Commentary: Political Stalemate in and around Armenia


By Edmond Y. Azadian

Ever since the negotiations between the ruling coalition and the opposition came to a grinding halt, Armenia has entered into a period of domestic political stalemate. There was already a stalemate externally with its neighbors, with Karabagh’s unending negotiations going nowhere, the Protocols being shelved by the Turkish parliament and love/hate relationships continuing with Georgia.

Armenia’s cab drivers constitute the most sensitive political pulse of the country. As soon as one gets into a cab, the driver has a political speech ready for the passenger, beginning with the soaring food and fuel prices and ending with a diatribe against the oligarchs who are plundering the country.

But these days, cab drivers are ominously silent, possibly indicating the hopelessness of the situation. These worries seem to be concentrated on the option of finding a country which can accept their children for education or job opportunities. When the government coalition and the opposition decided to begin several rounds of negotiations, the opposition was losing steam and the government had run out of alternatives. They both needed each other. Although negotiations were supposed to be secret, both sides were leaking positive stories regarding the developments.

The opposition was running out of steam because of the defections of some of its elite members who were joining the Free Democrats movement, whose platform had yet to be defined. On the opposite end, more radical elements, which favored a violent overthrow of the government, were disillusioned with opposition leader and former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s recent moderate and rational approach.

On the other hand, the government coalition was running into disarray, after the defection of the ARF and rising tensions between President Serge Sargisian’s Republican Party and former President Robert Kocharian’s Prosperous Armenia Party. Although the latter’s leader, Gagik Zaroukian, had signed an agreement to participate jointly in the upcoming elections, other leaders indicated otherwise — that the party may run on its own ticket.

Thus, fractious infighting that had weakened the two opposing groups had paved the way for the opponents to start negotiations.

The opposition had set some manageable conditions to pave the way for negotiations, and the government met those conditions.

The main topic on the agenda was immediate elections. But, in fact, both parties knew deep down that premature elections were out of the question. The government was gaining time and the opposition was insisting on early elections. Yet in fact, the negotiations were about the future shape of the government. Sargisian was probing his opponents to see what percentage of the opposition representation in the next parliament would guarantee his reelection.

Outside the framework of these negotiations, a realignment of other forces is taking place. Robert Kocharian is playing the gray cardinal in Armenian politics. When his two-term presidency expired, he tried to imitate his master, Vladimir Putin, by electing his protégé, Serge Sargisian, with the understanding that after his first term Sargisian would cede his seat to Kocharian. But Sargisian does not seem ready to give in. Thus Kocharian is watching the developments grudgingly while planning his own coalition with the ARF and perhaps with the help of former minister of foreign affairs, Vartan Oskanian, who is ready to publish his own paper and form a new party.

Should the negotiations yield some serious results, Kocharian may take more assertive steps to plan his comeback.

But the negotiations were halted for rather insignificant reasons: some young activists of the opposition were incarcerated, six of them were released. One still remains in jail, offering an excuse for the opposition to interrupt the negotiations. Ter- Petrosian is planning a new rally on September 9 at Liberty Square. Some extreme elements believe that all hell will break loose on that day. But given the precedents, Ter-Petrosian may present a conditional ultimatum, to satisfy his followers and to have the coalition fulfill his conditions.

Currently, it seems that both sides are trying to gain more time and to size up their interlocutors.

In the meantime, the government is in no panic. There are ample opportunities for diversions; first came the 20th anniversary of Karabagh’s independence, which was celebrated with great fanfare. Next, Armenia will celebrate its own 20th anniversary, with even greater flourish.

It seems that after the dust settles, following the political rally and anniversary celebrations, the two sides will find a way for modus vivendi and gear for the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

Whether the negotiations resume or not, or whether they yield any results, people do not pin many hopes on the outcome of those negotiations.

There is a general apathy, which is very dangerous. People are looking for a way out of the country. That’s even more serious that any political stalemate.