Diffuse Opposition Sarkissian’s Best Weapon

 Editorial, 31 January 2016

“Within the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, we have been unable to shape a culture of free thought, debate, and self-criticism that leads to renewal…we have been unable to present the essence of the ARF–its democratic nature, goals, operational style–in a simple accessible way to a large segment of our people, including the independence generation, and to draw strength from them as an organization.”

The above quote is from a speech by Aghvan Vardanyan, ARF parliamentary faction secretary, delivered following the party’s 125th anniversary celebrations in Yerevan on Dec. 11, 2015.

 Editorial, 31 January 2016

“Within the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, we have been unable to shape a culture of free thought, debate, and self-criticism that leads to renewal…we have been unable to present the essence of the ARF–its democratic nature, goals, operational style–in a simple accessible way to a large segment of our people, including the independence generation, and to draw strength from them as an organization.”

The above quote is from a speech by Aghvan Vardanyan, ARF parliamentary faction secretary, delivered following the party’s 125th anniversary celebrations in Yerevan on Dec. 11, 2015.

The quote goes some ways to explain the failure of Armenia opposition parties to influence Armenia politics or to unseat the remarkably successful, yet apparently unpopular, President Serge Sarkissian.

While some of the president’s critics believe he has a choke-hold on power because of his party’s expertise in staging fraudulent elections, the fact is there’s more to Sarkissian’s success than electoral chicanery.

A crucial reason for the regime’s unchallenged dominance is its access to financial and human resources as well as the Republican Party’s organizational skills. Being the incumbent, Sarkissian also enjoys predictable advantages. Meanwhile, the opposition is diffuse and weak. The regime’s strategy is simple: to stay in power. The opposition story is  complicated: it has to go through loops, compromises, and unwieldy alliances.

The shortcomings of the opposition are many.

During the two terms of the Sarkissian presidency, the opposition failed to produce a single charismatic leader who could inspire the populace and embody the drive for democracy. The politician who came closest to be considered a credible alternative to Sarkissian was Raffi Hovanissian of the Heritage Party, but following the disputed results of the last elections, rather than lead his followers to force a reversal of the results, he crumbled and rushed to Moscow presumably to tell the Russians that he had been robbed. He returned empty-handed. And when he met Sarkissian, his language and manners were that of an apologetic teenager approaching the school principal. He gravely disappointed his followers.

The opposition has relied too often on mass rallies as spark plugs for regime change. At these public gatherings, usually in front of the opera building, party leaders seemed to be inspired by the arias reverberating from the interior of the building: they indulged in ad hominem and in interminable coloratura orations for cheap applause. The spectators–mostly senior citizens nostalgic for the Soviet days–wanted change which would improve their standard of living. As people who pine for the “good old days” of the Soviet system they are not agents of change. After listening—for several hours–to harangues and virtuoso demagoguery, they melted away to go home disappointed.

As in past occasions—in parliament or in public –the verbose politicians at the opera rallies had failed to offer comprehensive programs (social, economic, political and organizational) that could have captured the imagination of the voters, particularly the activists, intellectuals, students, labor, and progressive thinkers. The rallies had become the aim rather than the means for change.

Other chinks in the opposition’s armour: some “opposition” politicians are oligarchs who have become pols so as to maintain their business network and to protect their privileges. Versed in the accepted lingo, they talk the talk but don’t walk the talk. Raised under communism, they have a notional familiarity with democracy. As well they see themselves as entitled elite, like the Soviet nomenclatura, while the citizenry is perceived as hoi polloi. That the politician is elected to serve the public can be a bizarre idea in such an authoritarian milieu.

Yet another opposition weakness: the opportunists among them are only too eager to become silent partners to the regime so as to benefit from Sarkissian’s largess. The electorate, aware of the farce, is distrustful of the rent-a-politician mob.

Some observers believe Echmiadzin’s alliance with the ruling party and the oligarchs has hurt the opposition. But that argument has an opposite mirror image: while some people have voted for Sarkissian because of his close ties to Echmiadzin, others could have voted for the opposition for the same reason. Catholicos Karekin II’s lifestyle and management are no secret to the citizens of Armenia.

A glaring weakness of the opposition is that it’s under-resourced and has no depth. The only time an opposition leader (Gagik Dzaroukian) dared to challenge Sarkissian the rebel oligarch’s wealth was threatened by unknown elements. Seeing he could lose his mini-empire, Dzaroukian asked for peace with the obvious promise that he would not make waves.

Twenty-five years after independence, the opposition parties remain amateurish when it comes to organization matters. For example, there has never been an election where the opposition was represented in all or almost all polling stations. In the recent constitution referendum, the anti-Sarkissian faction was represented in only 1,200 of the 2,000 polling stations.

The opposition is also hamstrung by the electorate’s relative lack of political sophistication. As well, far too many citizens believe regime change could translate to revolution/chaos at a time when the Azeris are making almost daily incursions into Armenian territory.

A political party requires an engaged electorate. The economic and social hardships have demoralized the populace, driving away promising people who could have contributed to the formation of a progressive government.

Diaspora’s indifference to the opposition has hurt the anti-Sarkissian factions. There has been an absence of support from the Diaspora for the opposition. As long as Armenia is safe and some progress is being made, the Diaspora seems to forgive the regime’s trespasses.

Finally, the elephant—or the bear—in the room: the road to Armenia’s presidency goes through the Kremlin. The opposition needs President Putin’s nod but as long as Sarkissian doesn’t make rash overtures to the West, Putin will not try to replace him.

Related to the above is Russia’s dominance of Armenia and Armenia’s need for Russian protection against Azerbaijan and Turkey. The electorate is cognizant of the fact that some opposition leaders are anti-Russian. With storms swirling around the Transcaucasus and the Middle East, the Armenian citizenry is in no mood for the so-called color revolutions or an opposition takeover which could pit Russia against Armenia.

9 comments
  1. Good review. But I am not

    Good review. But I am not sure about your assessment of Raffi Hovhanesian. The question is what more he could have done in a country ruled by gangsters? Remember October 27, 1999 parliamentary killings, when the present president of Armenia was then the national security chief, or how about March 1, 2008. Not a single person who ordered those crimes has yet been identified. Not to mention many dozens of political assassinations and beatings over the last twenty years. And now that they have become so desperate to protect what they have plundered, they have started beating 20 year old activist women in the middle of Yerevan.

    1. The nice thing about  this is

      The nice thing about  this is that all the vile names being flung at the patriotic leaders of Armenia – “thug”, “mafia”, “gangsters”,…. – is a clear indication of the frustration experienced by those spreading the bile. When President of the Republic of Armenia travels to foreign lands, he is received with great honor. Meanwhile the BarevaLeader’s audience keeps dwindling. Now it is a couple of dozen pensioners with time on their hands. All the bile being spread is for naught.

      President Sargsian walloped challenger Raffi Hovanissian 58% to 37%.  In Iowa Caucuses,  Clinton “won” by 0.2%. (with all sorts of irregularities noted). More often than not, a Democrat who wins Iowa, gets to run for  POTUS.
      So a “win” by 0.2% is legitimate in US, but a landslide of 21% means that the “real”  RoA President is Raffi Hovanissian.
      Sure.

      Mr. Hovanissian was  a demagogue and a political nobody, and he still is. The 37% he got was clearly because Prosperous did not field a candidate. The protest vote that would  have gone to Prosperous went to the Heritage candidate. Heritage never gets more than about 5% in RoA Parliamentary elections. Prosperous gets about 20%-25%.

      Godspeed President Sargsian.

      1. Thrity-Seven Percent?

        I would not expect Avery to side with truth since he as proven time and again to be a mouthpiece for the corrupt de-facto government in Armenia.

        In reality. Raffi Hovanissian received the majority vote. You can find a video on YouTube that lays out what happened before, during and after the election by searching "Election Fraud, Civil Society Awakening and the Diaspora's role".

  2. The global community and Armenia

    Some of the comments, especially those that look more like treatises, remind me of narrow economic-determinism that some Marxists repeated ad nauseam in the past. It is now replaced by arguments centered on globalization and the conglomerates promoting it. Within that narrow outlook every negative phenomenon in Armenia is acceptable, even overt dictatorship in the name of preserving its identity and sovereignty. This pathological interpretation is coupled with an attitude of the authors to appear omniscient. They lecture those who disagree with them. Like a hawk, they follow each and every comment related to Armenia and its governance and try to silence dissent, which raises the question whether they are not simply mouthpieces of authorities in Armenia and should simply be ignored. Unfortunately they also have engaged in all sorts of name-calling going beyond accepted norms and have questioned the patriotism of dissenters. This is unbecoming to how to treat compatriots.
     
    With respect to this editorial, I believe some of the major drawbacks that prevent transformation in Armenia are well highlighted. The status quo is untenable and both the opposition and the authorities should look into the mirror to prevent a catastrophe that may arrive sooner than later. The Diaspora has to be creative. Granted, the traditional organizations, without exception, are co-opted. They can't come up with creative solutions. Despite this unfortunate fact, there is a chance of being a catalyst towards progress. Depopulation, because of lack of job opportunities, probably is the major problem facing the homeland. In a non-partisan fashion, with concerted effort, through direct investment, bypassing the authorities is a way that should be explored. Of course, the authorities will try to have a share of the pie as they always have done throughout the past twenty-five years. It should not discourage the well-meaning Diasporans for the sake of our people and homeland. The old adage–when there is a will there is a way–should guide us.
     
  3. Is ARF youth serious?

    An e-mail received from a third party announces that Prof. Richard D. Wolff will be delivering a lecture on “Capitalist Crisis and Post-Soviet Socialism” in Los Angeles. I gather this is in the wake of Senator Sanders calling for “a political revolution” in USA. While  it does not surprise me the initiative of the source where the message originated from, it makes me wonder about the sincerity of the organizations sponsoring the event, amongst them “Shant” Student Association and the “Armenian Youth Federation".

    The ARF has been courting the left and social democrats over the past couple of decades with a new zeal. I wonder whether to laugh or treat the matter as an aberration. For almost a century the ARF served all sorts of international organizations that were dead-fast against the left and progressive movements. One does not need to go beyond the Middle East where the majority of the Armenians in the Diaspora lived until the recent upheavals to document this accusation. ARF was in the service of every single regressive and oppressive regime in the region, the CIA and whatever in between.

    Yes, the original political philosophy of ARF was quasi-socialist, but as an organization it never followed through. Do ARF leaders and members really believe in socialism? How do then they explain their cozy relation with the oligarchs in Armenia? Would somebody please explain?

    1. «Sev Shooneh»– «Սեւ շունը»

      It amuses me reading the quotation that precedes this otherwise thoughtful editorial which lists at least a dozen factors hindering the opposition in Armenia from evolving into a force to be reckoned with. It lends the impression that ARF is in the opposition ranks. Really? Since when? May be only during Ter-Petrossian presidency when ARF lived in a delusional phase, hoping to gain the levers of power.

      Ardavazt’s “accusation” is right on. Allow me to mention just a brief period. Those who lived through the ‘50s will most probably remember the coup against democratically elected Mohammad Mosaddegh whose government was overthrown in a coup d'état orchestrated by the American Central Intelligence Agency and the British Secret Intelligence Service. The ARF leadership and rank-and-file rejoiced with imposition of the Shah who ushered in the notorious Savak.

      During the Suez crisis and Tripartite aggression of Egypt Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the hero of not only Egypt but of all Arabs was honoured and praised by people fighting against colonialism all over the world. ARF members and sympathizers referred to him as “Sev Shooneh” «Սեւ շունը» in their private conversations. What was Nasser’s “sin”? Nationalizing the Canal in an attempt to exercise national sovereignity, increase revenues and ameliorate the ordinary Egyptians' lot.

      In the same period ARF’s organization was in the service of America’s darling Chamoon in Lebanon, leading to the completion of the major rift in the Armenian Diaspora.

      Were these ARF’s renditions of “progress” and “socialism”? Is ARF youth today aware of above that it sponsors gatherings dedicated to “progress” and “socialism”?

  4. Armenia needs authoritarian leadership with strategic foresight

    Stop listening to agents of the political West and wake up from your deep sleep, folks. It is said that “democracy” is when two wolves and a sheep vote on what to have for dinner.

    That said, America has never been a real democracy. The US is an elite based two party political system overseen by a handful of special interest groups. The political system in question is like a two ring circus managed by ringmasters the audience does not get to see. Candidates from both sides of the political fence will therefore have no choice but to serve the imperial elite once they get into office. Presidential elections in the US has therefore evolved to become a contest between two groups of well connected people competing for the empire’s control panels.

    Democrats and Republicans are two sides of the same coin. Every four years the elite in the US decide what shirt the sheeple will wear, the sheeple are given the “democratic” choice of picking between two colors.

    Moreover, we must dispel the false notion that the US reached its pinnacle as a result of “democracy”. The US became a wealthy world power as a result of: Mass scale enslavement of millions of blacks; systematic extermination of millions of native Americans; global wars for plunder; and total control over global trade and commodities. Protected by oceans, the finical/political elite in the US took nearly two hundreds years to grow the country to what it is today. It was only after Second World War that some of the accrued wealth basically trickled down to the masses.

    Entrusting a nation’s politics to the whims of the ignorant masses is the fastest way to societal decay and eventual destruction. This is exactly the reason why Western powers have been imposing “democracy” on nations targeted with either destruction or occupation. Libya and Ukraine are good examples of what I am talking about.

    What Armenia needs is a Russian-backed authoritarian leadership with strategic foresight. The current government in Armenia is best we can have under our current circumstances. It would therefore be wise to figure out a way to  work with them to bring about positive change. And it would be even wiser to recognize that those waiting for a revolution on the political sidelines in Armenia are agents of the political West. Armenia is too small and too vulnerable to make the mistakes made by Serbians, Georgians and Ukrainians.

  5. Frustrating

    The editorial makes a good intentioned attempt to explain why the opposition parties have been ineffective and failed to pass any meaningful legislation to improve the well being of the citizenry.

    We may agree with some of the points. We also may disagree with other points.

    What is frustrating is that some of the comments are more about the US than about Armenia. What has the US got to do with Armenia. We are comparing apples to oranges. By knocking down the US, or defending the regime in Armenia, hinders any meaningful dialogue or discussion about how to improve the political process in Armenia, for the benefit of the people.

    What is also most disturbing are the comments that are revisionist  about the ARF or the disasterous regime of Nasser (nationalizing the Suez canal, the nationalization of all private enterprises in Egypt and the foolishness in 1967 to declare war against Israel, kicking or forcing people to leave the country).

    Elections are decided by the voters. President Sarkissian won the election. Period.

    Until the next election, all comments are irrelevant and simply noise.

    Admittedly there are issues/problems in Armenia. Hopefully solutions will be reached and found to resolve them.To say that there are no problems in Armenia is simply being blind to the realities. Both sides have to be more balanced and realistic in their attacks on each other.

    Vart Adjemian

    1. Noise

      I'm sorry, Vart. The only noise I'm hearing in your comment is that of Serzh's.

      Reality is that Serzh did not win the election, but stole it from the people. In light of the overwhelming evidence, I am sad that anyone who is thinking of the well-being of Armenia and the future of our homeland can see it otherwise.

      I invite you to search YouTube for "Election Fraud, Civil Society Awakening and the Diaspora's role" and objectively listen to the facts being presented.

      May we all work for the best interests of Armenia and humanity.

Comments are closed.

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