Raffi shows Putin who's boss - March, 2013

Raffi Hovannisian's "political platform" is totally devoid of any meaningful solutions to Armenia's many pressing problems. What's more, as we shall see in the commentary below, some of the items on Raffi's political wish list may in fact be suicidal for Armenia. As with all the other Captain Americas and "rights" activists in Armenia today, Raffi only knows how to attack, complain and of course play on the people's emotions. There is absolutely nothing about Raffi, his followers or his political platform that even remotely suggests that they would benefit Armenia in any way. Moreover, looking at the kind of people he surrounds himself with, it is very clear that Raffi and company are in absolutely no shape to run anything, let alone a country. 

In all seriousness, what has been happening in Armenia lately looks and feels like a nasty joke. Had Washington-led mercenaries like Raffi and his ilk not been tinkering with Armenia's very existence as a nation-state, their nonsense would have indeed been somewhat amusing. Unfortunately, what men like Raffi are doing today is playing with Armenia's very future. Although many of Raffi's politically illiterate, emotionally handicapped and intellectually deficient supporters emphatically claim that he is not pursuing a Western political agenda inside Armenia, Raffi's associations, statements and actions clearly suggests otherwise. See a sampling of articles about Raffi and his political party below this commentary and consider the following.

Raffi shows Putin who's boss!

Putting aside the well known fact that Raffi has always maintained close connections with the US embassy in Armenia and may have at times even collaborated with them, according to public statements on record, Armenia's newest "democratizer" to take to the streets in Yerevan, wants Moscow to start paying rent for their use of military bases in Armenia; wants to bring Armenia's membership in CSTO under scrutiny; wants Moscow to stop providing Armenians with work opportunities in Russia; wants Armenia to reject the Moscow-led Eurasian Union; wants Moscow to treat Yerevan as an equal; wants Moscow to stop providing weapons to Azerbaijan; wants to reveal the identities of all former KGB agents in Armenia; wants Putin to recognize him as president of Armenia; and finally, wants Yerevan to officially recognize Artsakh's (Nagorno Karabakh's) independence.

As you can see, Raffi is attempting to show Vladimir Putin who is the boss. There are signs that his movement is even beginning to take on a "color". Similar to how there are politically illiterate Armenians that are trying to board a sinking ship (i.e. European Union), there are politically illiterate Armenians that are also continuing their dangerous experiments with "color revolutions" - even though every single color revolution in Eurasia has been reversed and their time has all but passed. There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that Raffi represents Western interests in Armenia. Let's also not forget that Raffi is closely connected to other Western operatives like the American agent Richard Giragosian and Vartan Oskanian.

Raffi's American scripted nonsense about Russian-Armenian relations has been so obvious that even rural folk in Armenia have begun noticing it. Please watch the following Washington-funded "Azatutyun Radio" video report for a recent example of how country folk in Armenia have begun confronting Raffi about Russian-Armenian relations (the segment in question starts at 18:00 minutes) -
Րաֆֆի Հովհաննիսյանը մարտի 9-ին այցելել էր Գեղարքունիք: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIC9Z2WSzT4
Although Armenians in general may be like naive children when it comes to political matters, Armenian survival instincts on the other hand have been fine-tuned to perfection during the past one thousand years. Therefore, regardless of the volume and intensity of the anti-Russian propaganda assault carried-out by Western operatives in and out of Armenia, large numbers of Armenians (especially those living in rural areas outside of Yerevan) will almost instinctually recognize Russia's extreme importance for Armenia. The Armenian street continues to be overwhelmingly Russia-friendly. The following poll results from European sources several years ago reveals overwhelming pro-Russian sentiments prevailing in Armenia and Artsakh -
85% of Armenians in Artsakh trust Russia: http://www.aysor.am/en/news/2010/11/25/karabakh-russia/
80% of Armenians in Armenia view Russia as extremely important for Armenia: http://www.panarmenian.net/eng/politics/news/57180/Russia_widely_viewed_as_extremely_important_for_Armenia
And here a Gallup poll result from Armenia reveals something even more interesting -
80% of Armenians want good relations with Russia even if it will hurt relations with US: http://www.gallup.com/poll/127334/Kyrgyzstanis-Favor-Russia.aspx
But none of this is any reason to be complacent for national preferences - even instincts - can be made to change over time.

Although the average person in Armenia and Artsakh continues to be overwhelmingly pro-Russian today, pro-Western sentiments in Armenia continue to be particularly strong within Yerevan; among those working for Western organizations and NGOs; within the nation's political opposition and among rights activists; even among some serving officials. Therefore, although the average Armenian in Armenia and Artsakh recognizes the strategic importance of Russian-Armenian relations, pro-Western sentiments are proliferating within important circles in the country. As a result, there is today a clear and present danger. I raised the alarm about this very important topic with the following commentary two years ago - 

Russian expert: U.S. ousting Russia from Armenia: http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2011/10/russian-expert-us-ousting-russia-from.html

There has been an active agenda within Armenia to drive a wedge between Yerevan and Moscow. They want to sever Armenia from Russia's political orbit and men like Raffi represent this Western agenda. Now, a few words about Raffi's "political platform".

Derailing the Eurasian Union

Raffi has made it quite clear that he does not want Yerevan joining the Moscow-led Eurasian Union. I personally believe that his latest public relations stunt in Armenia may be at least in part a Western effort to put pressure on Yerevan to reject membership in the economic pact in question. Please revisit the following blog commentaries for more insight on this topic -
As Eurasian Union nears Armenia, West goes into panic mode: http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2012/12/as-eurasian-union-nears-west-is-going_15.html
Western officials realize that luring Armenia away from the Moscow-led Eurasian Union will ultimately serve to drive a wedge between Moscow and Yerevan and keep Armenia politically torn and economically stagnant. Western officials realize that once Yerevan enters Moscow's economic zone, they will eventually enter Moscow's financial zone as well. Western officials do not want to lose their last remaining lever (i.e financial) over Armenia. As a result, Western officials have not concealed their strong desire to stop Armenia from moving closer to Russia; they have even resorted to publicly "warning" Yerevan -
Sharmazanov replies to Brussels lawmaker on Customs Union ‘warning’: http://www.armenianow.com/news/44543/armenia_european_eurasian_union_sharmazanov
I thought it was Putin's Moscow that was in the business of warning Armenians about looking Westward. Nevertheless, joining the bankrupt European Union is a silly fairytale, especially for a remote and landlocked nation stuck in the middle of the south Caucasus. Nevertheless, Western officials are hoping that Yerevan will begin pursuing membership knowing perfectly well that Armenia will never get there, not much unlike genocide recognition efforts of Armenians in the US. Therefore, no, despite our EUrotic dreams, the European Union is not coming to the Caucasus. In fact, the European Union is falling apart and many European nations today are showing us that being in the union in question does not guarantee anything. Since most of us know the sad plight of European Union members Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and now Cyprus, I'd like to bring to your attention a recent news report describing socioeconomic problems faced by yet another European Union member -
Bulgaria economy, poorest in EU, struggles with minimal growth: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/03/06/bulgaria-government-gdp-idUSL6N0BY41M20130306
The last thing Armenia needs today is membership in an overgrown, artificially inflated and a has-been organization fraught with corruption and plagued with bankruptcy. Geographically, culturally and genetically, Armenia is a Eurasian nation. We need to put aside our EUrotic fantasies and recognize that Armenia's natural place is within the Moscow-led Eurasian Union. I remain confident that Yerevan will be there as soon as existing problems between Moscow and Tbilisi are settled, something that is currently being worked on.

As Yerevan gets closer to joining the Eurasian Union expect more-and-more of Armenia's Western operatives to begin crawling out of their holes. Stopping Yerevan's membership in the union is increasingly looking like the West's last and most important battle in Armenia. Ultimately, for Western officials, it's not so much about the speck on the map called Armenia, it's about stopping Russia from consolidating its assets and reimposing itself in areas that are considered to be its spheres of influence. Due to its vast territory that connects Europe to Asia, its immense natural wealth and its nuclear weapons armed military, Western policymakers see Russia as a serious potential competitor on the global stage. A traditional cornerstone of Western foreign policy has in fact been to prevent the rise of a powerful Russia.

"Keep Germany down, Russia out and America in" was a formula that worked wonders for the Western alliance for much of the 20th century.

Similarly, the only way the West will be able to maintain its hegemony over global finance, commerce and the commodities exchange within the 21st century is if it continues to undermine the rise of major global competitors like the Russian Federation and China. Therefore, it's all a part of the political West's long-term assets management. It would be wise to look at Raffi's actions in Armenia within this geostrategic context. 

Demanding rent money from Moscow?

When Raffi's bosses in Washington begin treating their very numerous slaves around the world "equally", I'll begin looking into whether or not Moscow has been treating Armenia unfairly. As of this writing, with hundreds-of-thousands of military personnel and a thousand military bases around the world, Raffi's bosses in Washington are sucking the lifeblood of many nations around the world. It's absolutely outrageous and down right treasonous that Raffi is questioning Armenia's crucially important membership in the CSTO and asking for "rent money" from Moscow. 

The amount of free and discounted modern weaponry that Armenia regularly receives from the Russian Federation as a result of its membership in the CSTO costs many billions of US dollars. The monetary figure in question may in fact be more than the actual cost of all of Armenia's military bases put together. Moreover, and more importantly, the military protection that Russia provides our small, impoverished, landlocked, remote and blockaded nation surrounded by hostile neighbors in the volatile south Caucasus is in fact PRICELESS!

Turks, their Jewish supporters and their Western backers recognize the urgent need to expel Russian troops out of Armenia. I ask you to please revisit my 2010 commentary about this very important topic  -
Let's be wise enough to silence the "Qaj Nazar" living in us and recognize that the only reason why Turks and Azeris continue to remain on their side of the border is their primordial fear of the Russian Bear, and not because of America, Europe, Iran, Armenia's tiny military and definitely not because of the big talking Armenian Diaspora. It would be wise to look at Raffi's actions in Armenia within this geostrategic context.

Recognition of Artsakh's independence

Our latest "Qaj Nazar" to take to the streets in Yerevan is demanding that Yerevan officially recognize Artsakh's independence. Raffi is seen here again using Artsakh's troubles to exploit the people's political illiteracy and play on their emotions. Raffi is again acting grossly irresponsible. Raffi's rhetoric is again empty. Unilateral recognition of Artsakh's independence by Yerevan will almost certainly solicit a military response by Baku, as well as massive international condemnation - even by Raffi's bosses in Washington. It should be clear to us all that Armenia cannot afford yet another war - despite the fact that its armed forces is more than capable of defeating the Azeri military in any confrontation. Recognition of Artsakh's independence by Yerevan is fraught with serious dangers. In its current state of being, Yerevan cannot afford to take such risks.

Regardless of what political provocateurs like Raffi want us to think, and despite what Diasporan nutjobs in Lebanon, France or US are demanding, Yerevan needs to continue the current political process with regards to Stepanakert. Not officially recognizing Artsakh's independence is in fact a diplomatic asset and bargaining chip for Yerevan. We cannot expect Yerevan to engage in this kind of political adventurism or risk politically volatile Diasporan experiments. When the shit-hits-the-fan in Artsakh, it wont be Armenia's Captain Americas or Diasporan nutjobs rushing to the battlefront. Having said that, if Baku makes a Saakashvilian error and resumes hostilities with Armenia by invading Artsakh, Yerevan will have no choice but to recognize Artsakh's independence, perhaps even liberate more territories. President Sargsyan has made this very clear. Even here the Russian factor again plays a very big role, for Baku is afraid that it will face Russian forces once it invades Artsakh -
Azerbaijan says will face Russian soldiers in Karabakh in case of war: http://www.news.az/articles/politics/77445
At the end of the day, thanks to the current leadership in Armenia (as well as covert Russian support) Artsakh is de-facto an independent state that is deeply integrated with Armenia. Everything else is of secondary importance.

Chasing Cold War phantoms

Raffi's political party has been trying to force the Armenian government to open the country's Soviet era archives to reveal the identities of all former KGB operatives currently holding government positions in Armenia. The only thing I have to say about this silliness is this: It's very ironic that those who want to reveal the identity of KGB agents in Armenia tend to be currently working (in varying capacities) for the CIA and the Anglo-American-Zionist alliance. In any case, I'll take the KGB over the CIA any day. At the very least, our KGB operatives ensured the survival of Armenia in a very hostile and unforgiving environment. 

Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan

I have heard a lot of silly nonsense being spoken about Russian arms sales to Azerbaijan. Please do me this favor; those of you who do not have military experience; those of you who do not understand military matters; and those of you who do not understand the complexities of regional geopolitics - please shut up! These kinds of topics (things that the average person simply does not understand) are being exploited and utilized as part of an organized information war against Moscow. Before I go on, a few words about the information war against Russian Federation. 

Anti-Russian propaganda has been an old practice for the Western alliance. The effort goes back to the 19th century when a "Christian" Europe (primarily Britain and France) united with the Ottoman Turks to fight the Russian Empire. They finally succeeded in destroying the Russian Empire via Bolshevism during the First World War. Then when Soviet Union became too powerful, they began attacking it. Western propaganda reached its climax during the Cold War when anti-Russian hysteria under the guise of fighting communism was being spread worldwide. Their propaganda somewhat subsided after the Soviet Union collapsed and when a lackey of theirs, Yeltsin the Drunk, was in charge in Moscow. Needless to say, their information war resumed when Vladimir Putin began seeking independence from the West starting about ten years ago. Interestingly, the anti-Russian propaganda in the Western world is again reaching Cold War heights. Ever since the manhandling Georgia got in 2008, not a single week passes now without any one of the major "news" publications in the United States and Britain (sometimes all of them in unison) featuring some nasty story about Russia or its leadership. Don't believe me(?), start monitoring news publications such as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Times, the Washington Post or the Boston Globe in the US and the Independent, Guardian and The Sun in Britain and see for yourselves. The aforementioned Western propaganda outlets regularly paint Russia in very stark colors and Russia's leadership is always described in condescending terms. Their intention is to create a hostile mindset within the western world towards anything Russian. This is simply a part of their psychological warfare operations against a nation that is thought to be a potential competitor on the global stage. The following article from Washington-funded EurasiaNet is a fairly recent example of how Western propaganda outlets try to bait Armenians with Russophobia - 
Russia's Credibility And Its Military Sales To Azerbaijan: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/64085
Knowing that there is a well-organized effort to spread anti-Russian hysteria throughout Eurasia, it should therefore not come as a surprise that Washingtonian operatives like Raffi would be raising the issue of "Russian arms to Azeris" to scare the Armenian sheeple about presumed Russian treachery. Being aware of the support American/Western entities have been providing Baku for the past twenty years, has Raffi ever taken a flight to his American homeland and complained to his bosses in Washington about this matter? In fact, as an American, has Raffi ever lobbied for Armenia within Washington in recent years?

Now, let us use our God given brains and perceptive abilities to look past their psy-ops and begin looking at things in a clearer, more objective light. None of the arms that Moscow has sold to Azerbaijan tips the balance-of-power in the region in Baku's favor. In fact, seeing oil rich Baku's exorbitant military expenditures, Moscow is desperately trying to keep the balance-of-power intact in the region by providing an impoverished Yerevan with free and discounted modern weaponry. This military support by Moscow is the only reason why Yerevan has been able to hold its own against a big spending Baku. Moscow has made sure that for every kind of tank Azerbaijan possesses in its armed forces, Armenia has ample anti-tank weapons systems that can effectively counter it. Moscow has made sure that for every type of aircraft Azerbaijan possesses in its armed forces, Armenia has ample anti-aircraft weapons systems that can effectively counter it.

What's more, Baku's recently acquired Russian-made S-300 (a highly capable and costly surface-to-air missile system which Armenia also operates) is designed to be effective against militaries of developed nations that maintain formidable air forces - not against a nation like Armenia who's air force has less than two dozen antiquated aircraft. If Baku has the hundreds of millions of dollars to waste on weapons systems that will do them no good against Armenia, they can go right ahead and waste their money. To put this matter into better perspective, I'd like to share with the reader a little story from the past. A Western official (I think British) was once asked by journalists (I'm paraphrasing): 
Why are we selling arms to our enemy? The official replied: If we don't sell them arms someone else will; we rather make the money. Besides, we know best what are the capabilities of the arms we are selling them, we can use this knowledge to defeat them if we had to.
Russian officials will sell military hardware to Azerbaijan simply because, as noted above, if they do not someone else will. In fact, Turkey, Ukraine, Israel, certain European countries and the US have been selling more weapons to Baku than the Russian Federation. Moreover, by staying engaged with Baku, Moscow also does not loose all its leverage over Azerbaijan. It's in Armenia's interest to have Moscow obtain some leverage over Baku.

Moscow does not want to totally alienate Baku, especially at a time when Moscow has had a series of political successes in the region. After all, there is no hostility between Moscow and Baku. It would be utterly foolish of Moscow to alienated or antagonized Baku any further than they have already been doing for the past twenty somewhat years. It's bad enough that Moscow and Yerevan are in a strategic embrace; it's bad enough that Artsakh is off-limits to Baku; to add insult to injury by not having any dealings with Baku would make no political sense. Moreover, Russian officials and political experts have spared no efforts in sternly warning Baku that Moscow would not tolerate any attempt by Azeri forces to resume military hostilities against Armenia. Moscow has even gone as far as recently massing troops along Azerbaijan's northern borders to make Baku understand that it is very serious about militarily protecting Armenia. The following are blog commentaries that addresses this matter -
Russia hints at intervention in Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict: http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2012/07/russia-hints-at-intervention-in-armenia.html
Incidentally, what have Raffi's bosses in Washington been doing to ensure that Baku does not resume hostilities against Armenia? The answer is, not much. Western interests have in fact been working quite closely with Baku -
US working to strengthen relations with Turks and Azeris: http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2012/11/us-working-to-strengthen-relations-with.html
Warming of relations between Moscow and Baku is not going to diminish Armenia's strategic value for policymakers in the Kremlin. Oil or gas purchases from Baku will never be a factor for Moscow simply because Russia is the world's largest energy producer and because Russian officials realize that Armenia/Artsakh is a protective sledgehammer hanging over Turkish heads in the region. Better relations between Moscow and Baku is in fact beneficial for Armenia for it ensures that Baku will not resort to hostilities. What's more, we hear Russophobes like Raffi also constantly complaining about Moscow providing Armenians with long-term work opportunities within the Russian Federation, yet we hear total silence from them when it comes to the matter of American Green Cards. More on this topic -
New Western led Opposition Slogan in Armenia: "Russia wants Armenia without Armenians!":  http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2011/10/russia-wants-armenia-without-armenians.html
If Armenians have to leave Armenia for financial or employment reasons, I would much rather they leave for the Russian Federation where they will remain relatively close to their homeland. The Western world, the US in particular, is a graveyard for Armenians. In fact, the only thing the American-Armenian diaspora has been good for in recent years have been whores (i.e. Kardashians) and Western mercenaries (i.e. Richard Giragosian, Vartan Oskanian, Raffi Hovannisan, Ara Manoogian, ect). I don't know about Moscow treating Yerevan as its "equal", but being Armenia's largest trading partner, leading energy provider, leading investor and steadfast military ally, Moscow has actually been treating Armenia with white gloves for the past twenty years. I'm actually surprised as to how tolerant Moscow has been in allowing Yerevan to deal freely with the West. But I guess Armenians are too blinded by their arrogance, political ignorance and Amerophilia to realize any of this. 

Of course there are sound geostrategic reasons as to why Russia's support for Armenia has been so steadfast. Historically, Kremlin officials have recognized that Armenians of the south Caucasus are reliable allies in a very unstable region within their sphere of interests. Russian officials realize that Armenia's existence protects Russia's vulnerable yet strategic underbelly - the Caucasus - from Turkic, Islamic and Western expansion. Therefore, as long such threats exist in the region, Armenia will continue playing a vital geostrategic role for the Kremlin. Now ask yourselves this question: What role does Armenia play for Western interests?

Due it its problems with the region's Turks and Azeris and due to its friendship with Russians and Iranians, Armenia will always be looked upon as an obstacle to Western geopolitical and energy interests in the south Caucasus. In other words, Armenians is allied to a vastly wealthy and powerful regional superpower. The Russian Federation is seriously interested in Armenia's survival as a viable nation-state in the south Caucasus. The following recent news releases are an indicator of the high degree of friendship that currently exists between Moscow and Yerevan -
Putin and Sarkisian Meet in Moscow: http://asbarez.com/108742/putin-and-sarkisian-meet-in-moscow/

Experts: Armenia, Russia mutually indispensable as regional allies: http://www.panarmenian.net/eng/news/148419/
Armenian-Russian trade turnover hit $1.2 bln in 2012: Russia’s economy ministry: http://arka.am/en/news/economy/armenian_russian_trade_turnover_hit_1_2_bln_in_2012
Within the world of diplomacy nothing is left to chance and every spoken word has serious implications and significance. Thus, when Russian President Vladimir Putin describes Russia's strategic relations with Armenia as "special", it has to be taken very seriously. Although most of our EUrotic idiots are too deaf, dumb and/or blind to see it, Russia is Armenia's security guarantee in the Caucasus and Russian-Armenian relations have never been better. This is the historic opportunity that I am constantly referring to. This is the once in a thousand years opportunity that needs to be exploited to its fullest potential.

Nevertheless, we should all at this point readily be recognizing that Yerevan remains Russo-centric in political matters essentially because Moscow serves Armenia's geostrategic interests. Having said that, has anyone seriously thought about what repercussions will Armenia be made to suffer if Armenians begin working against Moscow's geostrategic interests in Armenia? Have Armenia's Captain Americas really stopped and given this topic any thought?

Does Armenia need independence from Russia?

Instead of recognizing Russia's alliance with Armenia as a historic opportunity and collectively jumping at it to exploit its potential for Armenia's benefit, significant numbers of Armenians today, as well as Raffi, are fear-mongering about Armenia's "dependence" on Russia. Their slogan is - "Armenia needs to rely on no one but Armenians." Well, Armenia relying on Armenians sounds very nice indeed: I really hope to see it become reality one day before I die. However, in the harsh realities of the world we live in today and with the quality of Armenians we have today, Armenia will not be able to rely on Armenians anytime soon. More specifically, Armenia cannot rely on the Armenian Diasporas of the western world and the Middle East (with the exception of the Iranian-Armenian community). The following is a little yet telling example of how Armenia cannot in all seriousness take Diasporan Armenians seriously -
«Կիլիկյան վարժարանում ջնջվում է հայությունը»: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=7ELZpiGnT_Q
We cannot in all seriousness expect Armenian officials to waste their time expecting much from the thoroughly Westernized, Arabized or Turkified Diaspora. Let's put aside the silly notion that Armenia can survive by solely relying on the "collective prowess" of Armenians. Let's also realize that there are literally only a handful of nations in the world today that are truly independent. A vast majority of nations today (nations even with much-much better qualifications than Armenia) are dependent on larger powers for survival. Being that Armenia is a small, landlocked, remote, poor and blockaded nation surrounded by enemies in the violent south Caucasus; being that the Armenian Diaspora has proven to be worthless - Armenia's natural partner and security guarantee has been, is and will continue being the Russian Federation.

It's that simple folks. 

Armenians today are not ready to hear this but Armenia can survive without the Armenian Diaspora but it can't survive without Russia. There are many fools in our society that preach independence from Russia without ever stopping to realize the serious implications of such a thing. If Yerevan somehow cut its umbilical cord with Moscow (a wish on the minds of many Armenians today) Armenia would by-default fall under the mercy of its larger and more powerful neighbors.

Therefore, get this through your heads: For Armenia, independence from Russia is automatic dependence on Turkey.Therefore, it could be said that Armenia's dependence on Turkey is what individuals like Raffi Hovannisian, Ara Papyan, Richard Giragosian and Paruyr Hayrikian (to name only a few) are propagating today. Therefore, it could be said that the obsessive desire to get Russians out of Armenia is one of the things that Turks and Armenia's so-called "political opposition" have in common. We know why Turks and Anglo-American-Zionist interests want to see Armenia without Russian troops... but can anyone please try explaining to me why Armenians want to see Armenia without Russian troops?

Our Captain Americas and our nationalist nutjobs should be careful about what they wish for. At the end of the day, for Armenia there is no alternative to Russia. 

Please remember that I'm saying all this as a Diasporan Armenian who was born in the Middle East and raised in the US.  For those of us who have a healthy understanding of international relations, history, the nature of the south Caucasus and the character of the political West, the formula is rather a simple one: without a Russian presence in Armenia there wont be an Armenian presence in the south Caucasus. While this situation may scare some, it however gives me hope.
The Russian Federation is an opportunity that an independent Armenia has not had in well over one thousand years. This opportunity needs to be fully recognize and appreciated. This opportunity needs to be fully exploited. Armenians need to stop wasting time and money trying to get reptilians in Washington to say the "G" word and begin concentrating on promoting better and deeper Russian-Armenian ties.

Russia is the big, powerful and wealthy friend, little and poor Armenia desperately needs in a very tough and unforgiving neighborhood. No one is saying that this friendship will be flawless. However, the friendship in question holds great potential. Therefore, organized and persistent lobbying efforts within the walls of the Kremlin should be Armenia's - number one - strategic priority. It's time to stop admiring Jews and start acting like them. It's difficult to imagine that someone like Raffi, educated in a prestigious institution within the very epicenter of the American empire and working in Armenia under various capacities for well over twenty years does not realize what he is doing. Of course he knows what he is doing. If we only had a normal political landscape...

Armenia's barren political landscape

The troubling part in all this is that Armenia's political landscape today is a barren desert: Chobans-in-Armani-suits on one side and sweet-talking-foreign-intelligence-operatives and psychologically-disturbed-rights-activists on the other side. Thus, faced with the prospect of Western whores and/or nutjobs gaining power in Armenia, self-respecting Armenians with political pragmatism will choose to stick with the devil they know (i.e. Armenia's wealthy chobans). In other words, faced with slow progress (i.e. supporting the status quo) and  reckless political adventurism (i.e. supporting the nation's political opposition), we'll pick slow progress. It's all very unfortunate, but these are the only choices we have been provided.

My greatest criticism of President Sargsyan is that he does not fully understand the serious dangers of Globalism (an Anglo-American-Zionist effort to enslave the world) and the serious dangers of dealing with Western institutions such as the EU, IMF and the USAID. Moreover, the president does not yet seem to fully appreciate the power of television, radio and print media as a means of combating the hopelessness and desperation being sown inside Armenian society by the country's political opposition and Western propaganda organs.

More importantly, I personally think that President Sargsyan's balancing act between Moscow and the West is in large part a self-serving measure to preserve his power and to secure some Western aid. In other words, he is yielding to some Western demands for short-term gains. This shortsighted approach is serving to prolong Armenia's pain by keeping it within the center of geopolitical contention. While President Sargsyan's policy of balancing his dealings with Russia, West and Iran is indeed a major political achievement for his administration from a diplomatic perspective, such an approach is also keeping Armenia motionless in the very center of a tug-of-war taking place between Moscow and the West. His flirtations with the West is also providing Western organizations and institutions with an opportunity to sow the nation with some of their more destructive "values".

Yerevan needs to end its indecisiveness. Yerevan needs to get its act in order by plotting a Eurasian course and make a concerted effort to get there. Not doing so will keep the nation indefinitely stagnant economically and unstable politically.

In conclusion, anyone that is pushing a political platform similar to that of Raffi's in Armenia today is ultimately laying the foundations of the nation's eventual destruction. These types of people, regardless of their stated intentions or lofty rhetoric, are more dangerous to Armenia than the standing armies of Azerbaijan and Turkey - for these people are cancer cells within our national body. Cancers can only be fought by resorting to drastic measures and by doing so early. Therefore, if Raffi's protests get out of hand and the political situation in Armenia begins to spiral out of control, I expect law enforcement bodies in Yerevan to crush their movement. If protecting the Armenian state requires the breaking of some heads in Yerevan again, then so be it. 

March, 2013


The two ring circus called the American presidential elections: http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-two-ring-circus-called-american.html

Raffilution begins!!! Raffi Hovannisian’s turn to lead Armenia’s self-destructive peasantry: http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2013/02/raffilution-begins-raffi-hovannisians.html

 Fifth anniversary of Levon Petrosian's coup d'etat: http://theriseofrussia.blogspot.com/2013/03/fifth-anniversary-of-levon-petrosians.html

Armenia's California Dream


The scenario seems all too familiar for a former Soviet republic: An incumbent uses machine politics to secure reelection, Western observers cautiously praise progress but note shortcomings to be fixed in the future, and the opposition campaign gathers supporters to protest the outcome. Welcome to Armenia, where on Feb. 18, incumbent Serzh Sargsyan officially secured nearly 59 percent of the vote to the main runner-up's 37 percent.

But what makes Armenia different is the challenger, Raffi Hovannisian -- or just Raffi, as he is known to nearly everyone in Armenia. This American-born Georgetown Law graduate has shaken up the politics of his adopted homeland. Defying widespread expectations that he was too foreign to rally support in Armenian elections, the 53-year-old Hovannisian won more votes than any presidential challenger since independence. His success has thrown Armenia into a fresh political tumult. Tens of thousands continue to protest daily within the country and throughout the Armenian diaspora, with another protest held by Diaspora Armenians in Los Angeles this past weekend.

Some observers have pointed to the correlation between higher turnout and more votes for Sargsyan, but that more likely reflects local vote mobilization by the ruling party than clear evidence of fraud. Nonetheless, Hovannisian filed an official challenge of the election results in the country's Constitutional Court on March 4.

Although Armenians have widely contested the electoral outcome, U.S. President Barack Obama and leaders of the European Union, Russia, and even Turkey have all congratulated Sargsyan, citing positive reviews by international observers.

They "can say whatever they want," Hovannisian shot back. "I'm telling them, 'I respect you, but don't you dare to breach [our citizens'] rights.… I won't allow you to. And let nobody teach me lessons of American, Western, or Russian democracy and law because the Armenian citizens are the masters of our country."

Rallying his supporters after the election, Hovannisian said he will seek to overturn the official results and indefinitely continue peaceful street demonstrations throughout Armenia. Small groups of protesters have also shown up at Armenian diplomatic missions in Los Angeles and New York.

"This popular struggle will not die down. We will achieve victory," Hovannisian repeatedly promised. Despite nearly half the population favoring a change of government, it remains unclear how such a victory could be achieved.

Graduating from Georgetown University's law school in 1985, Hovannisian began what appeared a typical path for an international corporate lawyer. The white-shoe firms of Hill, Farrer & Burrill, Whitman & Ransom, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, and Coudert Brothers all appear on his résumé.

But Hovannisian's life took an atypical turn after the devastating earthquake that struck Armenia in December 1988. Unable to cope with tens of thousands dead and hundreds of thousands homeless, the Soviet Union opened up to international aid, driven in significant part by diaspora Armenian communities in the United States.

Armenia had always been part of Hovannisian's life. His father, Richard, is an authority on Armenian history who recently retired from the University of California/Los Angeles. His grandparents are both survivors of that all-engrossing Armenian experience of genocide in Turkey. He grew up learning the Armenian language and stories of the country's tragedies and perseverance. And with Armenia suddenly accessible and in peril, Hovannisian, then 30, quit law and moved his young family from California to Yerevan, the Armenian capital, where he went to work for the Armenian Assembly of America (AAA) as its in-country relief coordinator.

"Hovannisian was one of the early diaspora pioneers returning to serve and live in the homeland," remembers Ross Vartian, Hovannisian's boss and the AAA's director from the 1970s to early 2000s. "He was one of the Armenian Assembly's most talented, informed, and dedicated staff members." The AAA soon became a key link between Armenia and the world, organizing and funding first visits by leaders of the newly independent Armenia to the United States. In Armenia's first few years, the country's embassy in the United States operated out of the AAA's Washington headquarters, and the AAA's Yerevan office for a time hosted Armenia's only fax machine.

In effect, the AAA was serving as the country's de facto foreign ministry, so it wasn't too surprising following independence in 1991 when President Levon Ter-Petrosyan made things official and invited Hovannisian to become Armenia's foreign minister -- a remarkable appointment given that he wasn't even an Armenian citizen at the time. The stint proved relatively brief, as Hovannisian's popularity as an activist diplomat soon began to overshadow the increasingly withdrawn Ter-Petrosyan, who was seen as unable to deal with an ever-expanding economic crisis exacerbated by the ongoing conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh and fighting in Georgia that cut off landlocked Armenia's routes to the world.

In October 1992, after Hovannisian raised the extremely controversial subject of the genocide on a trip to Turkey (at a time when Armenia was facing famine and when other officials were begging their counterparts in Ankara to sell them grain), he was let go. Rather than return to the life of a well-to-do Los Angeles lawyer, Hovannisian stayed put, establishing the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS), the country's first think tank. His wife founded a charity for homeless children.

For a while, Hovannisian could not take part in Armenian politics, as first Ter-Petrosyan and then his successor, Robert Kocharyan, declined to grant him citizenship. This dragged on until 2001, when finally after much cajoling and many court appeals, Kocharyan relented and Hovannisian officially became an Armenian citizen, surrendering his U.S. passport. But the caveat was that he would be ineligible to run for president until after 2011, well past Kocharyan's second and final term.

That didn't stop Hovannisian from entering politics. He roared back into Armenia's political life during the 2007 parliamentary elections, after which his newly established Heritage party -- composed of local lawyers, human rights activists, educators, and ACNIS researchers -- formed what a WikiLeaked U.S. Embassy cable called a "true oppositional force in parliament" with a "moderate, reformist political agenda."

Heritage didn't do as well in the May 2012 parliamentary vote, and it was eclipsed by an alliance led by former President Ter-Petrosyan as well as by a new faction, led by businessman-turned-philanthropist Gagik Tsarukyan, that sapped away Hovannisian's support from Armenians who had come to see the government as too powerful and unaccountable. Even after both Tsarukyan and Ter-Petrosyan bowed out of this year's presidential campaign, most local and foreign observers dismissed Hovannisian's chances and claimed that Sargsyan's reelection was a foregone conclusion. Remarkably, one of the main Western-observer criticisms of the election -- presumably written well before vote results -- was the alleged "lack of competition."

Armenian political parties tend to be focused more on individuals than ideologies -- though Heritage has promised more taxes on the wealthy and anti-corruption initiatives. Other than a minority of die-hard patriots, most local Armenians always looked on Hovannisian with either incredulity or suspicion. About a million Armenians left the country during and since the crises of the 1990s; Hovannisian's repatriation made no sense to most of those who stayed. Why would anyone leave a good life in America to come to the ravages of Armenia? Only a few hundred Armenian-Americans have done so since independence.

In a 1992 profile, the Los Angeles Times quoted an Armenian photographer who (in typical post-Soviet conspiratorial speak) claimed, "The CIA would have paid $100 million to control Armenian foreign policy, but they got it for free" with Hovannisian as foreign minister. Those views may have shifted more to the margins of Armenian political discourse, but they were echoed in this year's campaign as well. One commentator noted Hovannisian's past employment with the AAA as evidence of "closeness to the [U.S.] State Department," while a nutty minor candidate in the race opined that Hovannisian was an agent of a "Masonic conspiracy."

"I respect everyone," Hovannisian said in a pre-election interview, "including all my opponents, as well as their right to express their viewpoints, but I do not respond to lies." Hovannisian is not unaware of his otherness, however. In the last four years, he has gone through a tremendous physical transformation, shaving off his dramatic mustache and losing some 40 pounds to look more like a mainstream Armenian politician. In campaign videos, you could frequently hear Hovannisian dropping words in Russian -- a practice common in Armenia, but not among Armenians in the West.

But when it came to running his presidential campaign, Hovannisian broke all the local rules of politicking -- practiced by both the government and opposition figures -- which favor set-piece events with screened participants at which candidates launch into personal attacks and threats against their competitors. His speeches tended to avoid personalized attacks, focusing on government corruption more broadly. His message was universal: Let's take our country back from the corrupt hacks in government.

"The struggle [is] fought between the ordinary citizens of Armenia and their candidate on the one side and the ruling authorities on the other," he explained before the election. "Armenia is but one, and we must decide what it is going to be like -- a free and open Armenia, or a shadow Armenia, whether it will belong to the ordinary citizen or it will cringe before the authorities."

 Wearing his trademark turtleneck and jeans, he rode public buses and the metro, toured nearly every town and many villages, helped with house and car repairs, got his hair cut at a small barbershop, and got his lunch from a roadside kiosk.

A pre-election survey found that 7 percent of respondents around the country reported to have talked with Hovannisian or his representatives during the campaign, hearing his message of wealth redistribution and transparent government. This is remarkable given his shoestring budget and lack of institutional support. (His most prominent endorsers were an aging singer-songwriter and a reggae band that performs a song called "Spoonful of Love" at his events.)

This outpouring of love and attention may have been exactly what many Armenians (who, according to a Gallup poll, are the world's most love-deprived people) needed. More than half a million, according to official reports, voted for Hovannisian. Pro-government political machines crumbled. He swept Armenia's second-largest city by more than a 40 percentage-point margin, and he won in the third-, fourth-, sixth-, and seventh-largest towns as well.

But of course, Armenia does not have normal elections. The presidents or their designated successors have never been defeated by voters in more than 20 years of independence. Incumbents always win, and frustration and cynicism about the political process persist and solidify.

None of the losing candidates in Armenia has ever conceded defeat, not even in 1991 when Ter-Petrosyan won by more than a 70 percentage-point margin. The 1996, 2003, and 2008 elections sparked opposition protests and government crackdowns; the 1996 and 2008 crises were particularly violent, and the military was brought into Yerevan to maintain order.

Widespread public distrust of the system and enough cases of electoral deviations -- such as intimidation and inducement of voters and widely suspected but rarely proven fraud -- muddy the process and raise questions about voting results. The oppositionists can't really prove that they won, but neither can incumbents credibly claim the opposite. And foreign observers are seen to be politically biased in favor of one side or another.

The latest election appears to be following a similar pattern. Thousands of Hovannisian's supporters have been demonstrating every day since the election. They are claiming that the election was rigged and that their candidate is the rightful winner. There is much excitement in the streets of Armenia. Students have joined the strikes. Hovannisian has embarked on a "victory tour" through smaller towns, many of which he won. But the pressure of events is also beginning to expose Hovannisian's less-appealing qualities.

His speeches are filled with platitudes and contradictions. Rather than announcing plans, he is asking the crowd: What do you want to do? Stay for an hour or longer? He says he will stand and wait until the "outgoing" President Sargsyan comes and "recognizes the peoples' victory." The next day, however, he walks to the president's office for a closed-door meeting with the incumbent.

 "Many consider Hovannisian too volatile and impulsive to be president," says Asbed Bedrossian, founder and publisher of the Los Angeles-based "Groong" Armenian News Network and a longtime watcher of Armenian politics. "He seems to have problems calculating a few steps down the line."

Still, with all his shortcomings, Hovannisian today is seen by many as the country's best hope for change, if not as president, then as part of a governing coalition. A number of government figures, including the influential parliament speaker, have said that a coalition with Hovannisian is possible as long as he recognizes the official results. (Armenia does have some experience of coalitions, but for the most part this meant government's co-optation of the opposition.)

The very fact that Hovannisian and Sargsyan met and shook hands is a first in Armenia's post-electoral political world. A decent rapport between Sargsyan and Hovannisian may be an indication that there will be no violent incidents this time around. The police have been unusually accommodating to protesters. For now, Hovannisian plans to hold more protests and file an appeal with the Constitutional Court to try to annul some or all of the election results; at the same time, he hasn't dismissed a possible coalition with Sargsyan. Hovannisian has already made Armenian electoral history with his unprecedented campaign. The coming weeks and months will show whether the American-Armenian political contender is able to convert his electoral popularity into real-world gains for his constituents.

Source: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/03/04/armenia_s_california_dream_politics_elections?print=yes&hidecomments=yes&page=full

Why the Diaspora Should Join Armenia’s Barevolution


Raffi Hovannisian was asked by a reporter recently, “What would you like to say to the diaspora?” His response, “You’re asking me the wrong question. You should ask the diaspora what they want to say, and I will listen. Do they want to be part of building a more Democratic Armenia? If so, I will listen.

During previous elections, the diaspora has, for the most part, remained silent. Today, with the Internet, social media, and live coverage of the election and its aftermath, information has become more widely available, allowing the diaspora to not only be more informed and connected, but more involved. However, in the current state and projected future of the country, the diaspora must utilize this critical opportunity to get involved in a deeper way if it cares about the survival and prosperity of the country.

What role can the diaspora play? Do they have any power? Does it matter to the locals if the diaspora gets involved? The diaspora already does its part in other spheres; do they have any business getting involved in daily politics if they don’t live in Armenia? To answer some of these questions, I turned to local activists who were at the time writing letters to Serj Tankian asking him to come to Armenia. When asked why they wanted him to come, they responded with confidence that if Tankian were to come to Liberty Square, he would have a vital role to play in Barevolution. After all, in his written exchange with Tankian, Sarkisian replied to more questions posed by a diasporan expressing concerns about the election than he has to the thousands of citizens protesting outside the presidential palace. One might argue that Serj Tankian may have no business in Armenia’s local politics, but he is still able to make an impact.

Why is it vital that the diaspora join the movement? Since the last presidential election, roughly 180,000-250,000 people have left Armenia, mostly right after the election. Political instability, loss of hope in the system, monopolization of the country’s resources, poverty and unemployment are all to blame. Studies on population and emigration trends show that at the current high rate of emigration and low birth rate, there will only be one person left in Armenia by 2048. The diaspora has been fighting for years for the survival of the Armenian state, carrying out the mission of Hye Tahd (Armenian Cause). Surely, Armenia’s depopulation and domestic plight should become part of this mission.

Since regaining independence two decades ago, Armenia has faced no shortage of regional and internal challenges. It has endured a devastating earthquake, a war with neighboring Azerbaijan for Nagorno-Karabakh, and a blockade from two of its four neighboring countries. This prompted the diaspora to focus on aid to Armenia—and rightly so. Armenia needed first-responders such as charities. Diasporans sent food and clothing, or wrote a check to a trusted charity and felt good about doing their part. Now, more than twenty years later, the diaspora’s approach towards Armenia must shift, as Armenia has reached another phase in the effort to build a stable republic.

Today’s ailments and key threats to the nation’s survival include widespread emigration, human rights injustices, environmental degradation, regional hostility, and the suppression of pluralism and diversity of opinion in the private and public sectors. Oligarchs and mafia, all of whom are widely believed to have ties to the sitting president, currently monopolize the country’s thin resources, neglecting investment in economic development and in a viable middle class. Therefore, today’s Armenia needs partners, activists, and human-rights defenders. The Gyumretsi of yesterday needed emergency earthquake relief, but today she needs a partner in justice, making sure her voice is heard and her rights and resources are protected.

One does not need to be a rock star in order to play a role in changing Armenia’s future. Diasporan efforts can play a major role in providing moral support, resources, or pressuring both the Armenian and foreign governments to not legitimize fraudulent elections. To sustain claims of legitimacy, the Sarkisian camp has relied on congratulations from not only foreign heads of state but diaspora Armenian organizations. The initial OSCE assessment of the Presidential election was favorable, which most foreign leaders then echoed. After local activists intensely protested OSCE’s findings, OSCE altered their final report to state, “The analysis of official results shows a correlation between very high turnout and the number of votes for the incumbent. This raises concerns regarding the confidence over the integrity of the electoral process.” Unfortunately, the damage was done, as the preliminary report had already informed the decisions of several foreign governments to congratulate Sarkisian. The local effort by activists could have been bolstered by diasporan efforts abroad to pressure foreign governments to follow suit and reassess their conclusions about the election. American Armenians certainly have the power to write to their congressional leaders in such issues, as do their European counterparts.

There are many examples of diasporans who have physically joined the effort. Inspiring stories are being told around town of people quitting their prestigious jobs to fly to Yerevan to support the wave of change. Although this kind of commitment is not possible for everyone, drastic measures are not necessary; moral support can also go a long way. When local activists were asked what value diasporan support would offer them, and what kind of support they would like to see, they stated that, “The homeland is not only for the locals. It is the homeland of all Armenians. In the last 20 years we have reached out to the diaspora asking for aid through charities, we cannot tell them now to not get involved. We shouldn’t have two agendas and split our resources. The diaspora should be involved in this process bringing its resources and connections towards concrete actions for Armenia.” Recently, the board of the Armenian Law Student’s Association at Southwestern Law School wrote a letter to Amnesty International, urging the launch of a supporter mobilization campaign to assist in collective efforts towards a more democratic Armenia.

Barevoltion is a nationwide movement joined by different groups working towards the goal of a more democratic, citizen driven republic. Like every movement in history, change will not come overnight.  It will require a committed group united in the struggle willing to defy the status quo fighting for the mission of a better tomorrow. The involvement of the diaspora in Armenia has always been a controversial topic, but I decided to address it in this article because the alarm is ringing loud. Armenians in foreign lands needs to hear it before it is too late, because today the diaspora needs Armenia as much as Armenia needs the diaspora. The injustices in Armenia are making our nation ill, and they call for an emergency departure from the status quo. The diaspora has the resources, the far reaching network, and the ability to organize and lobby a cause. Armenia is looking for partners, investors, and activists to make the average citizen’s voice heard. Our parents’ generation fought to see an independent Armenia. This generation will be tested to see if they are able to create a stable, democratic republic for all—including the diaspora.

Tania Sahakian has worked with numerous Armenian organizations over the last decade. She moved to Armenia two years ago. Tania served as a monitor during the 2012 parliamentary elections and the 2013 presidential election in Armenia. She has experience working in elections in the U.S. and Europe as well, including the U.S. presidential campaign in 2008 and several senatorial and local elections. This is her first opinion piece for the Armenian Weekly.

Source:  http://www.armenianweekly.com/2013/03/23/why-the-diaspora-should-join-armenias-barevolution/

A Look at Raffi Hovannisian through U.S. Embassy Cables


The U.S. Embassy cables released by WikiLeaks provide invaluable information and insight on how American diplomats assess the inner workings of Armenia’s politics in general, and key players like Raffi Hovannisian in particular. As embassy officials grappled to absorb the day-to-day politics of the country, time and again they voiced their agreement with Hovannisian’s assessment of the political landscape in the country. They often judged him—the leader of the often sole opposition faction in parliament—to be a politician of a different breed, the exception among the “traditional” opposition politicians. However, they generally frowned upon his foreign policy views, which they attributed to his diaspora background.
Hovannisian is a product of the West, in that his democratic reform-oriented politics aspire to create an Armenia governed by the rule of law, divorced from a “Russia-centered” foreign policy. The cables reveal that Hovannisian repeatedly urged U.S. diplomats to balance their geopolitical objectives with support for democratic reforms. And so in 2005, Hovannisian joined forces with two other opposition figures—Aram Sargsyan and Hovhannes Hovhannisian—to create a “Western-leaning” union that would replace President Robert Kocharian’s government. Then-U.S. Ambassador John Evans informed Washington of these developments, under the subhead, “Three (Somewhat) Big Fish Join Forces.” Evans wrote that the alliance could be “viable” if managed right, though he doubted that it could pose a real threat to Kocharian’s regime. Evans added, “Given Raffi Hovannisian’s track record of joining and then departing coalitions,” it was yet to be seen if he would be the “poster child” of the new alliance. 

Perhaps it was this move of Hovannisian’s that raised suspicions among some—including members of the ruling Republican Party—that Hovannisian could be an agent of the West. In one cable, U.S. Chargé d’Affaires  Joseph Pennington wrote that a member of the Republican Party’s top executive council Samvel Nikoyan “shared his (completely mistaken) belief that Heritage Party leader and former AmCit [American citizen] Raffi Hovhannissian takes political instructions from the U.S. Government.” Less than a year later, Evans wrote of a “weakened” and “demoralized” opposition.

Harassment and blacklisting

Hovannisian has had a difficult task at hand, struggling to make his torch visible in a political environment that muffles voices of dissent. In 2006, Heritage Party officials notified the U.S. Embassy that the party was being subjected to harassment. In a confidential cable dated Aug. 8, 2006, Evans said his office did not rule out that President Kocharian was behind the attacks on opposition parties. Heritage Party members alleged the harassment began after Hovannisian publicly and harshly criticized Kocharian at a rally in November 2005. Referring to a letter Hovannisian had addressed to Kocharian, which included 21 “pointed” questions, Evans wrote, “Hovannisian was emboldened in his perceived mandate after he learned that, according to the results of a May 2006 Gallup poll…he was the most popular Armenian politician, with an approval rating of 74 percent.”

In a separate cable, Evans relayed how, according to media representatives, the president’s office had circulated a blacklist of politicians—including Hovannisian—who could not appear on television shows. U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Anthony Godfrey confirmed the claim in a subsequent cable, and raised concerns about the fairness of the upcoming 2007 parliamentary elections. By March 2007, ahead of the said elections, the situation had improved, according to Godfrey, and opposition figures like Hovannisian had begun to appear on TV in interviews.

The 2007 elections

Once again, Raffi Hovannisian was enjoying “high favorability ratings” in U.S. funded polls, wrote Godfrey on May 4, 2007, in a cable discussing the upcoming May 12 parliamentary elections. Godfrey however, doubted Hovannisian’s electability. “[He] may be seen as too much of a ‘nice guy’ for Armenian voters to believe he could succeed in the shark-filled political waters,” wrote Godfrey, adding, “[He] also has practically no organizational base or natural constituency, although his American-style campaign methods look as professional as any in the race.” In a separate cable, Godfrey highlighted instances of intimidation employed by the authorities to scare off potential Hovannisian supporters, as witnessed by OSCE observers.

Despite having secured only six percent of the vote, and gaining seven parliamentary seats, Rudolf V. Perina, the U.S. chargé d’affaires ad interim, believed Hovannisian’s campaign was a success. The title of his cable said it all: “Survey Shows Heritage Party the Big Winner of the May 12 Elections.” Perina was referring to a USAID-funded poll that had determined that “Raffi Hovannisian and his Heritage party gained the greatest increase in recognition and popularity following the May 12 Armenian Parliamentary elections… No party came close to achieving such an increase in both recognition and favorability,” wrote Perina. “The poll revealed that at 29 percent, the Heritage Party has the lowest unfavorability (negative opinion) rating in the country.” What was more interesting, the poll found that in a hypothetical presidential race that included then-Prime Minister Serge Sarkisian and Hovannisian, the two would outpoll all other candidates. 

Furthermore, the highest number of respondents—36 percent—said they would vote for Hovannisian, compared to 30 percent for Sarkisian. Perina thought Hovannisian’s pre-election campaign was “brilliant,” that he was successful in converting his high favorability ratings into ballots cast, and that his party “proved itself,” meaning that more voters would feel confident to support him in the future.

Setting himself apart

In a subsequent cable dated Aug. 24, 2007, Perina reported that Hovannisian had changed his campaign tactics leading up to the Aug. 26 race in District 15 for a majoritarian parliamentary seat. Instead of driving around in a colorful bus—U.S.-style—Hovannisian was now campaigning door-to-door. “[He] has been seen speaking to farmers in fields and helping women carry water from wells,” wrote Perina. “Hovannisian is in the race to build on his and his party’s burgeoning popularity and, in his own words, ‘to reclaim step-by-step, day-by-day, those votes stolen from us.’ It will be interesting to see if the Heritage Party chairman’s strategy of bringing his national following to this small backwater of rural Armenia helps boost his presidential aspirations.”

Perina attributed the “failures” of “traditional” opposition figures in Armenia to their desire to “mobilize the elite.” The U.S. diplomat saw one exception: “There seems to be only one politician in Armenia who can grasp the importance of reaching out directly to the voters themselves, and that is the American-born-and-bred Raffi Hovannisian, who also seems to us the clear public-opinion winner of the May [2007 parliamentary] election.” Perina saw Hovannisian as former President Levon Ter Petrosian’s “most credible rival” in leading the opposition. “Hovannisian now seems the biggest ‘X’ factor in the presidential race. If he is able to run, he might have a real shot,” Perina wrote. However, as both Ter Petrosian and Kocharian had denied Hovannisian Armenian citizenship, the latter only became a citizen in 2001, after Kocharian yielded; as presidential candidates are required to have been a citizen of Armenia for at least 10 years, this meant Hovannisian could not run for the highest office until 2011.

Hovannisian was untraditional both in building a support base and in his exchanges with foreign diplomats, traits that often set him apart from his political rivals. Reporting on meetings between Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs Matthew Bryza and various opposition figures in August 2007, Perina dwelled on Bryza’s exchange with Hovannisian. “In sharp contrast to most oppositionists meeting U.S. officials, Hovannisian wanted to talk not just about party politics, but also about a wide range of foreign policy issues. He highlighted Turkey…and commented that the most important ingredient to success in negotiations with either Turkey or Azerbaijan would be to have a president and a government with unquestionable democratic legitimacy, which he felt no Armenian government has had since the early years of President Levon Ter Petrosian. He felt that Armenian leaders with real popular legitimacy would have much greater standing to negotiate tough issues, including staking out a more independent position from Russia. Hovannisian thought Armenia should naturally align with the Euro-Atlantic community, and break the ‘vertical power’ of the Russia-Armenia relationship. He felt that Russia had already been given far too many Armenian assets, and that this would be a burden on future governments for years to come.”

Raffi ‘unhelpful’

Not all of Hovannisian’s political maneuvers were perceived favorably by U.S. diplomats. In fact, often—or as often as he discussed foreign policy—his approach was deemed to counter U.S. or western-supported objectives. For instance, Hovannisian introduced a bill in parliament calling for the recognition of Nagorno-Karabagh. “The move has little chance of being enacted or signed by the president, but makes for clever politics. The populist ploy will put the government and ruling party in the position of having to block an initiative that would be very popular among average Armenians, if enacted,” wrote Perina, adding, “Of course, the move is extremely unhelpful from the perspective of Minsk Group negotiations and efforts to resolve the conflict.”

When Turkey and Russia upped their attempts to broker peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan, then-U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch sent a cable, dated Nov. 17, 2008, with an overview of official and public perceptions in Armenia. In it, she spotlighted Hovannisian’s position: “[He] highlighted ‘genocide’ recognition as a high priority, and hinted at a view we have detected elsewhere that Armenia should make no decisive moves on Turkey or NK until the next U.S. Administration takes office.” Hovannisian along with many others hoped that the Obama Administration would “open a new century” in U.S.-Armenia relations, beginning with recognition of the Armenian Genocide to a change in the U.S. position on Nagorno-Karabagh. Yovanovitch characterized that approach as “worrying,” because she believed it could thwart “major progress toward transforming the regional reality for the better.”

Dinner and a personality profile

In May 2009, Raffi Hovannisian accepted Yovanovitch’s invitation to dinner. The ambassador was as much interested in Hovannisian’s views on the recent election for Yerevan mayor as she was on his thoughts on Turkish-Armenian rapprochement. The dinner produced two detailed accounts of Hovannisian’s politics, one on his take on domestic politics, and another on his foreign policy. In the first, Yovanovitch gave the following testimony on her impressions of Hovannisian: “An Armenian-American émigré to Armenia who renounced his U.S. citizenship in the 1990’s to position himself for a run at Armenia’s presidency, Hovannisian is an aberration in the rough-and-tumble politics of post-Soviet Armenia. While Armenian-born politicians run fast and dirty, Hovannisian has remained faithful to his decades-long goal of transforming Armenia’s deformed political culture. Barred from running for president last year on an immigration technicality, it is widely assumed that the authorities will never permit the reformist Hovannisian a chance at the country’s top posts. One gets the impression in speaking with him that Hovannisian realizes his boat has sailed, and that he is now focused on grooming young, reform-minded, local politicians to overturn the paradigm that has bedeviled his ancestral homeland.”

Yovanovitch’s second cable focused on Hovannisian’s support of rapprochement without preconditions, something all three presidential administrations had advocated for since independence. However, he said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s provocative statements—especially regarding Karabagh—and his use of “emotive vocabulary” were “fraying Armenia’s nerves.” He considered the response from the Armenian side inadequate. He noted that the timing of the roadmap to normalization—just before newly elected President Obama’s April 24 address—was being met with suspicion and fear that the Armenian government had sold out. Yovanovitch, in turn, stressed that the present opportunity to normalize relations with Turkey was “truly rare,” and that “trust on both sides, particularly between President Sarkisian and PM Erdogan was critical, lest the opportunity be lost.” According to the cable, “Hovannisian then griped that ‘a border opening’ should not even be part of Turkish-Armenian negotiations to normalize relations. He called the 1993 border closing by Turkey a ‘hostile act,’ and said that years after ‘Turkey unilaterally closed its border with Armenia,’ it now seeks ‘additional chits’ to re-open it. Hovannisian fumed that the current Turkish approach amounted to ‘puerile diplomacy.’”

In her concluding remarks summarizing her impressions on Hovannisian’s foreign policy, Yovanovitch wrote, “The grandson of a ‘genocide’ survivor who was dismissed as foreign minister after issuing heated remarks on an official visit to Turkey in the early 1990’s, Raffi Hovannisian obviously has strong views on the way Armenia should handle rapprochement with Turkey. The authorities have a long way to go to prepare their public on rapprochement if they have yet to convince a respected opinion maker like Hovannisian of the merits of their approach. If properly informed and consulted, Hovannisian could be a powerful advocate of rapprochement—if not, he could become yet another opponent on a long and growing list.”

Hopeful and resolute

On June 18, 2009, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon met with Hovannisian. During the meeting, Hovannisian criticized the elections for Yerevan mayor and City Council as a “failed post-Soviet election” that revealed the challenges ahead in the establishment of the rule of law, as well as a transparent electoral system. He expressed his hopes that the ARF, which had recently defected from the ruling coalition, would turn into a real opposition party. “He expressed hope that the ARF-Dashnaktsutiun Party, which recently broke with the governing coalition over its reconciliation efforts with Turkey, will become a genuine opposition party and will not focus just on the single issue of genocide recognition. He hopes it will support rule of law and democratic reform, which he claims to be at the heart of Heritage’s agenda,” wrote Yovanovitch. Hovannisian spoke about the sophistication in election fraud, about how there was essentially a one-party rule in the country, as the Republican Party always ensured its candidates would have the necessary votes to win by using administrative resources. He said the Armenian authorities knew how to “play” Europe well—by hinting at reforms just before the quarterly meetings of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), but rarely coming through.

Gordon also became familiar with Hovannisian’s views on Turkey. He “insisted” that Turkey come to terms with its past, as real normalization would not be possible without Turkey acknowledging the genocide. He rejected the notion of a historical commission that would place the genocide at its center. He also argued that recognition of Nagorno-Karabagh, like recognition of Kosovo or South Ossetia, was a political act; and that, like the latter two, Karabagh should enjoy it as well.

In her comments, Yovanovitch said Hovannisian’s positions are “generally well-crafted” and “based on sound legal argument, even in cases where they may not be politically viable.” As to his involvement in politics, she believed that he is “unwilling to invest himself fully in the political process at home at the risk of a major failure.”

Protocols tip the scale

About two months later, on Aug. 31, 2009, Yovanovitch was relaying back to Washington news that the opposition—comprised of “the ultra-nationalist” ARF, the Armenian National Congress (ANC), and Heritage—had joined forces to oppose Sarkisian and his handling of the Turkey-Armenia rapprochement negotiations. They were calling on the president to pull out of the talks and “denounce alleged Armenian concessions on N-K.” Yovanovitch conveyed that following the ARF’s “raucous two-day conference” in Stepanakert, the other opposition parties had quickly joined forces. She noted that “the loudest and most strident criticism of Armenian policy on Turkey and N-K” was coming from the ARF.

“Armenia’s failure to achieve real progress toward normalization and a border opening with Turkey by the time of the Turkey-Armenia soccer match in October would create a clear danger point for Sarkisian and his government, though most of our interlocutors downplay scenarios that could lead to the President’s removal,” warned Yovanovitch, “Fortuitously for Sarkisian, personal rivalries and differing perspectives among the three opposition groups will likely hinder their ability to form and maintain a united front. The rising and increasingly vocal criticism of the President’s foreign policies, however, make significant, near-term concessions on N-K very unlikely, and ensure that Sarkisian will stay away from the Turkey-Armenia soccer match in October in the absence of visible progress toward a deal,” she added, but reassured Washington that “the long-term agendas and personal rivalries” among the opposition groups would pose a challenge to their unified front against Sarkisian.

As for Raffi Hovannisian, Yovanovitch would attribute his stance to his diaspora roots, faintly implying that the oddball politician was a hybrid, the child of two different worlds, and that, in this case, one side was dominating: “As a diaspora Armenian himself, Hovannisian’s personal convictions on issues like Turkey and N-K are in some respects similar to Dashnak views. But the Heritage agenda—which lays heavy emphasis on political reform, rule of law, human rights, and democratization—is significantly broader than the Dashnaks’,” she wrote.

About a week later, Hovannisian resigned from the National Assembly, leaving many, including Pennington, dumbfounded. Heritage leader Armen Martirosian told embassy officials that Hovannisian had said his reasons were “personal and related to crucial national issues.” Martirosian seemed as stunned as Pennington. “I know [Hovannisian’s explanation] doesn’t mean much to you, and it doesn’t to me either, but that’s what he told us,” he said, while Heritage Party Secretary Stepan Safarian said, “Raffi is a combination of an Armenian and American politician, so maybe you’ll [Pennington] understand him better than I do.”

Some believed Hovannisian’s decision was linked to his disapproval of the Armenia-Turkey rapprochement protocols. Others suspected he was “saving” himself for the 2013 presidential elections. “Rectifying the historic injustices committed against the Armenian population in early 20th century Turkey (what he refers to as ‘the great dispossession’) has been Hovannisian’s cause celebre throughout his professional career—as independent Armenia’s first Foreign Minister, as founder and director of a prominent think tank, and then as political party founder and aspirant for the Armenian presidency. A sharp critic of the GOAM’s [government of Armenia] rapprochement policy that he thought was selling out ‘the cause,’ it appears that Hovannisian could not stomach the recently signed Turkish-Armenian protocols,” wrote Pennington, adding, “A principled resignation to protest a policy would make sense if one were a member of the ruling party. In Hovannisian’s case, however, it isn’t yet clear what statement he hopes to make in resigning from the sole—and miniscule—opposition faction in Parliament. The idea that Hovannisian is ‘saving’ himself for a presidential run seems farfetched. By opting out of one of the most important debates in Armenia’s political history, it seems more likely that Hovannisian is taking a step toward political irrelevance.”

“The reformist” Hovannisian reemergence

Hovannisian is in fact a hybrid politician. He is persistent in his efforts to connect to voters, whether by driving to the countryside in a brightly colored bus or by giving a helping hand to a potential voter. All the while, he has continued to craft an image of himself as “the people’s man.” Even his populist campaign slogan—“It is possible!”—is reminiscent of U.S. President Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can!” catchphrase, which was successful in capitalizing on the idea of hope—a commodity many Armenian voters thirst for. U.S. diplomats have recognized Hovannisian’s ability and will to appeal to and bond with common folk, a strength other opposition leaders, like the “deeply disliked” opposition leader Ter Petrosian, have failed to hone.

Hovannisian has also long been on the record with his demands for democratic reforms, another bonus that sits well with the multitude of disgruntled citizens. He believes democratization should be supported and prioritized by American diplomats, and it has been his mission to drive this message home. There is very little room for questioning U.S. policies towards Armenia. What the cables demonstrate is that geopolitical considerations are at the forefront of U.S. concerns in the Caucasus. Some might even think it naïve of the former foreign minister to hope otherwise, given the U.S. foreign policy track record. But Hovannisian has adopted a different angle to sell to American diplomats: Forget about democratization for its own sake, support democratic reforms for the sake of regional solutions that are supported by a legitimate government—and by extension, the people. After all, we all witnessed the pitiful ending to the Armenia-Turkey rapprochement protocols, and so did the American diplomats.

But U.S. Embassy officials have also learned that in Armenia, given enough time (sometime as little as days) the opposition begins butting heads.  U.S. envoys have watched as opposition coalitions formed and dissolved, marked by personal grudges, rivalries, and “clashes of egos.” The opposition, it seemed, just couldn’t maintain alliances long enough to mount successful and unified campaigns.

As part of the tapestry that is the opposition, Hovannisian, too, has proved to have—in Ambassador Evans’ words—a “track record of joining and then departing coalitions.” Sometimes, those within his party circle have been unaware or unsure of his political maneuvers. And so, Hovannisian has remained an enigma for both his Armenian compatriots and his American observers. Time and again he has appeared to be on the brink of “irrelevance,” only to resurface, undaunted. A hybrid politician, Hovannisian is both unconventional and unpredictable—and that is his edge.

An Armenian spring?


A landscape exuding hopelessness and catastrophe surrounds the city of Vanadzor in Armenia. As we neared the end of the three-hour drive from Tbilisi last week, my companions and I passed orchards reduced to stubble, farms that could barely be called subsistence, inhabited homes whose roofs had long since caved in, and—bleakest of all—a sprawling wasteland of concrete rubble from the earthquake that devastated this region in 1988.  Vanadzor itself, Armenia’s third-largest city, reminded me of Russian provincial cities in the 1990s: depressing, impoverished, grey.

Yerevan, the capital and home to a third of the country’s three million people, shows a façade of modern prosperity. The buildings are grand, gaudy, and intact, though many of the high-end apartments stand empty.  But I was told that until a few weeks ago, a common hopelessness seemed to hang over both Yerevan and Vanadzor. 

The reasons for the hopelessness were clear. President Serzh Sargsyan presides over a corrupt and sometimes thuggish government. A small number of oligarchs rule the economy and control its markets.  Violent repression of protests following Sargsyan’s election in 2008, combined with the devastating impact of the global financial crisis on Armenia, the sporadic war with Azerbaijan, and the failed border talks with Turkey, have steadily deepened cynicism, poverty, and despair, while propelling emigration.

As last month’s presidential elections approached, virtually all observers expected the incumbent Sargsyan to return to power with an overwhelming majority, especially since the main opposition party announced it would not even field a candidate.  “We saw the same pattern as in previous elections: the same bribes, the same misuse of the government apparatus,” an election monitor said about the weeks before the election. One relatively obscure former minister , Raffi Hovannisian, chose to challenge the president. The result seemed easily predictable. Estimates of the president’s likely majority at the polls reached as high as 90 percent.  “I expected this to be the most boring election of the four I have observed,” the monitor recalls.

Instead, everything changed.  The February 18 elections sent shockwaves through the country as unexpected as those of the earthquake a generation earlier…but these were waves of hope.  Thousands of the ballots cast were spoiled or blank.  With the spoiled ballots put aside in the official tally, Hovannisian won 37 percent of the vote.  Even more remarkably, the official tally acknowledged that the president lost in Vanadzor as well as in Gyrmri, the second largest city.  People had happily accepted the bribes, but voted against Sargsyan anyway.  The president was quickly declared the winner and his election acknowledged by both Putin and Obama. But many Armenians are convinced he was defeated.

The political energy released since then is palpable.  Large protests have taken place across the country, and for the first time they have attracted thousands of young people unaffiliated with any political party.  Hovannisian, having lost an appeal to the Constitutional Court alleging election fraud, ended a hunger strike on Easter Sunday, but the protests have become a weekly event in Yerevan. Student activism has surged. A grassroots women’s movement seems to be supplying most of the new, young leadership in the protests. Longtime human rights activists are comparing the mood to the days in which the Soviet state lost its legitimacy.

Inauguration Day for the president is April 9. Sargsyan is planning a modest, private ceremony. On the same day, a shadow inauguration is planned in a public square for Hovannisian, whom some call the “truly elected president.” How many people will attend the shadow inaugural? I asked one human rights veteran.  “I signed a letter pledging to be in the square that day, and maybe others will come too,” he replied.  “Maybe we will have the largest inauguration in history.”

The Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation of Armenia is equally energized.  Larisa Minasyan, the veteran executive director, told me that she has never seen the staff so excited. The head of the women’s program exudes enthusiasm in every conversation; others creatively debate how to connect their policy agendas for more a open society to the new energy of the social movements filling the streets.

At lunch with six of the most respected human rights leaders in the country last week, I asked those at the table to consider three possible scenarios.  In the first, the enthusiasm of the past few weeks runs its course, the president remains in power, and, in a few months, the status quo reestablishes itself.  In the second, the energy of these weeks grows stronger and profound change comes to the Armenian state and society.  In the third, the protests grow but are met with a state of emergency and violently repressed.  Which is most likely?  The table was unanimous in its choice of the second scenario: real transformation.  No one thought the first was even a possibility, but they disagreed about the probability of a crackdown.

Far from Armenia, all of this may seem the mild delusions of optimistic activists. Surely the first scenario, a return to the status quo, is the most likely, at least judging by the world’s press.  The parliamentary representative from Vanadzor tells me the same thing: the election was a big surprise, but the post-election situation has already returned to the status quo.  When I put this question to a lawyer working in Vanadzor, she shook her head, and tried to help me understand.  “It wasn’t just election day,” she explained. “In our office in Vanadzor there is a box, and every day people come to the office to deposit letters in it.  The letters are to President Sargsyan, and they all say the same thing: ‘I don’t believe you won the election. Please have the political courage to resign.’  We will deliver the letters one day soon, and who knows?  Everything has changed.  There is hope.”

Source: http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/voices/armenian-spring

Armenian Diaspora in USA plans on South Caucasus


On Tuesday Vladimit Putin met his Armenian colleague. Serge Sargsyan’s official visit to Russia is the first foreign visit of Armenian President after the elections. There are very few details on the summit.

Recent events in Armenia have caused close attention to be paid to the internal political situation in the republic: the leader of Heritage Raffi Hovannisyan, who was thought to be an outsider of the election campaign, suddenly won 37% in the presidential elections and refused admission of Sargsyan’s victory. The attention appeared among administrations of leaders of the USA, the UK, and France. All of them encouraged Sargsyan to break the status quo over Karabakh and register the success in the Armenian-Turkish process. The recognition of the elections’ results by the West and Russia means that foreign players can connect their interests in the region with prudent Serge Sargsyan.

President of the USA Barack Obama told his Armenian colleague in his congratulatory message that Washington intends to contribute to the peacemaking process of settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. American President directly hinted at the necessity “of making a valuable step toward settlement, which will provide long-term peace and security.” According to him, the USA want to continue working on the possible normalization of the Armenian-Turkish relations.

Some aggressive circles in Armenia and the environment of Raffi Hovannisyan have already characterized Obama’s message as a demand “to leave the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.” The opposition criticized the State Secretary Kerry for proposing one-sided concessions for Armenia in the Karabakh settlement because there can be no other interpretation of the phrase “to change status quo.” The opposition is sure that considering Turkey’s demands and Armenia’s interests, the USA expect a change to the status quo from Armenia, i.e. withdrawal from the territories. This is a price for the US congratulations and perspective support.

This suggestion is quite possible because the initiative president of Armenia has many times demonstrated readiness to concessions. The readiness was shown after the initiation of the Armenian-Turkish process was  based on failed protocols. However, Serge Sargsyan played his role to the West and it has enabled him to receive dubious congratulations after very dubious presidential elections.

According to the head of the Armenian Center on National and Strategic Studies (ACSNI) Manvel Sarkisyan, the “pro-Russian attitude of Serge Sargsyan and pro-Western attitude of Raffi Hovannisyan are based on fairytales which were imagined by Armenian politicians who are far from political analysis; and it has nothing in common with the current reality.” In international politics absolutely other factors are important. The interests of almost all superpowers are being implemented in Armenia today, and these interests often do not contradict each other.

However, the deputy chairman of Heritage Armen Martirosyan doesn’t agree with the expert’s view. According to Martirosyan, Hovannisyan would never yield in ethnic issues, that is why many countries support Sargsyan. The main reason for this support is the position of the President on several important foreign political issues. “Sargsyan accepts the Madrid Principles of the Karabakh settlement and shameful Armenian-Turkish protocols. Hovannisayn does not. That is why they congratulate Sargsyan with the victory,” Martirosyan is sure.

Recently the US ambassador in Armenia John Heffern said in his video-blog that the US’s goal toward Armenia is shifting Yerevan’s views toward the West because “no country can depend on only one partner.” The most interesting fragment of the ambassador’s speech was the story on his visit of Armenian-populated towns of the USA in December, where he met representatives of Armenian Diaspora. The ambassador stated that Armenians from Diaspora “were interesting in Armenia’s problems and were ready to contribute to changes in the republic.” Actually Heffern hinted that the American policy in favor of Armenian society and diaspora could make the Armenian authorities – either new or old – take certain steps. 

The most important in this situation is a price for American readiness to encourage the development. Speaking about the US Armenians, the diplomat presented them as a guarantor that Armenia would have to pay for American support by concessions in a strategic issue. It is well-known that Armenian Diaspora in the US has a tough position on national-strategic problems, unlike the state policy of Armenia. Hovannisyan, who has come from California and doesn’t recognize Sargsyan’s power, is the best provider of such a policy directed against Russian presence in the region.

Source: http://vestnikkavkaza.net/analysis/politics/38055.html

Russian President must reconsider his hasty decision and must stand by the Armenian people


Russian President Vladimir Putin must be among the first to reconsider his hasty decision to congratulate Serzh Sargsyan on reelected as President of Armenia and must stand by the Armenian people, the leader of Heritage Party Raffi Hovannisian said at Liberty Square on Monday. He said that he believes in strategic partnership with democratic Russia but to make this possible, Russia must become democratic and must stop acting against the Armenian people. According to Hovannisian, the United States and France have also broken their democratic commitments and must also review their attitudes. On Tuesday Serzh Sargsyan is starting an official visit to Moscow. Putin was among the first to congratulate Sargsyan on his victory in the Feb 18 presidential election. The official results say that Sargsyan secured 58.64% of the votes, but Hovannisian is refusing to accept this figure and is holding rallies all over Armenia.

Source: http://www.arminfo.info/index.cfm?objectid=E7162A30-8A5C-11E2-A879F6327207157C

Armenia should not join Eurasian Union, opposition says 


The opposition Heritage Party's Secretary General, Stephan Saparyan, thinks that entering into the Eurasian Union will not be beneficial for Armenia and it just has to preserve its good relations with Russia. Saparyan says that Russia’s influence in central Asian countries is being challenged by China while from the West; the EU Eastern partnership program is challenging Russia. According to him, the Eastern Partnership is already a realistic perspective, whereas Eurasian Union so far exists only on paper. Saparyan’s opinion is based on the reality that Armenia does not have direct borders with Eurasian countries. Despite not having common borders with the EU, Armenia could exercise such contact via Georgia, thinks Armenian opposition member.

Source: http://www.messenger.com.ge/issues/2740_november_20_2012/2740_econ_two.html

Whither CSTO: Russian Power, Armenian Sovereignty, and a Region at Risk

The second anniversary of blitzkrieg between Russia and Georgia underscores the unresolved geopolitical undercurrents in this region among the seas. Landlocked by the forces of history from the Caspian, the Black and the Mediterranean, Armenia ’s pivotal position remains encircled by a neighborhood in strategic turmoil. The inherent jeopardy flowing from Turkey ’s now obviously disingenuous engagement of Armenia , the challenges posed by Azerbaijan ’s graduation from its threatening language of war to its launch of a deadly attack in June, and the general escalation of tension across the Caucasus have combined to define the greater region as one at immediate risk of deepening instability.

Against this backdrop of system-wide insecurity, Armenia is now facing a dangerous alignment of outside interests and internal shortcomings. While Yerevan ’s “strategic” relationship with Moscow continues to serve as the bedrock for regional peace and security, the nature of the Armenian-Russian embrace is unduly lopsided. The asymmetry of the Russian-Armenian relationship is most manifest in the fundamental lack of equal and mutually respectful cooperation.

After all, Armenia ’s hosting of the only Russian military base in the area is no simple act of kindness, and must be anchored in a shared regard for each other’s interests. What is more, the Russian base is the only such facility outside of the Russian Federation where the host country receives neither rent nor reimbursement. Armenia pays for the totality of its costs and expenses. Such a mortgaging of Armenian national security is unacceptable and demands immediate redress. In the new era, Armenian-Russian partnership, in order to be strategic without quotation marks, must be sincere, really reciprocal and based on horizontal respect, despite the differences in size and experience between the two nations.

A case in point is the information recently leaked by the Russian media and reactively confirmed by official Yerevan that the two states, either bilaterally or under the auspices of the CollectiveSecurity Treaty Organization (CSTO), intend to extend up to 49 years the treaty arrangement for the Russian base and the deployment of forces there. Matters of dignity aside, this flies in the face ofArmenian sovereignty, foreign policy independence, and vital national interests. It also flouts the unlimited future potential of an actually strategic partnership between us.

This holds especially true in view of the fact that the existing base agreement does not expire until 2020 and can, if necessary, be extended upon expiration for five or even ten years. Of further consternation is the Kremlin’s military rapport with and sales to Ankara , which stands in occupation of the historic Armenian patrimony, has imposed a modern-day blockade of the Republic of Armenia tantamount to an act of war, and continues to deny and shirk responsibility for the Genocide and GreatArmenian Dispossession of 1915.

A more contemporary source of outrage is Moscow’s military support for Azerbaijan, which having launched a failed war of aggression against Mountainous Karabagh and Armenia is today threatening renewed hostilities, completing its occupation of theArmenian heartlands of Shahumian, Getashen, Artsvashen, and Nakhichevan, and continuing with impunity to destroy and desecrate the Armenian cultural heritage at Jugha and elsewhere. In this connection, in the event that Russia indeed carries through with the reported sale of its S-300 weapon systems or other equivalent armaments to the aggressive, belligerent, and revisionist regime of Azerbaijan, Armenia should withdraw forthwith from the CSTO, of which it is the sole member from the region, or at the very least require full fair-market rent for the Russian base together with reimbursement for water, electricity and other relevant expenses.

And finally, the ultimate achievement of Partnership between Russia and Armenia , and between Russia and the West, will necessarily entail an actual application of the Rule of Law—not only domestic but also international—and hence the recognition of the Republic of Mountainous Karabagh within its constitutional frontiers, as well as of Kosovo and Abkhazia. Anything else is partisan politics, petty political gain and sui generis dissimulation, all of which might make sense for some and for the moment but at bottom run counter to the aims of peace, security, justice and democratic values for the critical landmass amid the seas.


Heritage submits draft on ousting KGB snitches still in power


Heritage parliamentary faction submitted to the National Assembly of Armenia a new legislative initiative with a number of suggested additions to the fundamental provisions regulating the country’s national security. The new package provides for citizens’ protection from individuals affiliated with intelligence services of former USSR and foreign countries, from their influence, blackmail and enrollment, as well as implication in illegal activities.

The package of draft laws on additions to the Criminal Code of Armenia, as well as a number of laws has been submitted to the parliament and is being considered by a number of standing committees before it can be put on the agenda of discussions. The purpose of the legislative initiative is to purge individuals who had openly or secretly cooperated or worked with the former USSR State Security Committee (KGB), intelligence, counter-intelligence, intelligence task-force services, by September 21,1991, Referendum of Independence.

Heritage faction members are convinced that the package approval would enable release of duties of individuals holding leading or other positions at Armenia’s judicial, executive, legislative, public administration bodies, and local governments, if these individuals openly or secretly cooperated with intelligence services. The draft provides for granting a right to (voluntary) resignation if individuals holding or aspiring to hold posts subject to purge have either been disclosed or confessed cooperation with intelligence services.

Source: http://www.armenianow.com/news/33244/armenia_draft_law_kgb_agents

Related information:

Appo Jabarian: Does Failed Presidential Candidate Raffi Hovannisian Seek Armenia’s Destabilization?

 Decision 2013 Part II: Hovannisian-Sargsyan talks produce no immediate news amid continuing post-election standoff

Armenia’s northern neighbor, former Soviet Republic of Georgia recently aborted its so called ‘orange revolution’ and reverted back to a foreign policy that fosters balanced ties with the Western bloc (Europe and United States) as well as the Eastern bloc (mainly Russia). It is against this backdrop that Armenia’s main opposition, presidential candidate Raffi Hovannisian hoped to win Armenia’s Feb. 19 presidential election effectively pulling off an ‘apricot revolution.’

He failed. But will he concede defeat?

Despite the fact that there are no solid indications that he ‘won,’ Mr. Hovannisian boasted early this week that he is the president-elect. He even went further to introduce his wife as the “new First Lady.” He also demanded that Pres. Serge Sargsyan submit his resignation (Mr. Sargsyan was declared the winner of the election with 58.64 percent of the vote, against Hovannisian’s 36.75 percent. The remaining 4 percent of the votes was spread among several other candidates).

Mr. Hovannisian also called for continuous demonstration at the Liberty Square located in Yerevan, capital of Armenia. Additionally, he expressed his intention to stage a new demonstration countering a demonstration in support of Pres. Sargsyan organized by the Republican Party of Armenia. Both demonstrations will be held at the same location. One can envision the great civil unrest and turmoil triggered by this confrontation ultimately destabilizing Armenia.

In March 2008, Armenia went through a post-election turmoil when innocent Armenian citizens lost their lives because of instigations by then failed presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrossyan’s backers. Mr. Hovannisian was a supporter of Mr. Ter-Petrossyan. While President Sargsyan’s administration has been criticized for many political mistakes, Mr. Hovannisian’s track record as an Armenian parliamentarian is vividly remembered when he compromised on the issue of Armenian Genocide in his infamous August 2007 letter to Turkey’s newly elected President Abdullah Gul.

Mr, Hovannisian had faced widespread criticism and condemnation by many Armenian media outlets for pandering to Turkey as a result of his usage of a highly insulting term “Great Armenian Dispossession” in lieu of the words “The Armenian Genocide.” If as a mere parliamentarian Mr. Hovannisian was willing to sell out on the Armenian Genocide and justice for his people, what would he do as President?

Would he be any different than his former boss Pres. Ter-Petrossyan and another operative – Vartan Oskanyan then Deputy Foreign Minister and later Foreign Minister under Pres. Kocharyan — who were all too willing to return strategic lands in liberated Armenian territory of Artsakh (Karabagh) back to Azeri yoke?

I must clarify that I have absolutely no intention to offer blind support to his main opponent Pres. Sargsyan either. Pres. Sargsyan’s administration has been red-flagged for a number of critical issues – corruption; catering to Armenia’s oligarchs that continue to monopolize Armenia’s economy; intending to ratify the infamous Turkish-imposed protocols that are detrimental to Armenia’s present and future. Patriotic Armenians in Armenia and Diaspora are sandwiched between Armenia’s oligarchs on the left and Armenian neo-Cons on the right.

They are wary of their future being hijacked by either of the two fringe groups – oligarchs and their clans, Armenian political careerists, materialists, and seekers of fame and fortune at all cost who are backed by their neo-Con masters in Washington and elsewhere. For how much longer the patriotic forces both in the Homeland and Diaspora will continue to feel squeezed? Will they stand up anytime soon to ‘invite’ both destructive forces to curb their appetite for power at-all-cost; and to put the Armenian state and its Diaspora on the right track?

Time will tell.

On Feb. 19, Armenia staged its sixth presidential election ever since it became independent in 1991. Reportedly, this presidential election was marred by widespread bribes, irregularities, bullying and corruption. Despite the emergence of a new generation of Armenians who are endeavoring to distance themselves from the old Soviet corrupt ways of doing ‘business’ practiced by their parents’ and grandparents’ generations, Armenia’s society as a whole still hasn’t freed itself from ‘giving and receiving gifts.’

Many compatriots live in abject poverty. The 21-yearl old newly independent former Soviet republic failed in rebuilding an economy capable of providing employment and healthy economic opportunity for all. Even though Mr. Hovannisian presented a great-sounding campaign platform promising to create massive employment, his campaign rallies failed to attract sizable turnouts in many localities and cities of Armenia. Many considered his promise as coming a little too late. They lamented Mr. Hovannisian’s close association with the highly corrupt administration of Armenia’s First President Levon Ter-Petrossyan. Hovannisian served as the First Foreign Minister of Armenia, while his boss and other associates looted Armenia and dismantled the country’s industrial base.

For over two decades, succeeding Armenian presidential administrations as well as the Armenian Diaspora failed to bring to Armenia 1) Institutionalized democracy; 2) Comprehensive reform on all levels of government and in all segments of civil society; and 3) Massive employment and economic prosperity.

The blame and responsibility for the current situation rest on the shoulders of both the Homeland and the Diaspora. But the lion’s share of the responsibility specifically belongs to the oligarchs, major political parties in Armenia; and all major organizations and structures in the Diaspora. Despite Armenians’ collective desire, the politically mature citizens in Armenia have yet to constitute the majority of the electorate. The number of politically alert and economically self-sufficient Armenians barely hovers around 15-20% of the total populace. That’s hardly sufficient to engender better government; independent judiciary; and prosperous economy.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that weeks before the election many independent observers anticipated that Armenia would ‘reelect’ incumbent Pres. Sagsyan for another five years. Some even went further in underlining the fact that the outcome should not come as a shock to anyone, lamenting

1) lack of democracy;
2) absence of free and fair elections;
3) apathetic and unengaged electorate;
4) politically immature populace;
5) weak, disorganized and fragmented opposition;
6) lack of Armenia-centered political orientation that can serve as the basis for the country’s foreign and domestic policy doctrine. 

All these and other factors have combined in predetermining the outcome of the presidential election. The seemingly insurmountable internal problems of Armenia are after all manageable.

During the course of 21-years of independence, Armenia and Armenian society could not achieve massive transformational changes. The qualitative changes have not permeated all aspects of life in Armenia. The bulk of the population that was already over the age of 18 and indoctrinated by former soviet corrupt values continues to make up the overwhelming majority of Armenia’s electorate. So it would be unrealistic to anticipate an expedited transition to a new Armenia that’s comparable to Denmark or Switzerland. That task requires serious and sustainable commitment.

A battle has been lost but not the war.

However, in order to avoid facing another quarter century of lost opportunities for world Armenians, the ‘Powers That Be’ in Armenia must foster genuine partnership with the Diaspora; and stop treating it like a cash cow. As for the Diaspora, it must reinvent itself and become a better organized entity both for its sake and the sake of Armenia. It must adopt a hands-on approach in helping build Armenia’s economy and in helping shape a progressive civil society. Qualitative and quantitative repatriation needs to be further developed. Thinking outside the box may pave the way to overhaul the modus operandi both in Armenia and Diaspora.

Source: http://www.armenianlife.com/2013/02/21/does-failed-presidential-candidate-raffi-hovannisian-seek-armenia%E2%80%99s-destabilization/

Activist Ara K. Manoogian to Obama: "Why did you congratulate Sargsyan?"


I would like to express my concern about your congratulatory message to Serzh Sargsyan, the acting President of the Republic of Armenia, on his re-election. Your message came 12 days after the Presidential Election, which was marred with considerable election fraud. What I would like to ask you is: what changed between February 18 and March 2, to convince you that the official election results are reliable?

Your note of congratulation came amid numerous reports on election fraud, including ballot stuffing, voter bribing, voting on behalf of émigrés and deceased individuals, and multiple voting. The public outcry over these falsified official election results has escalated, with massive rallies held throughout Armenia and in other Armenian communities all around the world.

Receipt of your congratulatory note also coincided with the day that OSCE/ODIHR revised its initial, generally positive assessment of the election, acknowledging the sensibility of public distrust in the official election results, and indicating facts that amount to election tampering. (For more details on the February 18, 2013 election fraud, please visit  http://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/99931,  http://raffi4president.am/en/violations  and http://www.pf-armenia.org/sites/default/files/2013%20Election%20Statement-3.pdf)

I have always had respect for your adherence to democratic values and rule of law. However, I believe that your congratulatory message to Serzh Sargsyan on March 2, 2013, was a disappointing departure from your core principles. Congratulations from such significant world powers as the United States simply legitimize election fraud and are being used by Serzh Sargsyan and the ruling elite to cement the travesty of their re-election as acceptable.

On March 4, 2013, U.S.-born Raffi Hovannisian, the presidential runner-up according to the official election results, filed a petition with the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Armenia, seeking to annul the official results of the February 18 presidential election and certify Raffi Hovannisian as President-elect. He declared a hunger strike on March 10, 2013, until either the Constitutional Court admits that the official election results were skewed in favor of Serzh Sargsyan or the latter admits to election fraud and steps down. Raffi Hovannisian has also declared he would concede to a runoff to confirm the validity of the outcome.

Lack of response or refusal to withdraw your congratulations will result in my declaration of a hunger strike. I would humbly ask that you respect the vote and the will of the Armenian people and the independence of our Constitutional Court by retracting your untimely congratulations until the Armenian citizens themselves resolve the current political crisis.

Source: http://hetq.am/eng/news/24407/human-rights-activist-ara-k-manoogian-to-obama-why-did-you-congratulate-sargsyan?.html

Tentative ‘Shadow Cabinet’ proposed to opposition leader


The first so-called civil forum held in Yerevan’s Liberty Square has produced a list a candidates for the ‘shadow cabinet’ of an ex-opposition candidate who claims to be the rightful winner of last month’s presidential election.

Supporters of Heritage Party leader Raffi Hovannisian, who has been on a hunger strike in the venue since March 10, urging the official winner of the vote, incumbent President Serzh Sargsyan, to resign until his planned inauguration for the second presidential term on April 9, are expected to be gathering in the square during then next two weeks or so to discuss various matters of interest and concern to the public.

One of the key speakers at the first in the series of such events held on Sunday was opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinyan. He said a list of 70 people whose services would be appreciated and used by the new “government” to be formed by Hovannisian had been drafted.

Among those mentioned during the event were former presidential candidates Hrant Bagratyan and Andrias Ghukasyan, leader of the People’s Party of Armenia Stepan Demirchyan, human rights champions and civil society activists, such as chairman of the Gyumri-based Asparez Club Levon Barseghyan, head of the Shirak center Vahan Tumasyan, owner of the GALA television Vahan Khachatryan, chairman of the Yerevan Press Club Boris Navasardyan, head of the Vanadzor office of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Artur Sakunts and others.

Pashinyan made it clear that the list had been drafted without the knowledge of the people mentioned in it. He said it would be up to Hovannisian to choose from the nominated persons in forming his “government”.

Hovannisian, who officially polled close to 37 percent of the vote in the February 18 presidential election, claims its outcome was rigged in favor of Sargsyan, whose official election tally was put by the Central Election Commission (CEC) at nearly 59 percent.

International observers gave a mainly positive assessment of the election in their preliminary reports on the basis of which the leaders of major world powers have congratulated the incumbent Armenian leader on his reelection amid protests from Hovannisian.

The Constitutional Court last week upheld the CEC decision certifying Sargsyan as president-elect, after which the opposition movement announced its intention to form an “alternative” government in Armenia that it said would be the only legitimate government as opposed to the “de facto” administration of Sargsyan.

EurasiaNet: Yerevan Keen to Opt Out of New Russian-Led Bloc


Despite its long-standing close ties with and strong dependence on Russia, Armenia looks set to avoid joining a new Russian-led union of former Soviet republics. Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, who won a second term in a disputed election in February, has successfully navigated apparent Russian pressures and moved his country closer to the West – the European Union, in particular – while maintaining, and even deepening, Armenia’s military alliance with Russia. After a meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on March 12, Sargsyan gave no indication that his administration’s multi-vector policy will change.

The press services of the two leaders announced in early March that the talks at Putin’s Novo-Ogaryovo residence near Moscow would touch upon “integration processes” in the former Soviet Union. It was a clear reference to Armenia’s possible accession to the Customs Union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. But the talks themselves did not appear to produce a breakthrough on the issue.

Putin makes no secret of his hopes to turn this trade bloc eventually into a closely-knit Eurasian Union of loyal ex-Soviet states, a grouping that Kremlin critics regard as an attempt to partially recreate the USSR. The Kremlin-linked speakers of both houses of Russia’s parliament promoted the idea during separate visits to Yerevan in July last year.

Putin and Sargsyan reportedly discussed the possibility of Armenian membership in the Customs Union during their three meetings in 2012. Armenian leaders gave no such promises in their public statements made after those talks. Armenian media commentators speculate that Putin wants a final answer from Yerevan soon.

Official Russian and Armenian sources did not report or hint at any agreements on the matter after the Novo-Ogaryovo meeting. Putin and Sargsyan similarly did not mention it in their televised opening remarks. Putin merely praised Russia’s “special relations” with Armenia,saying they are “successfully developing” in both economic and political areas. “We have big, promising, good joint investment plans,” he said.

“If there were even tentative agreements on the Customs Union, they would have probably been reflected in the official press releases on the meeting,” commented Alexander Markarov, a political scientist heading the Armenian branch of the Moscow-based Commonwealth of Independent States Institute.“In all likelihood, there were no major changes in the two sides’ positions on this issue and Serzh Sargsyan again succeeded in at least winning time,” the Yerevan-based news service 1in.am agreed in a commentary.

Over the past year, Armenian leaders have publicly objected to joining the Customs Union, arguing that their landlocked country has no common borders with Russia, Kazakhstan or Belarus. Citing Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, Viktor Khristenko, the Russian head of the Customs Union’s executive body, has questioned this line of reasoning.

In a February interview with the Russian daily Moskovskie Novosti, Armenian Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan came up with another argument against Customs Union membership – that Armenia has a more liberal trade regime than any of the union’s three member states and lacks vast natural resources.

Yerevan is reluctant to acknowledge publicly another, arguably more important reason: joining the Russian-led union would essentially preclude the signing of a comprehensive Association Agreement between Armenia and the European Union. A key element of that agreement is the creation of a “deep and comprehensive free trade area,” which envisages not only the lifting of all trade barriers, but also harmonization of Armenian and EU economic laws and regulations. A spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign and security policy chief, told RFE/RL in December 2012 that Armenian entry into the Moscow-led Customs Union “would not be compatible” with the Association Agreement.

The Armenian government has since continued to express strong interest in concluding its association talks with the EU in time for a planned November 2013 summit in Vilnius on the EU’s Eastern Partnership program for six ex-Soviet states. Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian discussed preparations for the summit at a March 7 meeting with Philippe Lefort, the EU’s special envoy for the South Caucasus.

The Armenian push for integration with the EU reflects President Sargsyan’s broader strategy of complementing the alliance with Russia with closer partnership with the West.

During his first term, Sargsyan earned plaudits in Western capitals for stepping up cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and embarking on a US-backed rapprochement with Turkey. Analysts believe this is one reason why US President Barack Obama and other Western leaders congratulated him on his disputed reelection.

Remarkably, there have been few indications of Russian discontent with this policy. Russian policy-makers might be safe in the knowledge that, with no solution to the conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh in sight, Armenia will remain heavily reliant on military ties with Russia in the foreseeable future. Sargsyan was instrumental in securing a 2010 deal that extended the presence of Russian troops in Armenia until 2044, and Putin has responded accordingly.

In January, he authorized his government to sign a new Russian-Armenian defense accord that calls for joint arms manufacturing. Russia’s defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, and chief of the General Staff, Colonel General Valery Gerasimov, discussed the planned deal during subsequent trips to Armenia. Sargsyan thanked Putin on March 12 for “good progress” in defense cooperation.

But appearances can be deceiving, cautioned analyst Markarov. “Armenia has been trying to circumvent the Customs Union, while favoring other, bilateral formats of cooperation with Russia,” he said. “It has to listen to Russia more than any other foreign power. But listening doesn’t mean always obeying.”

Source: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/66688

Opposition media: Putin Blackmails Armenia by CSTO troops


On March 12 Serzh Sargsyan will visit Moscow instead of Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan. Apparently, the earlier agenda with economic issues to be discussed at the level of prime ministers has been replaced by global political problems. The relations between Armenia and Russia have changed considerably over the past two or three years.

First, the government of Armenia has refused Russia’s insistent invitation to join the Eurasian Union and the Customs Union. Second, Armenia is going to sign the Association Agreement with the EU in November. Most importantly, 37% votes for Raffi Hovannisian were described by Russian experts as votes for the Western bias of Armenia.

Russia will now deploy a full kit of instruments to return Armenia. One of them is gas, and Moscow wants to boost its price, and the more obedient Serzh Sargsyan is, the less the price will grow. Furthermore, Russia threatens to use its new instrument. It is the CSTO quick reaction forces which may be deployed in Armenia to handle crisis. In fact, Moscow blackmails Armenia by airborne landing.

However, the threat is mostly addressed to Serzh Sargsyan. It is a hint that the troops may be deployed without informing him but officially his request for deployment will be referred to. This is a possible option, considering that such a step may corner Serzh Sargsyan to make him accept any proposal that Russia will make. Experts warned that Armenia should not have signed the agreement on CSTO quick reaction forces and its mandate of intervention in domestic affairs of member states.

Once the forces are set up, their creators will be impatient to try them out. Armenia may be the first in line. The Russian press has already published opinions of experts that the CSTO forces will protect Armenia from Azerbaijan and Turkey. What does this have to do with domestic affairs? In Armenia there are no signs of a violent revolution, a peaceful civic struggle is underway, and the CSTO forces have nothing to do here.

As to Turkey and Azerbaijan, it is already the business of the Armenian army. What will Serzh Sargsyan discuss with Moscow at CSTO’s gun point? In his last visit to Moscow he bluntly criticized Russia for supplying weapon to Azerbaijan. Will he state this time that Russia has no right to blackmail Armenia by deployment of CSTO forces?

Source: http://www.lragir.am/index.php/eng/0/country/view/29150

Which Way Will Armenia Tilt?


On February 18, Armenians will cast their ballots for president. Although eight candidates have registered, victory and a new five-year term for incumbent Serzh Sargsyan are a foregone conclusion. Still, this election is not meaningless. The conduct of this poll is important, as will be Sargsyan’s choices after the poll. If the international community gives the election a clean bill of health, it will increase Sargsyan’s legitimacy. He will have the opportunity to enact much needed reforms in order to move closer to the West or, perhaps as likely, avoid tough reforms and move Armenia – already broadly sympathetic to Russia – further into Moscow.

Upon first winning the presidency in February 2008, Sargsyan faced a legitimacy crisis. Some have claimed that he has used his position and connections – he was sitting prime minister and had served previously as secretary of the national security council and defense minister – to rig the election against Levon Ter-Petrossian, a former president. At least ten died in the ensuing protests.

This year, Sargsyan faces little resistance, with Sargsyan’s slide towards authoritarianism and Armenia’s lack of democratic institutions leaving the opposition fractured and divided. His most formidable opponents – Ter-Petrossian and wealthy businessman Gagik Tsarukyan, chief of the Prosperous Armenia party – both declined to run.

That Sargsyan effectively gets a free pass does a disservice to Armenia, which faces formidable obstacles to its development. When Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili inherited a corrupt and inefficient state in 2004, he stamped out government corruption and reformed Georgia into a Western-leaning economy. On January 31, 2013, the World Bank issued a report, Fighting Corruption in Public Services: Chronicling Georgia's Reforms,” praising Georgia for tackling corruption and noting that Georgia can serve as an example for other countries facing similar challenges.

Armenia will find no such praise. Its government remains corrupt and inefficient. The country was among the worst hit during the 2008-2009 economic crisis, with GDP shrinking by 14 percent in 2009, according to the IMF. Since then, Armenian GDP has grown slowly – at an average annual rate of approximately 3.5 percent between 2010-2012. In contrast, Georgia grew by an average annual 6.6 percent in the same three years. In 2010, according to official statistics, 35.8 percent of Armenia’s population was living below the poverty line – an increase from 27.6 percent in 2008. And, while neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan welcome foreign investors, organized crime keeps most foreign investors out of Armenia. The Armenian Diaspora – who care deeply about Armenia’s success – have long ago concluded that investing in their homeland is a thankless task that will pay dividends neither individually nor for Armenia.

Hundreds of thousands of Armenians now flee the country for better prospects. Younger, more educated Armenians head to the West, while their older, blue-collar compatriots head north to Russia. The Russian government has welcomed these migrants, and has helped place them in areas of Russia facing population decline. While Russia might use these Armenians to mitigate its own demographic problem, the same migration merely exacerbates Armenia’s.

Last April, the European Commission estimated that one-third of Armenia’s population had emigrated since Armenia’s independence in 1991. Visiting Armenia in December 2012, one young Armenian told me that if she or her peers had even small hope that the economy would improve, they would stay. But few see such hope. Meanwhile, a full sprint into Russia’s embrace may compound Armenia’s problems. In recent years, Armenia has become Russia’s primary foothold in the South Caucasus. Russia’s influence in Armenia is vast not only political and economic, but also military and cultural. Armenia depends on Russia for gas; Russia owns Armenia’s communication and railway networks, and has extended a lease for a Military Base in Gyumri until 2044.

The Kremlin also hopes to bring Armenia into a Russia-led Customs Union – a precursor to the so-called Eurasian Union, which Russian president Vladimir Putin hopes will be a counterweight to the European Union.

With aid, however, the West has leverage.

Since 1992, the United States has provided Armenia with approximately $2 billion in development and humanitarian assistance, the highest aid per capita among the former Soviet states. Although the U.S. reduced funding in 2011, when the Millennium Challenge Corporation penalized Armenia for failing to enact political reforms, the European Union compensated with an augmented aid package and is currently negotiating a free trade accord. It is now up to Armenia to choose which direction it wishes to go: Will it join the West and a community of democracies and liberal economies, or will Sargsyan tilt Armenia more toward a Kremlin-led community of increasingly autocratic former Soviet states.

Source: http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2013/02/15/which-way-will-armenia-tilt/#comment-363487