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Review & Outlook - 11/21/2007

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FORMER PRESIDENT OF ARMENIA ANNOUNCES HIS CANDIDACY FOR PRESIDENTIAL
ELECTIONS IN 2008

Armenian News Network / Groong
November 21, 2007

By Grigor Hakobyan


BACKGROUND

On October 26, 2007, the former president of Armenia Levon
Ter-Petrosyan announced his candidacy for president in the upcoming
2008 presidential elections to be held in Armenia during a major
opposition rally at the Freedom Square, Yerevan. The rally was
organized by the All Armenian National Movement (HHSh) in
collaboration with Armenia's People Party led by Stepan Demirchyan
(HZhK) and Republic Party (HK) led by Aram Sarksyan (the brother of
former Prime Minister of Armenia, Vazgen Sarksyan assassinated on
October 27, 1999). The rally managed to gather thousands of people to
the Freedom Square despite rain and chilly weather. The rally
participants came to the Freedom Square from different towns and
villages of Armenia in addition to Yerevan residents. The exact
estimate of rally participants varies greatly, depending on the source
of the information.

The rally was taking place under peculiar circumstances, where some
media outlets reported to have faced harassment from the police and
tax enforcement officials for airing political advertisements in
support of Ter-Petrosyan candidacy. According to pro-government media
reports, less than 20,000 people participated in this rally, while the
opposition media outlets claim to have gathered 40,000 people at the
Freedom Square. Meanwhile, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia
(HHK) sponsored a major concert in a nearby stadium named after Karen
Demirchyan (father of Stepan Demirchyan, assassinated together with
Vazgen Sarksyan on October 27, 1999) called Golden Autumn which took
place at the same time as the opposition rally in the Freedom Square.

During the rally, Ter-Petrosyan accused the ruling authorities of
complicity in organizing October 27, 1999 assassinations of former
Prime Minister Vazgen Sarksyan, Parliament Speaker Karen Demirchyan
and other lawmakers who got caught in the machine gun fire as
terrorists stormed into the parliament's chamber while the assembly
was in session. He argued that in case of Prime Minister Serge
Sarkisyan's presidential election victory, the true culprits of the
massacre in the parliament will not be identified and brought to
justice. Ter-Petrosyan further lambasted economic policies of the
current government and accused them of being responsible for
exponential income disparity in the country and resulting poverty
which he attributed to the oligarchic nature of Armenian economy,
where less than a dozen of entrepreneurs with connections to
government maintain their sway over large portions of Armenia's
economy.


In regards to unresolved conflict over Nagorno Karabagh, Ter-Petrosyan
leveled accusations against the ruling government of not being
interested in finding solutions to the conflict and making conscious
efforts to maintain the current status quo. The other two opposition
leaders, Aram Sarksyan and Stepan Demirchyan continued their rhetoric
for change of government in Armenia and promised to remain in
opposition to ruling authorities until they achieve victory over
them. They have also presented Ter-Petrosyan as the only presidential
candidate capable of defeating the current Prime Minister of Armenia,
Serge Sarksyan and further argued that as a President of Armenia,
Ter-Petrosyan will be able to get rid of corruption in the government
and find the culprits behind assassinations of former Prime Minister
of Armenia Vazgen Sarksyan and former Parliament Speaker Karen
Demirchyan.


ANALYSIS

The return of Levon Ter-Petrosyan back to Armenian politics was
expected as his supporters have been advocating his return for more
than six months already. However, what motivated him to return to
politics is not quite certain yet as he didn't participate in the last
presidential elections in 2003 and hasn't made any public statements
or announcement since his ouster in 1998 until very recently. The
implications of his return have been multifold. The ruling
administration on one hand has resorted to various means of pressure
in their attempt to block Ter-Petrosyan's return to politics by
seizing leaflets from his supporters and arresting ANM's activists for
brief periods of time under various pretexts of violating public order
and engaging in disorderly public conduct, followed by unofficial
restrictions imposed upon Armenia's media outlets that show any
interest in covering Ter-Petrosyan political campaign.

On the other hand, some segments of Armenian opposition comprised of
recently defeated parties led by Stepan Demirchyan and Aram Sargsyan
have rallied around him and are most likely to present Ter-Petrosyan
as their unified candidate, meanwhile other segments of Armenian
opposition lead by Vazgen Manukyan (former Prime Minister and Defense
Minister of Armenia, 1996 presidential candidate) and Aram Karapetyan,
(leader of New Times Party, former 2003 presidential candidate), both
formerly vocal opponents of Robert Kocharyan's ruling administration
are trying to stay away from associating themselves with Levon
Ter-Petrosyan's campaign and continue to promote their own candidacies
for presidency of Armenia. Meanwhile, other opposition parties in
Armenia, such as National Unity Party of Artashes Geghamyan do not
publicly comment about Ter-Petrosyan's campaign.

The reason for such behavior by different forces among Armenian
opposition are many, the main reason being the bad legacy of
Ter-Petrosyan's previous rule, as the majority of Armenians haven't
yet forgotten the dark years of 1991-1994, when Armenia's residents
were receiving food rations, didn't have any electricity, natural gas
and means of transportation while the economy as a whole was
undergoing turmoil, teetering on the verge of collapse, witnessing an
explosion of criminal activities on the streets of the country and
experiencing cultural stagnation which was further compounded by an
exodus of nearly one million residents from Armenia. Another major
reason is the present state of fragmentation within the Armenian
political opposition and the third major reason being the lack of
public support for the above mentioned opposition parties who were
unable to gain more than 5% of votes during the last parliamentary
elections in Armenia.

Of course, ongoing conflict in Karabagh and vicious blockade of the
country by Turkey and Azerbaijan have had their part in the country's
ills under Levon Ter-Petrosyan's rule. However, mismanagement of the
economy and of the political process in the country had even greater
role in the ensuing instability that grappled Armenia at that time.
Specifically, entrepreneurs with close connections to Ter-Petrosyan's
administration paid below market prices to acquire many factories in
Armenia which they would later dismantle and sell pieces of machinery
for scrap metal abroad, while media outlets associated with the
opposition parties, specifically the ARF Party was banned and its
leaders imprisoned. Ter-Petrosyan's rule also saw the reign of its
henchman, former Interior Minister of Armenia Vano Siradeghyan who was
later found guilty of running secret police squads engaged in
political assassinations of members of Armenian Parliament, other high
ranking government officials and known political figures on the
territory of Armenia and abroad. Currently he is wanted by the
Interpol for committed murders and links to organized crime.


CONCLUSION

With the return of Ter-Petrosyan to Armenian politics some political
observers in Armenia and abroad began speculating about the
possibility of yet another `color revolution' taking place in the
South Caucasus similar to those that took place in Georgia and
Ukraine. Most recently, even some Russian officials have expressed
their concern about the possibility of such events taking place in
Armenia. However, in reality Ter-Petrosyan enjoys only single digit
public support in the country and the same could be said about the
opposition parties of Stepan Demirchyan and Aram Sarksyan who support
him. Granted, Ter-Petrosyan is a charismatic speaker who can gather
large crowds during his rallies, however they are yet to have an
impact upon his own public ratings and those who support him.
Considering that political opposition in Armenia is still very
fragmented and that the ANM has not yet managed to overcome its
credibility issue with the Armenian electorate in addition to various
measures that the ruling government in Armenia will resort to maintain
their power, the prospects of a `color revolution' taking place in
Armenia during next Presidential Elections in 2008 are still doubtful.


REFERENCES

A1+ - October 25, 2007, Oct.26, 2007; November 6, 2007, Nov.9, 2007,
      Nov.15, 2007, Nov.16, 2007, Nov.19, 2007

Golos Armenii-October 25, 2007, Oct.27, 2007, Oct.30, 2007; November 6, 2007,
      Nov.15, 2007, Nov.17, 2007

Azg- October 26 2007, October 27, 2007; November 16, 2007, Nov.17, 2007

PanArmenian-October 26, 2007

Panoarama.am-November 16, 2007

Radio Liberty-Nov 16, 2007

CACI Analyst-October 31, 2007

AremaniaNow- September 28, 2007, October 5, 2007, October 26, 2007;
	November 16, 2007

Eurasia Daily Monitor (Jamestown Foundation) -November 14, 2007(Volume 4,
	Issue 212)


--
Grigor Hakobyan is an independent political analyst residing in
Scottsdale, Arizona and the founder of Caucasus Watch Public Research
Initiative. He is a freelance writer for the Central Asia-Caucasus
Institute of John Hopkins University. He has interned at the US
House of Representatives where engaged in research of ethnic conflicts
and terrorism in Russia, Caucasus and Central Asia; and at the
International Center for Terrorism Studies at the Potomac Institute
for Policy Studies where he researched international terrorism
networks operating in the Caucasus and Central Asia and prepared
congressional briefings for the Director of ICTS on WMDs.

Grigor is a former ANCA Fellow and one of the main founders of
Usanogh-Periodical of Armenian Students.  He is also a former editor
of Puma Press of Paradise Valley Community College and the winner of
Puma Press `Politico' Award. He holds a B.A. degree in Political
Science from Arizona State University.

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