Recent political developments in Armenia are overshadowed by events in Ukraine, which in their turn will certainly impact on relations with Russia’s “near abroad.” Armenia, being situated in that “near abroad,” certainly will not remain immune to fallout from the standoff there.
Throughout this turmoil created by Ukrainian events, Armenia commemorated the anniversary of the March 1 2008 events which had claimed 10 victims, following President Serge Sargisian’s election. To mark this occasion, the Armenian National Congress held a rally, with an ever-shrinking number of participants, where the first president of the republic, Levon Ter-Petrosian, gave a long-winded speech. That Ter-Petrosian is the most articulate political leader no one doubts. His analytical mind is precise, his eloquence is balanced and effective and his charisma remains undiminished. His speech as political analysis is worthy of being heard and dissected.
People continue to listen to him more than any other politician. But the Armenian National Congress, which he founded, was cut to size in the last parliamentary elections. Members of his opposition group are mostly hotheaded novices and no one has his political acumen or eloquence to replace him. Most are oppositionists who are like a black eye on his party. Had the movement enrolled politicians of Ter-Petrosian’s caliber, the opposition could have gained more traction in the political life of the Armenian Republic. Lacking loyalty or a cohesive platform instead of simply opposition to the powers-that-be, most jumped ship when the movement suffered losses — and first to desert it was Ter-Petrosian’s former foreign minister, Alex Arzoumanian, who later formed his own party, the Liberal Democrats.
In his long speech, Ter-Petrosian analyzed the political situation in Armenia. He dwelt at length on the 2008 events as well as the shocking slaughter in the Parliament in 1997, which has yet to be properly investigated and whose perpetrators have not yet been brought to justice. The first president could have reached a broader audience had he included among those traumatic events serving as blemishes on the face of modern Armenian history the political assassinations which took place on his watch (former KGB Chief Marius Yuzbashian, former Yerevan Mayor Hampartsoum Galestian, writer Vartkess Petrossyan, to name but a few), or the cases of diasporan investors who were ruffled or killed during his administration.
Of course, he has harsh words for the current administration for failing in the domestic and foreign arenas. His points are well taken, if one disregards the contexts under which those policies are formulated. Poverty, economic decline and depopulation are serious concerns that the former president dwells on. He specifically lashes out at the current president for making a U-turn on negotiations with the European Union and adhering to Russia’s Customs Union. Yet, the current events in and around Ukraine fully explain why Armenia had no alternative but to cling on to Russia.
Focusing on parliamentary life, he expressed his satisfaction that for the first time, the Armenian Parliament has become a respected forum for serious political discourse and he credits the development to the leadership of the Armenian National Congress, with some lip service to the “wonderful quartet,” meaning the Armenian National Congress, Heritage Party, Prosperous Armenia and the ARF.
He also finds positive trends in social movements which politicize bread-and-butter issues, such as the hike in bus fares and the new pension plan which the government has been trying to implement.
Of course, his ultimate conclusion is that Serge Sargisian has to resign to bring an end to his “oligarchic kleptocracy.” As he said, “This is the only honorable outcome for him.”
Ter-Petrosian is not the only politician advocating regime change. Large segments of people believe that their fortunes will take a turn for the better if a new leadership comes to power. But no one is able to annunciate how and under what conditions. Granted, the current administration failed to improve the economic well being of the people. Especially, it could not find a viable solution to curb the trend of depopulation, which is veering Armenia toward extinction. But all of these changes are conditioned by outside factors, over which Armenians do not have control. Depopulation is the direct result of economic strangulation.
Should new elections take place in Armenia, or should there be a violent takeover of power, the Turks and Azeris will not lift the blockade. Nor will they rush to trade with Armenia.
Pipelines, rail systems and roads are being designed in the Caucasus to stir economic development, but through Georgian collusion with Ankara and Baku, all are bypassing Armenia to isolate it even more economically.
The enemies are not waiting for a regime change to rescue Armenia from its economic predicament.
Ironically, all these hostile acts are taking place under the watchful eyes of our “strategic ally” Russia, which has yet to lift a finger.
Ilham Aliyev has repeatedly declared his policy of isolating and bankrupting Armenia, to see its population shrink to an unsustainable level. Nor will Azerbaijan tone down its bellicose rhetoric, which keeps Armenia on war footing.
Armenians are their own worst enemies. And if today’s republic fails to survive, we do not need to blame any one but ourselves. The number of people who believe that Armenia’s lot will be much better if a new government is brought to power is rising. But no one has yet addressed solving the outside factors which have led to the current situation. And no one can, in good conscience, attest that any former administration has been less corrupt, including that of Ter-Petrosian.
Armenians brought the fall of medieval city of Ani by infighting and handing the keys to the city to the Byzantine emperor. Also, because of the infighting of the princes and their treacherous scorched-earth policies, they weakened the Cilician Kingdom and thus it fell prey to the Mamluks in 1375. We can extend this self-destructive instinct all the way to the fall of the First Republic, when Armenians butchered each other until the beleaguered republic was absorbed into the Soviet Empire.
It looks like the trend is continuing and unless we heed our ancestors’ warning, we are destined to allow history to repeat itself.