Armenian Election Crisis Deepens

By Naira Melkumian

Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Feb 27 2008

Arrests, demonstrations and resignations as opposition continues to
challenge result.

Armenia’s political crisis continued unabated a week after the
presidential election, with supporters of Serzh Sarkisian, declared
the winner, pitted against those of his main challenger, ex-president
Levon Ter-Petrosian who strongly disputes the result.

Armenia’s central electoral commission declared that Sarkisian,
currently prime minister, had won the election in the first round
with 52.8 per cent of the vote, with Ter-Petrosian in second place
with 21.5 per cent.

However, Ter-Petrosian’s supporters say that the election was
illegitimate because it was marred by serious violations. For the
past week they have been staging demonstrations, marches and strikes
to press their demands for the results to be annulled and a new
election held.

Opposition protestors have pitched around 30 tents on Yerevan’s Freedom
Square and hold protests every day, accompanied by patriotic music,
dancing and singing.

"We will stand to the victorious end," one member of the sit-down
protest, wearing crumpled clothes and with growing stubble on his
chin, told IWPR. "It is our fight for justice and we will succeed in
getting this regime to quit."

"We have the support of more and more people, we have generals and
prosecutors and state officials," one of Ter-Petrosian’s main allies
Nikol Pashinian told supporters. "Our victory is inevitable and we
will fight to the end."

The phrase "Fight, fight to the end," was picked up and repeated by
the crowd.

A number of senior government officials have defected to the
Ter-Petrosian cause. They include deputy prosecutor general Gagik
Jhangirian, deputy foreign minister Armen Baiburtian and a number
of diplomats, including Armenia’s ambassador to Italy and formerly
Washington, Ruben Shugarian, and foreign ministry spokesman Vladimir
Karapetian. All the diplomats have been dismissed as a result.

Jhangirian was arrested, along with his brother Vardan Jhangirian
and former minister of state revenue Smbat Aivazian, and charged with
using force against a state official. A number of other Ter-Petrosian
supporters have also been arrested, including the leader of the New
Rights party Aram Karapetian.

"I believe that the reasons for the detention of Jhangirian are
obvious," Ter-Petrosian told Radio Liberty. "As a state official
he openly expressed support for me, so this is obviously a case of
political persecution. Another aim is to make an example of Jahangirian
and frighten other officials so they don’t follow his example."

Ter-Petrosian’s spokesman Arman Musinian claimed the arrests had
not intimidated people, but had achieved "the opposite effect" –
inspiring more people to protest.

The Ter-Petrosian camp has also declared that one of Armenia’s most
powerful military figures, deputy defence minister Manvel Grigorian,
one of the leaders of the Yerkrapah veterans’ organisation, had also
crossed over to their side. Grigorian has not spoken in public to
confirm or deny the claim.

Ter-Petrosian’s supporters have staged marches to the prosecutor
general’s office, the central electoral commission and the public
broadcasting council demanding the sacking of the chief prosecutor,
an election recount and the granting of airtime to the opposition on
public television.

Sarkisian’s supporters have held their own meetings, including a
picket by 20 people outside Ter-Petrosian’s house demanding that he
leave political life.

"We remember quite well the terrible years of Ter-Petrosian’s rule,
when he advised people to borrow money off one another in order to
survive," said one of the picketers. "Where was he all those years?

Surely he has no right to ask something of the people and to speak
in the name of the people."

Rallies in support of Sarkisian were also held in a number of towns
across Armenia.

Both camps held simultaneous rallies in the capital, with the prime
minister’s supporters gathering on Republic Square to hear a concert
and a speech by Sarkisian. After the speech was over, many in the
crowd went over to the rival rally on Freedom Square, to applause
from opposition protestors.

The ongoing crisis is causing some anxiety among the political elite
in Yerevan.

Vahan Hovanissian, who stood as a presidential candidate for the
nationalist Dashnaktsutiun party, which was until recently part of the
governing coalition, said, "The authorities ought to ask themselves
what they’ve done that so many people are supporting…

Ter-Petrosian," he said. "It means that something’s wrong, and they
need to recognise that."

Hovanissian resigned as deputy speaker of parliament on February 22.

Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian said the opposition had gone too far.

"For me, the situation looked quite normal until the final results
of the vote were declared, and I regarded the holding of a rally as
a sign of democracy, within reasonable limits," he said. But he added
that the opposition now had no basis for contesting results that had
been made official.

Outgoing president Robert Kocharian – who backed his ally Sarkisian –
returned from a meeting in Moscow and called an emergency meeting
of his security chiefs to discuss how to deal with the continuing
opposition challenge. Security was strengthened around government
buildings, parliament and the president’s residence.

Kocharian gave an interview to Public Television which amounted
to an address to the nation, and accused Ter-Petrosian of being

"Over many years we have created these state structures and now a
person has appeared, a political individual, who is deliberately
trying to destroy our achievements," he said.

Kocharian said the law-enforcement agencies were taking steps to
"disarm" opposition groups.

Kocharian and Sarkisian have received a boost from the broad
endorsement that the election won from international observers.

Slovak foreign minister Jan Kubis, representing the Council of Europe,
visited Armenia this week and called the elections "a positive step
on the path of democratic development".

Sarkisian has received congratulations from a number of world leaders,
notably Russian president Vladimir Putin, but other western statements
have congratulated the Armenian people on their election rather than
Sarkisian himself.

US State Department spokesman Tom Casey issued a statement saying,
"We congratulate the people of Armenia on the active and competitive
presidential election." The statement noted the OSCE’s assessment
that the ballot was "mostly in line with OSCE and Council of Europe
commitments and standards for democratic elections".

It went on, "At the same time, we also note that international monitors
identified significant problems with electoral procedures.

Armenian election authorities have responded with the positive step
of recounts in a number of jurisdictions. We urge the government
of Armenia to ensure these recounts are conducted comprehensively
and transparently, investigate all allegations of irregularities,
and implement steps to improve future elections. We also urge all
political forces to continue observing the rule of law and to work
peacefully and responsively for a democratic Armenia."

The European Union issued a statement in a similar vein.

Political analyst Alexander Manasian said Armenia was now in an
"unfamiliar situation" of which the final outcome was unclear. He
said the opposition was showing it was unprepared for dialogue.

Alexander Iskandarian, director of the Caucasus Media Institute,
commented, "People standing continuously in a rally cannot produce
results. Either the number of people has to grow, or new developments
must occur."

Ter-Petrosian has said he will seek to have the elections overturned.

Anyone who wants to dispute the election in the constitutional court
has to do so within 15 days of election day. As of February 27,
the former president had not filed a complaint.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS