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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.