any benefit to us." He nonetheless appeared to attach special
importance to U.S. approval, saying, "I will be happy when the
consolidation of democracy in Armenia is such that the necessity of
Radio Liberty [funded by the U.S. Congress] will not be felt. The day
when Radio Liberty no longer broadcasts will be a day when we will
congratulate one another because there will be true democracy in
Radio Liberty broadcasts were banned in Armenia during Mr.
Ter-Petrossian’s presidency and restored in 1998 by President
In a recent speech Mr. Ter-Petrossian had noted that the OSCE and
the Council of Europe, both of which provide observation missions, are
not foreign organizations but multilateral organizations of which
Armenia had chosen to become a member.
Asked by the Armenian Reporter what steps he would take if he came
to believe the elections were rigged, Mr. Ter-Petrossian said, "The
person who asks this question must be prepared to protect his own
vote, and not demand that someone else protect it. There is the state,
there is the Constitutional Court, the prosecutor general, the Central
Electoral Commission, and it is their responsibility to protect and
preserve the votes of the people. As long as that awareness doesn’t
exist, nothing will change in this country. What will I do if the
elections are rigged? I will do that which I have done up to this
point. Being aware of my rights, knowing our laws and international
laws, I will take all lawful steps available to me, including
protests, rallies, pickets, and trials. This will be my chosen path.
"I will not destroy fences. I will not take over buildings. I will
not brutalize the speaker of the parliament," he said, referring to
riots that took place after he claimed victory in the 1996
presidential election. Referring to his leading opponent at the time,
Vazgen Manukian, he continued, "That candidate lost for that reason
alone. In 1996 he received 41 percent of the vote. In the following
presidential election he received 13 percent, and in 2003, 0.9
Mr. Ter-Petrossian then went on to say: "Vazgen Manukian is
convinced that he won the presidential elections in 1996. I respect
his opinion and conviction; let him continue to be convinced. But
politics are not about opinions and convictions. Politics is a legal
process. In 1996 he went to the Constitutional Court and presented
more than a thousand written protocols on voting results from
electoral districts, all the while being convinced, that those
protocols would prove that the elections had been rigged. There were
only a few protocols where there were some irregularities. In other
words, my adversary could not prove that the elections had been
falsified. Additionally, based upon those protocols, when the final
counting was done, my vote increased by 0.25 percent."
It was evident that the 1996 presidential elections were a sore spot
for Mr. Ter-Petrossian. It is equally painful for Mr. Manukian, who at
every opportunity states that he won the elections with 60 percent of
the vote, but the "power ministers" kept Mr. Ter-Petrossian in power.
The "power ministers" in 1996 were Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan,
who had publicly announced that even if Mr. Manukian received 100
percent of the vote, it wouldn’t matter because Mr. Ter-Petrossian was
going to remain president; Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian, who
later told Radio Liberty that the elections were indeed rigged to give
Mr. Ter-Petrossian more than 50 percent of the vote, allowing him to
avoid a runoff; and National Security Minister Serge Sargsian.)
* Why he has returned
"They ask me why I remained silent for 10 years and why is it that I
returned now to politics. In 2003 there were those who told me that it
was necessary for me to participate in the presidential election. But
I refused because I understood that it was not yet my time. 2003 was
Stepan Demirchian’s time in the sun. Even if I had placed my
candidacy, I wouldn’t have had a chance to win and I would have
undermined Stepan Demirchian," said Mr. Ter-Petrossian.
"You may ask, what has changed now? After the 2007 parliamentary
elections, it became evident that the opposition had lost its role as
a political factor. Why did I return? This is not a matter of
conscience; it is about clear political awareness, especially knowing
that I have to share in the blame for the existence of this
administration. Ultimately, I was the one who invited these people to
Armenia," Mr. Ter-Petrossian said, referring to President Kocharian
and Prime Minister Sargsian, both of whom are Armenians from Karabakh.
Mr. Ter-Petrossian, who came to prominence as a leader of the Karabakh
Movement, has been portraying Karabakh Armenians as foreigners during
his campaign. "If I had not invited them to Armenia, then these people
would not be lording it over us today. I will do everything in my
power to convince our people that this administration is evil. I
believe that it will be a nightmare scenario if we have to envision
another 10 years of this administration."
Mr. Ter-Petrossian was asked how he envisioned working with the
parliamentary majority, held by Mr. Sargsian’s party, if elected
president. He acknowledged that forming the government will raise
"serious issues because we do not have a majority in parliament. We
will have to work with this majority."
As for the executive branch, in Mr. Ter-Petrossian’s words, "Those
forces will come to power that are now by my side, those that support
or aid my candidacy. Everyone in this movement, proportional to the
amount of effort they invest in our victory, will be compensated with
appropriate offices in the ranks of our new administration."
The former president promised that midlevel and entry-level
bureaucrats will be in no danger of losing their positions. "We were
in power for eight years and we have cadres. But there are
professionals in this government who will remain, especially those in
mid-level and low-level positions. They are serious professionals and
have no reason to worry," Mr. Ter-Petrossian said.
* The Karabakh conflict
How does Mr. Ter-Petrossian envision the resolution of the Karabakh
conflict? In a speech on September 21, 2007, he had said that the
resolution of the Karabakh issue "during the past ten years has almost
become hopeless. I don’t know what needs to be done to get out of this
At a rally on October 16, Mr. Ter-Petrossian stated,
"Nagorno-Karabakh from the beginning for me was not about land or
territory, but exclusively about human rights."
For the former president there is only one solution to the problem:
"The realization of the inalienable right to self-determination of the
population of Karabakh. Other solutions are precluded not because of
the incompatibility of Armenians and Azerbaijanis, or religious
antagonism, but rather the obvious reality that Azerbaijan is not
capable of providing for the security, freedom, and well-being of the
population of Karabakh."
Mr. Ter-Petrossian has been critical of the current administration’s
acquiescence to the fact that Armenia represents Nagorno-Karabakh at
the negotiating table. This has led to Karabakh being left out of the
process and ultimately denying it the role of a full partner in the
negotiations. According to Mr. Ter-Petrossian, the last ten years has
seen the issue shift away from being about the right to
self-determination to an issue of disputed territory.
The former president said three steps are necessary. First, to
return to the original formula, which included Stepanakert as a full
partner in the negotiations. Second, to move away from the philosophy
of maintaining the status quo and work toward a philosophy of
resolution. And third, "It is pointless to be afraid or to avoid
concessions, because there is no other solution in nature."
Mr. Ter-Petrossian has not made clear what those concessions are or
should be. Mr. Ter-Petrossian, with some reservations, was in favor of
the 1997 stage-by-stage solution through which the resolution of the
Karabakh issue would be left for the future; Karabakh would receive
international security guarantees; Armenian forces would withdraw from
all surrounding territories with the exception of the region of
Lachin; the displaced Azerbaijani population would return to their
homes; international peacekeepers would come in. Baku, in its turn,
would have to open all lines of communication and release the blockade
of Armenia and Karabakh.
* "Serene Musings"
On January 6 Mr. Ter-Petrossian published his campaign platform under
the title, "Serene Musings." It has the form of an essay.
His "Serene Musings" puts forth the position that the economic
crisis of the early 90s was unavoidable, just as it was unavoidable in
all post-Soviet countries and Eastern Europe. Moreover, in Armenia’s
case, added to this was the earthquake zone, the 300,000 displaced
Armenians from Azerbaijan, the Karabakh War, and the blockade imposed
by Turkey and Azerbaijan.
The present administration, many of whose high-ranking officials
were also part of the Ter-Petrossian administration and held key
positions in Armenia and Karabakh, make a clear separation: the dark
and cold years were the fault of Mr. Ter-Petrossian, while he had
nothing to do with the victory in Karabakh. They credit themselves for
In his "Serene Musings," Mr. Ter-Petrossian writes, "Even with
additional problems, Armenia was among the first in the Commonwealth
of Independent States (CIS) that, thanks to structural changes and
improvements, was able by 1994 not only to slow down the economic
decline but begin to register economic growth. One year later we were
able to overcome the energy crisis. If we add to this that it was
during this time period that we were able to conclude the Karabakh War
victoriously, then it is difficult not to agree that it was heroism,
unprecedented in Armenia’s modern history."
* Economic deviation
Mr. Ter-Petrossian insists that Armenia has deviated from mainstream
global processes, has been reduced to total political and economic
isolation, excluded from regional development policies. As a result of
economic policies adopted by the current administration, three
fundamental principles of the market economy have been breached: a
level playing field, securing free and fair competition, and the
inviolability of private property.
"The most destructive violation of Armenia’s economy is the
widespread monopolization, with which more than half the wealth of the
country is concentrated in the hands of approximately 40 families," he
said. What he called the "artificial" valuation of the dram has led,
he said, to cost increases on products manufactured in Armenia, which
has been a "severe blow to manufacturers who export."
In his "Serene Musings," Mr. Ter-Petrossian writes that migration
out of Armenia has not subsided. According to studies conducted by his
supporters, in the last ten years 30,000 people have left the region
of Syunik, 80,000 from Shirak, 90,000 from Ararat, and more than
10,000 from Etchmiadzin.
"Half-empty villages, abandoned homes, divided families, vanishing
schools. This is the real picture of the Kocharian-Sargsian regime,
and not the expensive boutiques of downtown Yerevan, the restaurants
and modern buildings from which only 5 percent of the population
benefits," writes Mr. Ter-Petrossian.
* Mr. Ter-Petrossian’s dream
During the January 11 press conference, Mr. Ter-Petrossian also spoke
about the Armenian army. If there hadn’t been the Karabakh War or if
there had been a resolution to the Karabakh conflict, then Armenia
would not need the army it has today. "The guarantor of our existence
is our relations with our four neighbors," he insisted. "I dream of
the day when Armenia will have an army of 10-15 thousand.
"Until a final resolution of the Karabakh conflict, the Turkish
border will remain closed for us. When I speak of a resolution I don’t
mean a final resolution. I am convinced that if there is any serious
progress in the negotiations, then Turkey would open the border and
with that bring its own benefit to the resolution of the Karabakh
Mr. Ter-Petrossian’s close advisors from the 1990s have criticized
Turkey for failing to justify his faith in its willingness to respond
constructively to Armenian goodwill.
4. The Candidates: Vahan Hovhannesian seeks to restore checks and
balances in Armenia’s governance [Jan. 26, 2008]
* Calls for an Armenian-Georgian union
by Vincent Lima
YEREVAN — "Guaranteed changes in a politically stable environment."
That’s what Vahan Hovhannesian promises to bring about if he is
elected as Armenia’s next president. It’s not a promise, however, he
insists; it’s a contractual obligation. His major commitments are
listed in a short contract that he has signed; as of January 20, some
120,000 citizens have countersigned, according to the candidate.
Mr. Hovhannesian, 50, is a member of the Bureau, or global executive
body, of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun) and is
his party’s nominee. He spoke to the editor of the Armenian Reporter,
Associate Editor Maria Titizian, and correspondent Armen Hakobyan on
January 7. Armenia’s presidential election is slated for February 19.
"There’s one extreme that sees no need for change," he had said in
Glendale on December 15, referring to Prime Minister and presidential
candidate Serge Sargsian. "’All is well, everyone is smiling, there’s
construction throughout the city, what need is there for change?’ they
say. We see the need for change. But the other extreme, the former
authorities, that have set out to demolish everything, are
unacceptable to us too," he had continued, referring to presidential
candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian.
This middle position may seem odd to some, who have long seen
Dashnaktsutiun as a hard-line force in Armenian politics. But
"balance" appears to be the new watchword for the party, which has
been part of the government and a critic of government policies at the
same time. Even on foreign policy, where Dashnaktsutiun traditionally
has taken a maximalist position, the soft-spoken Mr. Hovhannesian
speaks of a peaceful process of regional integration.
"Under the constitution, the president’s basic responsibility —
besides the obvious responsibilities to maintain national security and
the constitutional order — is to maintain balance among the arms of
government," said Mr. Hovhannesian, who is a deputy speaker of
Armenia’s National Assembly. "It is that balance that is upset in
Armenia today. The Constitution lives a separate life; real life is
something else entirely."
Mr. Hovhannesian said he seeks to bring "the Constitution and real
life into the same plane."
* Supervising judges
To do so, and to restore faith in government, Mr. Hovhannesian would
start with "the places where the citizen comes into contact with the
state" and above all, the courts. Judges would come "under very strict
oversight on the part of the president, and all intervention in
judicial processes by other state entities, other officials, or ‘the
strong’ in general" would be "out of the question."
Asked whether strict presidential oversight would not be a form of
intervention by the strong, Mr. Hovhannesian said there is "an
established mechanism for oversight of the judiciary. It is not the
personal phone calls and pressure of the president. There is a Council
of Justice, which has the right to really review the performance of
judges. What we need is to plug this mechanism in and use it. I’m not
talking about some sort of extraconstitutional intervention."
Mr. Hovhannesian was asked about the recent dismissal, through that
constitutional process, of Judge Pargev Ohanian, who had rendered a
rare not-guilty verdict in a criminal case brought against
businesspeople who had confronted the state Customs Service. In this
case, as in the case of member of parliament Khachatur Sukiassian,
whose businesses were audited and heavily penalized after he announced
his support for Mr. Ter-Petrossian, there were elements of corruption,
Mr. Hovhannesian said. But punishment came only when their activities
"became politically sensitive."
An official openly violates the rules and the laws and his or her
violations are overlooked, he said, because that makes officials more
manageable. "And only when they try to come out of this environment of
manageability" are the violations acted on. "This practice must come
to an end. You messed up, you must be held accountable: you’re loyal,
you’re disloyal, that should not matter," he said.
* Independence and justice
How does he hope to reach this point? "The solution is very simple,
and at the same time, very difficult. Very simple because I can see
it. Difficult because making it happen will create certain tensions.
One of our slogans, and the most important, is ‘guaranteed changes in
a politically stable environment.’ All these solutions must avoid
bringing about upheaval."
His first step, Mr. Hovhannesian said, would be to change the way
elections are carried out in Armenia.
"The strong, who are able to circumvent the principles and rules of
justice and apply pressure on the judge, the police chief, the tax
inspector, the customs agent: Where does their power lie?" Mr.
Hovhannesian asked. It lies, he said, in the fact that the authorities
need them in order to win elections. "’You must bring me votes; I
don’t care how,’ they are told. ‘If you want, buy them; if you want
use your powers of persuasion. You are necessary to me for this
purpose. And in return for that, I will turn a blind eye to certain
deficiencies in your carrying out of your tax obligations, and in
general in your relations with the law. I will be more tolerant toward
you. You will be more equal than the others, as Orwell would have it.’
These are the relations."
As president, Mr. Hovhannesian said he would invite "the strong" and
say, "Guys, ‘there shall not an hair of your head perish,’ but
henceforth… you will go pay all your taxes, you will provide all the
services prescribed by law, you will not interfere with the ship of
state, the court process, etc. You will live like everyone; no one
will touch your wealth: go enjoy it. But I owe you nothing because I
was not elected thanks to your intervention; I was elected by the
Asked how he hopes to get elected in this context, Mr. Hovhannesian
said the ruling circle has three reserves through which it perpetuates
its power: These are outright fraud, the poor, or rather "those among
the poor whose votes can be bought," and the "administrative reserve:
urban district heads, village heads, provincial governors, and the
like." They, "in large part — but I would not say in its entirety —
provide for the perpetuation of that circle and thereby for their own
He said he plans to do all he can "to minimize the negative
consequences of the use of these three reserves by the authorities."
* Uneven development
Asked about Armenia’s economic growth and the distribution of wealth
among the people, Mr. Hovhannesian said, "Armenia’s economic
development is obvious and cannot be denied. We, too, with our
participation in the coalition government, have helped the government
take some of the right directions. And the progress is obvious."
He noted that certain sectors have grown especially fast. Others have
not. "Let’s factor out the reasons that are out of the hands of
Armenia’s government: blocked export routes. But there are also other
reasons: Armenia’s tax and customs laws do not support the local
producer. They are more supportive of the importer. For that reason,
imports grow constantly, and our trade balance is always negative, and
that gap is growing."
Mr. Hovhannesian was particularly critical of the terms of Armenia’s
membership in the World Trade Organization. In the absence of
protectionist tariffs, local producers have to compete with cheap
imports from abroad, such as cheap tomatoes from Iran, he said.
* Fighting in Karabakh
"When the ARF started its first underground operations in Armenia, I
was among the first who joined," Mr. Hovhannesian said when asked
about his role in the Karabakh Movement. "It was clear to us that
standing in public squares with our fists in the air, appealing or
making demands of this or that international forum, the Karabakh
question would not be resolved. For us it was clear that a
confrontation was unavoidable. And we prepared for that physical
With Azerbaijani massacres of Armenians in Sumgait and with attacks
on Armenians all across Azerbaijan, especially in Mountainous
Karabakh, the "violent, bloody stage of the Karabakh struggle began.
It was clear that the only possible response to that was armed
rebellion. Which is what our battalions did — in northern Artsakh, in
Hadrut," Mr. Hovhannesian said, adding that he "participated from that
stage. I participated because having served in the Soviet Army in the
Special Forces, on the border with China, I had gained knowledge that
was necessary to our young people at the time."
Asked how he sees the future of Karabakh, Mr. Hovhannesian said,
"There are political forces that look at the Karabakh issue as a
separate question, the resolution of which brings regional stability
once and for all. For us the Karabakh question is only one of the
components of the permanent struggle for the Armenian Cause. So any
resolution today is a stage after which we must prepare for the next
stages, which may take decades.
"We understand very well that what has been lost over 700 years will
not be restored through one miracle or one stroke," he continued. "The
ARF will never go to any adventure to put the people or the state at
risk. But, conscious that this is one of the stages, you must gain the
most you can, to help the future development of your country. Because
you can reach the other stages only after a certain amount of time in
peaceful, normal conditions, of strengthening your country, making
your people a nation."
In this context, Mr. Hovhannesian said he welcomes the continued
efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group to achieve a peaceful resolution of
the Karabakh conflict. "We salute all those approaches that have the
idea of a peaceful resolution at their core," he continued. "We must,
yes, insist and work on a peaceful resolution. And a peaceful
resolution unavoidably requires mutual concessions. It doesn’t work
that in a peaceful resolution one side gains the maximum. Armenia has
repeatedly announced its willingness to engage in mutual concessions.
This approach is not alien to us. (I mean to the ARF and to me
He did not, however "find it useful for Armenia’s president to get
ahead and speak of the content of our concessions when we have not
heard a word from Azerbaijan about its concessions." He noted that top
Azerbaijani officials tell their people that they will concede
nothing; "they speak of restoring the Soviet reality in its entirety.
This is naturally unacceptable."
* A Caucasian Union
The program of the Dashnaktsutiun calls for an integral Armenia that
includes the historically Armenian territories now in Turkey and
Georgia. What would Mr. Hovhannesian, as president, do to further that
"I would, as president, propose to the Georgians to take the example
of the European Union and to create a common customs and economic
zone: Georgia and Armenia," he said. "Yes. They would freely use our
rail facilities and our routes to Iran, etc., and we would freely use
their ports. The investments that came to us would encompass Georgia
In this case, he continued, "there could come a moment when the
Armenian-Georgian border would lose its essential meaning." He said
that the Armenian and Georgian peoples, "after a few thousand years of
being neighbors, live side-by-side only in the Javakheti area today.
In all the remaining areas, a Turkish belt has inserted itself between
us like a wedge. And today, with the Kars-Akhalkalaki railroad,
various energy programs, Turkey and Azerbaijan seek to close off the
neighborly relations of the Georgian and Armenian peoples, inserting a
* Peace with Turkey
"Turkey is another matter," Mr. Hovhannesian continued. "We understand
very well that the geopolitical reality that has taken shape over
decades cannot be changed easily. And our issue today is not to snatch
something from Turkey. Our issue is to have our just cause recognized.
When it is recognized, and first of all Turkey recognizes the
Genocide, this will bring us unavoidably to the idea of reparations.
The idea of reparations can develop in various ways. Our issue, then,
because we’d like to resolve these issues peacefully, is to develop
the idea of reparations in the right direction."
Mr. Hovhannesian argued that Turks as well as Armenians could benefit
from a just resolution of the Turkish-Armenian conflict. Armenians
must, he argued, "operate in such a flexible and smart manner with the
powers of the world and with Turkey, so that the Turkish people and
the Turkish state begin to understand that warming relations with the
Armenian people and the Armenian state also benefits them.
"The future will show which points of the ARF program can be achieved
in what order and at what time as part of those reparations," he
continued. "The position of Armenia in recent years, efforts toward
the recognition of the Genocide worldwide, are having very positive
results. But if the next president is not Dashnaktsakan," he warned,
"we cannot be sure what direction these processes will take and
whether we will not experience retreat, which can take us to a
Mr. Hovhannesian also noted that the "president takes an oath, upon
inauguration, to serve the security of the Republic of Armenia." He
added that he would have to work closely with other political forces
in Armenia’s National Security Council.
* The lessons of history
What keeps Mr. Hovhannesian up at night? "There are the issues of
today. And then there are the mistakes that have been made in history
and what Armenia’s destiny would have been if in the 18th century we
hadn’t done this, and in the 19th century we hadn’t done that, and in
the early 20th century we had done this, etc. But history is worth
nothing if you don’t take lessons from it. I take one big lesson from
all this: All our shortcomings come from a lack of faith in our own
power, and from a lack of willingness to fight for our own rights.
"The difference between a people and a nation is not well understood
among us," Mr. Hovhannesian said. "The people are those who live
today. The nation is also those who came before, with all the values
they created, their legacy, and those who have not yet been born. The
nation is the people in history."
He said he would like to see his National Security Council, or a
similar body, take the long view. "We, unfortunately, live with
today’s problems. We don’t have a clear picture of tomorrow’s
challenges because there isn’t in Armenia the forum for looking to
Not all the problems in Armenia "have to do with errors in the high
echelons of government. Some are rooted in our mentality," he said.
"But we will be able to make a difference over five years: a new
political culture, greater respect for the self. We have a nation that
has constantly been divided into communities artificially; every
citizen continues to live for the interests of his community: his
family, his extended family, perhaps his village, his compatriotic
union. But the consciousness of a common interest is what you must
give the people, helping them understand that your personal interest
can be realized only when the common interest is moving forward."
* * *
Vahan Eduardi Hovhannesian was born on August 16, 1956, in Yerevan.
After graduating from the Moscow Pedagogical Institute in 1978, Mr.
Hovhannesian served in the Soviet Army for two years. From 1980 to
1989, he was a researcher and section head at Yerevan’s Erebuni
museum, while earning a Ph.D. in history and archeology from the
Moscow Institute. From 1989 to 1990, he was a researcher at the
Armenian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Archeology and Ethnography.
From 1990 to 1992, Mr. Hovhannesian volunteered to fight for
Artsakh’s self-defense. At the same time he became a member of the
ARF’s Armenia Central Committee; in 1992 he became a member of the ARF
Following a government ban on ARF’s activities in Armenia in late
1994, Mr. Hovhannesian was in August 1995 charged with attempting to
overthrow the government of Levon Ter-Petrossian. Those politically
motivated charges were dropped shortly after Mr. Ter-Petrossian
resignation in February 1998, and Mr. Hovhannesian and other ARF
leaders were released from jail.
From 1998 to 1999, Mr. Hovhannesian was an advisor to President
Robert Kocharian. Following his election to the National Assembly in
May 1999, Mr. Hovhannesian served as chair of its Defense and Security
Committee; since his re-election in May 2003, Mr. Hovhannesian has
served as deputy speaker of Armenia’s National Assembly. He was
re-elected again in May 2007.
Mr. Hovhannesian is married and has two children.
5. The Candidates: Artur Baghdasarian promises to increase the birth
rate and decrease taxes [Feb. 9, 2008]
* Calls for Armenia to embrace the West
by Armen Hakobyan
YEREVAN — The youngest candidate fighting for Armenia’s presidency in
the February 19 election is Artur Vahani Baghdasarian, leader of the
Country of Laws Party (Orinats Yerkir, OEK). Age notwithstanding, he
is an established political figure, having formed a political party,
having won seats in parliament in consecutive elections, and having
held the post of Speaker from 2003 to 2006.
He was first elected to the National Assembly as a member of
then-President Levon Ter-Petrossian’s Armenian National Movement in
1995. Just before the 1996 presidential election, he wrote a book
devoted to Mr. Ter-Petrossian and other leaders.
He broke with Mr. Ter-Petrossian in 1998, shortly before the latter
resigned from the presidency. He formed his own party in June 1998. It
secured six seats in the 1999 parliamentary elections.
In the 2003 parliamentary elections, the party came in second place.
President Robert Kocharian brokered an agreement between the
Republican Party of Armenia, the Country of Laws Party, and the
Armenian Revolutionary Federation to form a coalition government. Mr.
Baghdasarian became Speaker as part of the deal.
Mr. Baghdasarian left the coalition in early 2006 and became part of
the opposition. His party won 6.8 percent of the vote and 9 seats in
the 131-seat National Assembly in the May 2007 elections.
An attorney and a populist pro-Western politician, Artur
Baghdasarian appeals to various constituencies.
* The birth rate
"The state must provide assistance to each newborn child, to each
newly formed family," Mr. Baghdasarian says in his election platform.
"There is no systematic and targeted program in Armenia today to
support families. The family is the foundation of the state and of
society, the main guarantee of their perpetuation. The negative trends
seen in this field, which endanger our national values, create real
threats for our country."
He proposes, therefore, a one-time benefit of 200,000 drams ($650)
for a family having a first child. Two children would garner 350,000
drams; three children, 500,000 drams; four children 600,000 drams;
five children 700,000 drams; and six children 1 million drams. "When a
family has more than six children, they will be provided with free
housing and car," he promises.
"Young families will be provided with housing through state and
municipal construction, interest-free loans, as well as long-term,
30-50-year, low-interest mortgages," Mr. Baghdasarian’s lection
* Lost savings
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and its currency, many people
saw their life savings, held in the state savings bank, disappear.
Mr. Baghdasarian promises, "The state will pay off all its debts to
the people and will fully reimburse the deposits."
This is a reiteration of a key election promise of Mr.
Baghdasarian’s party in the 2003 parliamentary elections. At that
time, the party was able to fulfill the promise, at least in part,
against the resistance of then-Prime Minister Andranik Margarian and
his Republican Party. Some people were able to receive reimbursements
on the basis of a formula that translated Soviet-era rubles to
* Tax cuts
Mr. Baghdasarian’s platform addresses the concerns of small and medium
businesses as well. "Taxes and duties will be cut; the economy will
grow. Small and medium businesses will develop unhindered," the
For Mr. Baghdasarian the most important tax reforms needed are tax
cuts and increased liberalization of the economy. "To eliminate the
system of political protection and illegal tax monopolies, fighting it
through all legal means. Low taxes are an important precondition for
economic growth," his platform reads. He would draw on the experience
of other countries in this regard and he would have the tax
authorities pursue tax avoiders, especially large enterprises and
those with political protection, with more vigorous enforcement.
In contrast with his child welfare proposals, there are no figures
in Mr. Baghdasarian’s tax reduction and tax enforcement program. (Mr.
Baghdasarian did not grant the Armenian Reporter’s request for an
* Joining the European Union
Mr. Baghdasaryan says that for Armenia, a small country in a complex
region, requiring a favorable resolution of the Karabakh conflict, "an
active, dynamic, and initiative-taking, flexible foreign policy is a
necessity. But our country for the most part simply notes this or that
development that is relevant to it. This approach is no longer
understandable to Armenia’s external political partners anymore; they
expect to see clear positions."
As a result of this failing, Mr. Baghdasarian believes, Armenia is
isolated in its region, "left out from more or less every important
program (the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, the
Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline, the Kars-Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi-Baku
What distinct positions does Mr. Baghdasarian advocate? "The main
goal of Armenia’s foreign policy should be membership in the European
Union. Obviously, this is a long-term program and cannot be realized
in a few years, but Armenia must explicitly take this route. This
first of all means implementing serious reforms in all areas so that
our country may get closer and closer to the standards required for
European Union membership. Armenia must be fully involved in regional
energy and communication projects," Mr. Baghdasaryan declares.
At the same time Mr. Baghdasarian believes "Armenia must develop its
strategic relations with Russia. The cooperative relations of the two
countries must be based on equality of rights, friendship, and shared
interests. Relations with the U.S. must be deepened, being based on
the principles of friendship and cooperation."
Mr. Baghdasarian’s Western orientation is the topic of several
passages in a book about the candidate by his aide Levon Mutafian. The
book notes that President Robert Kocharian helped Mr. Baghdasarian in
2003, insisting that he become the Speaker of the National Assembly.
"Through Artur Baghdasarian’s presence [Mr. Kocharian] perhaps hoped
gradually to come out of Russia’s oppressive influence, which he had
created himself, making Armenia a complete vassal to Russian
interests. The presence of a Western-oriented politician in the
country’s governing system, and the presence in government of the
Western-oriented political party he led could become miraculous
preconditions for breaking decisively with the Kremlin and meeting new
geopolitical developments and challenges with a position and
philosophy of [Armenia’s] own."
In the actual course of events, in April 2006, Mr. Baghdasarian
told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that while Armenia has good
relations with Russia, "Armenia’s future is the EU and NATO," and
"Russia must not block our way to Europe." This statement was not well
received in Russia and helped strain relations between the country’s
number-1 political figure, the president, and the number-2 political
figure, the head of the legislative branch. Mr. Baghdasarian stepped
down as speaker and his party decided to withdraw from the coalition.
(Eleven members of the party’s parliamentary delegation — all
businesspeople — defected from the party at the time.)
Now, less than two years later, Mr. Baghdasarian is fighting to
succeed Mr. Kocharian as the country’s number-1 political figure.
* * *
Artur Baghdasarian was born on November 8, 1968, in Yerevan. He first
appeared in politics in 1993, at the age of 25. He was elected as a
delegate to the district council of the Shengavit district of Yerevan,
and later as deputy chairperson of the council’s executive committee.
He was first elected to the National Assembly in July 1995, to
represent Shengavit. In September 1995 he was elected president of
Armenia’s Lawyers’ and Political Scientists’ Association. After the
resignation of Levon Ter-Petrossian and the departure of the Armenian
National Movement (ANM) in March 1998, he was elected chair of the
National Assembly’s Standing Committee on State-Legal Issues.
Mr. Baghdasarian formed the Country of Laws party (OEK) on June 20,
1998. He has been president of the party ever since. On March 30,
1999, he was reelected to the National Assembly, again from Shengavit.
He was then able to form the OEK faction in the National Assembly and
became its leader.
In the 2003 parliamentary elections OEK got 12.5 percent of the vote
(about 148,000 votes) in the nationwide party vote, through which most
of the seats in the National Assembly are allocated, coming in third
place. The party also had deputies elected in individual districts.
The combination made it the second largest party in parliament.
Under a coalition agreement signed with President Robert Kocharian,
the Republican Party of Armenia, and the Armenian Revolutionary
Federation, Mr. Baghdasarian became the Speaker of the National
Assembly on June 12, 2003.
He resigned from that position on March 29, 2006. The party came out
of the coalition and moved to the opposition camp.
During the 2007 parliamentary elections the party garnered fourth
place. According to official data, the party won 7 percent of the
total votes (more than 95,000 ballots), and received nine seats in the
In 1995 he defended his Ph.D. thesis. In 1997, in Moscow, he
defended his second thesis and obtained the degree of doctor of
science in law. He holds the title of professor.
6. The Candidates: Serge Sargsian believes that Armenia’s future lies
in a knowledge-based society [Feb. 16, 2008]
* Promises fight against poverty
* Touts record as defense minister
by Maria Titizian
YEREVAN — As the current prime minister and President Robert
Kocharian’s designated successor, presidential candidate Serge Azati
Sargsian promises stability and continuity as well as reforms.
He is running on a record of seven years of double-digit economic
growth. The portion of the population living in poverty has fallen
from more than half in 1999 to 27 percent last year. Average wages
have increased more than fivefold in the same period, from $40 a month
to $220. Armenia’s exports have increased from $234 million to over
$1.1 billion, and imports from $802 million to more than $3 billion.
The economic reforms of the past have worked, he argues, and it is
now time for "second-generation" reforms to "create the best
conditions for business and investment."
Mr. Sargsian’s platform calls for internationally competitive tax
and customs rates and policies. Where there is economic regulation, it
should help business by establishing a level playing field and
reducing risk. The platform calls for a focus on small and medium
enterprises. For state-owned enterprises, it calls for better and more
For agriculture, Mr. Sargsian’s platform calls for greater
industrialization and the establishment of food processing plants to
make produce available to distant markets.
Mr. Sargsian believes Armenia can become the financial services
leader in the region. "The Stockholm’s Stock Exchange entering Armenia
is graphic evidence of that," his platform says. Affordable mortgages
and car loans as well as insurance are among the services called for
in the platform.
* Combating corruption
Mr. Sargsian acknowledges in his platform that "corruption, the shadow
economy, and unequal competitive conditions" are serious problems for
Armenia. "One of the key issues of our policy will be efficiently and
consistently struggling against bribery and corruption," his platform
"We will strive for a new Armenian mindset that will not tolerate
the phenomenon of corruption. Personal contacts must not be the basis
of our system and whoever promotes bribery will not be considered as a
comrade, friend, or fellow party member but as a law breaker."
When asked by the Armenian Reporter’s Emil Sanamyan in an October
22, 2007, interview in Washington, about "the widespread perception
that certain figures in government and in business" can act with
impunity, Mr. Sargsian was unwilling to acknowledge that this is a
major problem. He had said, "There is a difference between perception
and reality. I state with all responsibility that today in Armenia
there are no individuals or groups that are above the law."
Mr. Sargsian continued, "The tax collection targets that our
government has set for 2008 will also help dispel such perceptions. If
we are able to meet our targets it will become clear to everyone that
no so-called oligarch is above the law.
"We have a complex approach to corruption that includes introduction
of stricter legal punishments for economic crimes, such as tax
evasion; higher salaries for state officials; more transparent
administrative mechanisms. Perhaps in this issue we are lacking a
public relations campaign that would showcase punishments for corrupt
"That is not to say that we do not have shortcomings, we have plenty
of them. And I appreciate all criticism of such shortcomings."
* Europe as a neighbor
There are differences in foreign policy between Mr. Sargsian and the
man he hopes to succeed. Mr. Kocharian has been reluctant to endorse
Turkey’s bid for European Union membership, saying only that the
accession process could work to Armenia’s advantage.
"We have an interest in having as neighbors states that are more
predictable, more developed, more democratic," Mr. Kocharian stated at
a joint press conference with then-President Jacques Chirac of France
in Yerevan on September 30, 2006. "We see no danger to ourselves in
the process of [Turkey’s] admission; perhaps the contrary. Of course,
we want that during this process the issues that concern us also find
their solutions. And that the system of values, the belief in open
borders that exists in Europe apply also to Turkey’s policy — not
just at the final stage of Turkey’s admission, if that happens, but
from the start."
In a December 11, 2007, interview with the Financial Times, Mr.
Sargsian stated his position. Under the headline, "Armenia Backs
Turkey in EU," the Times reports:
"’I think it would be good for us if Turkey’s desire to become a
member of the European Union were satisfied. Maybe the problems
between us could find a solution within a EU framework,’ said Mr
Sargsian, … adding he hoped Turkey would produce proposals for
improving ties with Armenia…. Referring to Recep Tayyip Erdogan,
Turkey’s prime minister, he said: ‘I don’t think it’s correct to say
he’s not committed to establishing relations with Armenia. We’ll see
what happens in the future.’
"Mr Sargsian, describing himself as optimistic that Armenia and
Turkey would make progress, asked: ‘After all, what do we gain, what
do the Turks gain, from the present situation? Even in the time of the
cold war, when Armenia was part of the Soviet Union and Turkey was in
NATO, we used to have a certain relationship with Turkey. A railway
line was built through Armenia to Turkey. A high-voltage electricity
line was built between the two countries. Why should my wish for
relations not be logical now?’"
Mr. Sargsian also rejects Armenian territorial claims against
Turkey. In his October interview with the Reporter, he said he was
"surprised by conclusions of certain second-tier Turkish officials"
that recognition of the Armenian Genocide "would lead to some other
claims. This is surprising, because it is unclear how one would lead
to the other. How can any territorial or other claims be realized
anyway?" he asked.
On the resolution of the Karabakh conflict, however, Mr. Sargsian’s
position appears to be much the same as that of President Kocharian:
an international status that would formalize the nonsubordination of
the Nagorno-Karabakh republic to Azerbaijan and provide for a direct
overland border with Armenia and international guarantees of
The two, along with the late Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan,
resisted a unilateral territorial compromise advocated by
then-President Levon Ter-Petrossian in 1997 that did not address
Karabakh’s status. Mr. Ter-Petrossian, who insisted on it, was forced
to resign the presidency.
* Qualified specialists
"The urgency of economic development in the 21st century is to form a
knowledge-based society. The main drivers are ideas and discoveries
and the ability to introduce these into everyday life sooner rather
than later," Mr. Sargsian’s platform argues. It advocates a
restructuring of the system of science and education in Armenia.
"Knowledge will be the only stable currency; therefore, a reliable way
of enrichment is to get a good education," his platform argues.
At a public rally in the province of Kotayk on February 10, Mr.
Sargsian said, "I cannot see how Armenia is to develop without
knowledge and advanced research."
At the same rally he added, "I am going to wage a deadly fight
against poverty by ensuring that our plants and factories are
rehabilitated from idleness. Our children should live in a society
healthier than the one we live in now and the government should avail
itself of every citizen’s contribution. My team will be a squad of
professionals who will be set the task of making Armenia the country
of dreams of any Armenian so that we are quoted as an example by other
Mr. Sargsian emphasizes the maturity and professionalism of his
team, in contrast to the teams put forward by all his opponents, and
especially that led by Mr. Ter-Petrossian. Although in the campaign
for the May 2007 parliamentary elections, Mr. Sargsian had called the
Armenian Revolutionary Federation’s pledge to double pensions a "fairy
tale," in the run-up to the presidential election Mr. Sargsian’s
government pushed through a 65 percent raise in pensions. He now
promises further increases to "ensure a decent life for pensioners."
Mr. Sargsian’s campaign also notes his experience as Armenia’s
longest-serving defense minister, and the progress the Armenian armed
forces have made under his leadership, arguing that of all candidates
in the field he would make the best commander-in-chief.
* * *
Serge Sargsian was born on June 30, 1954, in Stepanakert in a family
originally from the village of Tegh in the Goris district of Armenia.
Following two years of army service, Mr. Sargsian graduated from the
philology department of Yerevan State University in 1979; concurrently
he worked as a welder at the Yerevan electro-technical plant. From
1979 to 1988, Mr. Sargsian worked in the Communist Party structures of
Nagorno-Karabakh rising to the post of senior aid to the region’s
first secretary, Genrikh Poghosian, in 1988.
From 1989 to 1993 Mr. Sargsian was in charge of the Self-Defense
Forces of Nagorno-Karabakh, playing one of the leading roles in the
movement for Karabakh’s freedom, mobilizing broad support for the
Armenian war effort and ensuring the survival of Karabakh’s
population. From 1990 to 1995, Mr. Sargsian was concurrently an
elected member of Armenia’s Supreme Council (Parliament).
In 1993, Mr. Sargsian was invited to join the Armenian government,
first as defense minister in 1993-95, then as director for (and later
minister of) National Security in 1995-99, and combining the latter
post with that of minister of interior between November 1996 and June
1999. From 1999 to 2000 Mr. Sargsian was President Robert Kocharian’s
chief of staff and secretary of the National Security Council. He
retained the latter post as he returned to serve as minister of
defense from 2000 to 2007. Since April 2007 Mr. Sargsian has been
Armenia’s prime minister.
After joining the ruling Republican Party in July 2006, Mr. Sargsian
led the party to victory in May 2007 parliamentary elections.
Concurrently, Mr. Sargsian heads the Yerevan State University alumni
council and the Armenian Chess Federation.
For his service to the country, Mr. Sargsian was awarded with the
order of Golden Eagle and the title of the Hero of Artsakh, the order
of the Combat Cross of the first degree, and the order of Tigran the
Married since 1983, Mr. Sargsian and his wife Rita have two
daughters, Anush and Satenik, and a granddaughter Mariam. Mr. Sargsian
has two younger brothers: Levon, a veteran diplomat and former
Ambassador to Syria, and Aleksandr, a businessman elected to
parliament last year.
The other candidates are
* Arman Melikian, a former adviser to the president of
Nagorno-Karabakh. He has advocated for the right of Armenians living
outside Armenia to vote.
* Aram Harutyunian, a professor at Yerevan State University.
* Tigran Karapetian, owner of a television station.
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