Commentary: The Ugly Face of Provincialism

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

The parliamentary elections are ahead in Armenia and so it is time for horse trading. The Republican Party, headed by President Serge Sargisian, is in an uneasy coalition with Prosperous Armenia Party (Bargavach Hayastan), headed by an oligarch, Gagik Zaroukian. Actually, the party was founded by former President Robert Kocharian, who still manipulates the group behind the scenes. The two parties formed a strong ruling coalition, allowing a small share of power to fall to Arthur Bagdassarian’s party, Country of Laws (Orinatz Yerguir). The coalition worked well, even when the ARF (Dashnag) party quit its partners. It worked because a Kocharian comeback was in the offing. As soon as that comeback was endangered, cracks began to appear between the coalition partners.

President Serge Sargisian has no intention of ceding his job to his predecessor and he is seeking a second term as president.

The official document, signed between the partners, to participate jointly in the forthcoming elections, was questioned from both sides. At this writing, nothing is certain — not even if the coalition will survive internal squabbling. March is the convention period; the platforms and tickets will be announced at that time. Meanwhile speculations abound.

A political analyst, Marietta Khachatryan, writing in the daily Azg, has covered this pre-election turmoil, reporting that the parties have already started the process of power sharing. For example, the Republican Party has already taken over 25-30 precincts, has ceded nine to the Prosperous Armenia and two to Country of Laws. She has also tried to come up with the opposition’s share in the future parliament, asking cynically at the end: “While parties are in the process of sharing the seats in the future parliament, no one gives a damn about the voters; after all, who is the voter to have a say in the elections?”

Every day a new development is revealed. The latest one was the announcement of former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian joining the Prosperous Armenia Party. His long-term cooperation with former President Kocharian could not lead him anywhere else. This move will give political character to a party, which was thus far Kocharian’s shadow in the parliament, headed by an oligarch.

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Oskanian’s decision to join the Prosperous Armenia seems to have irritated the Republican ranks, which were already in a restive accommodation with the latter. Raffik Petrossian of the Republican Party has criticized Oskanian’s move severely. He has even pushed the envelope further to raise the ugly head of provincialism, which, unfortunately is rife in Armenia’s political culture. Petrossian, who is a member of parliament representing the Republican Party, has “foreseen” a danger for Armenia in Oskanian’s move. Worried that Oskanian one day may become a presidential candidate, Petrossian has stated: “Presidential candidates, who were not born and raised in Armenia may serve other countries’ interests,” adding that his party is already taking measures to prevent people like Vartan Oskanian and Raffi Hovannisian from becoming presidential candidates. He concluded his remarks with the following toxic statement: “Armenia’s president must be a true Armenian whose ancestors are buried under the soil of our homeland.”

In Mr. Petrossian’s estimation, Oskanian and Hovannisian are not “true Armenians.”

If he considers himself a “true Armenian,” then Armenia can only meet an ominous future. Petrossian is an opportunist. He was the dean of the Law Department at Yerevan State University where the gravy train stopped. When Armenia declared independence, he became member of the first parliament representing the ADL (Ramgavar) Party. He was one of the first to jump the train heading for greener pastures.

And today he has become the representative of the ruling Republican Party and the face of provincialism, which many had assumed was the legacy of Soviet culture. However, this attitude seems to have survived to this day to divide the Armenian nation.

Whether we like the policies of Oskanian and Hovannisian or not, they were the ones who introduced the Western-style political culture in Armenia, at great personal sacrifices. Their allegiance to Armenia cannot be questioned.

This mentality is not endemic to Raffik Petrossian or the Republican Party. Unfortunately, patriotism in Armenia is skin deep only. You don’t need to scratch hard to find the provincialism.

In the early years of independence, one of the ruling members of Pan-Armenian Movement (Hayots Hamazkayin Sharjun), Eduard Yegorian, was the proponent of this xenophobic policy, who advocated that all the Diaspora Armenians are needed for is to bring money to Armenia and mind their own business in the diaspora.

It is such short-sighted provincialism that divides the Armenian nation. This ingrained attitude there causes the Diaspora-Armenians to lose one court case after the other, when they are trying to invest or buy properties in Armenia. Some even lose their lives along with their money. Therefore, no one in Armenia can blame Diaspora-Armenians if they become hesitant to invest in the homeland.

Armenians are a divided and fragmented people; one faction cannot stand the other one and vice versa. But they cannot be blamed for that; they have lived in different countries and under different political systems, which have shaped their national identities in different ways.

But they will be blamed if they cannot realize the divisive factors, which have kept them apart and rise above the divide and adhere to a paramount national identity, which can bring us together.

Unless we get rid of provincialism and marginalize spokespeople like Petrossian, we cannot move ahead nor build a powerful Armenia.

 

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