New Dynamics Injected into Armenia’s Political Scene


The formation of a new political party — Sasna Tsrer — was hailed by an editor in a recent column titled “Farewell to Arms.”

Although the title is most fitting to the issue, it is not related in any way to the book of the same name by writer Ernest Hemingway. It rather refers to the new party’s immediate past when its members resorted to violence, overrunning a police station and killing three police officers in 2016.

Following the success of the Velvet Revolution this spring, the group announced its decision to renounce violence and enter Armenia’s new political scene as a party.

Although the group’s initial salvo does not sound any less militant than the guns which they parted with recently.

The constitutional congress of the new party took place on September 29. It was announced that the party would be directed by a secretariat composed of seven members: Garegin Chugaszyan, Alek Yenikomshian, Gevorg Safaryan, Vahagn Avagyan, Arek Kyureghyan, Ruzan Yeghnukyan and Varuzhan Avetisyan as coordinator. They are all extremely intelligent people, fiercely dedicated to the cause.

The name of the party is derived from the Armenian national epic, The Daredevils of Sasoun. Most of the above-named political activists were in jail at one point because of the raid on the police station in 2016. They had resorted to that violent act because they had demanded the release of Jirayr Sefilyan, a Karabakh war hero who was jailed after being accused of hatching a plot to overthrow the government. They have all since been released by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, with their bonds guaranteed by 13 members of the current parliament.

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Sefilyan, taking the podium at the founding convention, announced that finally the day had arrived for the birth “of our dreamt-about national organization.” And then Varuzhan Avetisyan recited the manifesto of the new party, which was read as an imperial edict.

It demanded several radical actions, including a national referendum, and a subsequent action outlining the scope of the former regime as a criminal organization and starting criminal prosecution against all its members, with their subsequent arrests.

More specific items included:

“Based on the mandate given by the referendum or public support, form a new government with emergency powers from the revolutionary forces.

“Dissolve the current National Assembly by the will of the people. Create a transitional judicial body that will act as a jury and operate based on legal rule. Organize snap elections.”

These proposals are very much in contrast with the vision which Pashinyan has adopted in his Velvet Revolutionary statement moving to achieve all change in an atmosphere of brotherly love.

During the time before the overthrow of the government, Pashinyan and Sefilyan supported each other’s political stands, sometimes even cooperating, but they never were in a coalition together.

The foreign policy of Sasna Tsrer is more ambitious than that of any existing political party as it aims for the “liberation of Armenia from Russian colonial rule,” withdrawing from Russian-led organizations, including the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization.”

As Pashinyan continues to reassure Russia that there will not be any sharp turns in Armenian foreign policy and that Russia will remain Armenia’s strategic ally, he will be in a collision course with this group down the road. The Sasna Tsrer platform is replete with revenge; it is out for blood.

Sefilyan believes that Armenia’s territory must include also the exclave of Nakhichevan, now under Azeri rule, and historic Western Armenia, currently occupied by Turkey. These visions are certainly shared by all Armenians who at the same time believe that diplomacy is the art of the possible.

Political analyst Mikayel Zolyan defines the Sasna Tsrer party as one that tries to “fit into the framework of populist parties on the rise in Europe, sometimes representing a mix of leftist and nationalist ideas but on the whole in the right wing.”

Sefilyan stated recently “Russia can’t be our strategic ally. We can’t be allies. Armenians have to understand that,” he said. He has further advocated that Armenia must line up with the United States and Europe, although his partners in an earlier statement have excluded the possibility of joining NATO.

While freely advocating severing relations with Russia, they have not addressed Russia’s reaction in the wake of that policy. Indeed, an OpEd column in Tass, the Russian state news agency, warned that if Sasna Tsrer joins the cabinet, “that could be interpreted as a move against Russia, which would be followed by an immediate response from Moscow.”

It looks like Sefilyan has entered politics reluctantly as he has stated in an interview that “I never wanted to be a politician. I don’t enjoy politics. But at some point, I realized that the country needs people like me to go into politics.”

Sefilyan has impeccable credentials as a war hero. His contribution was significant in liberating Karabakh from Azeri rule. In the public perception such heroes deserve to be in leading political roles. But history has proven time and again that revolutionary heroes become the worst statesmen, eventually succumbing to their dictatorial instincts.

The leader of the Velvet Revolution is facing tremendous challenges in the coming months, as his revolution has not yet achieved its final goal. The remnants of the old regime are still entrenched in the parliament. He has just begun the laborious process of negotiating with his parliamentary foes with a carrot and stick policy. He has maintained his option of resorting to popular appeal should negotiations stall or fail. The old regime does not seem to be well disposed to giving up its position easily, as it sees the handwriting on the wall; the snap elections will not allow a comeback for members of the Republican Party, or Gagik Tsarukyan’s Prosperous Armenia Party for that matter, as demonstrated by the mayoral election results in Yerevan.

The emergence of a new party on the political scene will complicate the prime minister’s task rather than facilitate it. He needs to play his balancing act skillfully as the Sasna Tsrer party is not on the same footing as the Republican Party. It has enjoyed public support in the past and its leaders are still counting on that support to occupy their niche in Armenia’s evolving political spectrum.

Pashinyan has his job cut out for him.





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