Unity and Disunity in Armenia

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As coronavirus sweeps across the globe, all national and international divisions and debates have become irrelevant. Humanity is mobilized to confront this invisible army, as battle lines are being drawn to protect the human race.

Self-preservation, the ultimate goal, is dependent on the preservation of the other, even across political fault lines.

When a revolution takes place in a certain country or a government is overthrown, continuing battles and divisions become impediments to the realization of the goals that the new forces seek.

Most revolutions devour their own sons, as one can see with the French and Russian Revolutions. It is in the interest of the revolutionary powers to create stability in the country conducive to the implementation of the new ideals or political platforms. Incidentally, history has proven time and again that leaders of revolutions becomes the worst statesmen.

This column has referred on many occasions to the case of South Africa, where the minority white Afrikaner population had instituted an apartheid form of government, denying the black majority civil or even basic human rights.

The African National Congress, led by Nelson Mandela, waged a war of liberation domestically, which combined with the international political pressure, brought down that regime. It would have been understandable if the emerging black-majority government wanted to retaliate in kind against their white oppressors. However, wise leaders such as Cardinal Desmond Tutu and former president, F. W. de Klerk, were able to form a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to prevent that kind of outcome.

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In the neighboring Zimbabwe, which was the new name for Rhodesia, the opposite process led the country to become a bankrupt, failed state, as young revolutionary Robert Mugabe pushed out that country’s leader, Ian Smith, as well as his comrade-in-arms Joshua Nkomo, who was forced to flee. Mugabe failed to fulfill his commitment to white farmers, starting the beginning of the ends.

Unfortunately, very few cases in modern political history have followed the path of South Africa; consequently most have failed to form stable governments.

Almost two years ago, a Velvet Revolution took place in Armenia, a bloodless coup, with its very specific characteristics. A young generation, headed by Nikol Pashinyan, came to power. Many worried that certainly the remnants of the ousted regime would be enraged with rancor and revenge. Retribution was expected.

Pashinyan, a fiery revolutionary who had spent much of his adult life demonstrating behind barricades or behind bars, realized early on that running a state apparatus was quite different from spewing incendiary rhetoric in the streets.

Coming to power, he toned down his anti-Russian vitriol in his foreign policy and wore the mantle of a benevolent ruler. However, the public he had roused and who had catapulted him to power, continued seething with a need for revenge.

After forcing his way into the position of prime minister, he and his immediate young team continued to consolidate his rule, through constitutional means, as Armenia became dependent on European structures, such as the Council of Europe, the European Union, the Venice Convention and others. His policy of replacing the judiciary through the rule of law was interpreted as a weakness by his constituents, which expected Pashinyan to throw the members of the Constitutional Court judges to the dogs. Instead, he maneuvered to bring the changes by revamping the constitution itself through a referendum, which was scheduled to take place in April, before the pandemic scuttled those plans.

Pashinyan’s constituency is out for blood, even now. They are entertained by watching former President Robert Kocharyan behind bars or embarrassed in front of a kangaroo court, or watching another former president, Serzh Sargsyan, dragged in front of a fact-finding mission dealing with the issues of the 2016 war.

On the other hand, the old guard, after illegally amassing huge assets, is waging an unforgiving campaign against the new government. Unfortunately, the divisions run deep in society, just as the young administration needs stability and time to get its act together under the threat of war and a pandemic.

There has not been any group or individual advocating for stability or reconciliation. The time has come to rise to the occasion and bring society together to build a strong state structure to navigate Armenia through uncharted waters.

Apparently the first president of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, has decided to become the voice of reason in these troubled times.

Normally the taciturn elder statesman does not throw himself into domestic political melees. But his voice rises when crisis strikes Armenia. He came forth during the 2016 war with Azerbaijan, calling for the nation to rally around the government. On this occasion, he certainly was not motivated by his fondness for President Sargsyan.

Ter-Petrosyan seems to be compelled by the current crisis to come up with another call for unity, on the site iLur.am. He prefaced his call with the following statement: “During wartime, all political controversies are set aside through written or unwritten pact, to allow the authorities to concentrate on the situation and deal with the challenges.”

That message should have been taken on its own merits, not based on likes or dislikes for the messenger. But it has turned out otherwise.

Ter-Petrosyan calls for:

  • Abiding by the rules of the lockdown.
  • Stopping the campaign of spewing hatred and doubt on the authorities.
  • Stopping the politicization of issues emanating from the restrictions imposed in this time of emergency.

To balance his call, Ter-Petrosyan has called on the authorities to:

  • Freeze all the activities of the Parliamentary Fact-Finding Commission dealing with the April War of 2016

Indeed, the head of that commission, Antranik Kocharyan, has called the former commander of Armenia’s armed forces, Gen. Yuri Khachaturov and former President Sargsyan in an apparent intent of public intimidation. Khachaturov has declined to appear and Sargsyan has agreed, under certain terms and conditions.

  • Stop the public debate about the recent elections in Karabakh to allow time for the formation of a stable government in that republic.

The most compelling call is in the last paragraph, which states:

“We expect that the second and third presidents, who yield considerable power through news outlets which they control, could tame immediately their news media, their attacks against the government, demonstrating a statesman’s behavior.”

The reactions in the news media and political quarters constitute the matrix that measures the maturity of society.

Unfortunately, no sober assessment of the call appeared in the media. In fact, all sides criticized the message. It was apparent that even the pandemic crisis could not temper emotions.

Ter-Petrosyan’s message concluded by the following optimistic note as he wrote: “I have confidence in our people’s common sense to come together in times od adversity, in a united way.”

There are no grounds to believe that Ter-Petrosyan’s message hit the target. Instead, of its sobering intent, it further provoked tempers.

A few samples from those reactions demonstrate, unfortunately, that society in Armenia, as a whole, is not ready to countenance the gravity of the situation and rise to the challenge in a united way.

An erudite political commentator, Levon Shirinyan, who is on the most revolutionary wing of the Velvet Revolution, had a bombastic reaction to the appeal. On the other hand, Armen Ashotyan, the spokesperson for the old guard, the despised Republican Party, was equally critical. Antranik Kocharyan, an old disciple of Ter-Petrosyan, was sarcastically dismissive of his old mentor’s message.

Serzh Sargsyan’s office joined the chorus of the critics, as well as the government spokesperson.

No matter how much one would have liked to share Ter-Petrosyan’s optimism, one would be hard-pressed to find a shred of evidence that his call has found a receptive audience

The question which arises is how many enemies, earthquakes, wars and calamities do Armenians have to witness to realize that their salvation lies in their unity?

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