Elections in Armenia

by Marc W on 3/4/2008 · 6 comments

I’m a new contributor to this blog. I volunteered to contribute coverage of the south Caucasus, and hope to provide a nice digest of events there.

The big news from the Caucasus these days is the recent presidential election in Armenia. The election was held on February 19th, and the two primary candidates were Prime Minister Serge Sarkisian, the chosen successor of incumbent president Robert Kocharian, and Levon Ter-Petrossian, who was the first president of Armenia in 1991.

RFE/RL ran a pretty interesting FAQ the day before. The upshot was that their analyst, Liz Fuller, predicted an election that would be free of any gross violations, but would still not be 100% free and fair. She expected Sarkisian to win, and was hopeful that Ter-Petrossian would convince his supporters to refrain from violence.

As it turned out, Sarkisian won the election outright with 53% of the vote, and Ter-Petrossian collected only 21.5%. However Ter-Petrossian immediately contested the results, and his supporters began to protest in the tens of thousands. Somewhat predictably, the authorities responded with a crackdown on opposition figures.

The situation escalated on Saturday, as Kocharian declared a state of emergency after Armenian police and Interior Ministry troops used force to clear protestors from a square in Central Yerevan. The declaration bans all public activity, and gives the government the right to put individuals under house arrest and kick them out of the country.

That’s basically where we stand today. I thought it would be interesting to see how this was unfolding in the Armenian-American press, so I went to www.Ashbarez.com, the website of a Fresno-based newspaper catering to Armenian-Americans.

The election news shares front-page space with a couple of pieces about Nagorno-Karabach and a 1998 massacre of Armenians in Baku, which is interesting. Anyway, on Friday, February 29, Harut Sassounian wrote a piece about the elections and ensuing controversy. It’s a pretty dispassionate article, and the common theme is “what did you expect from such a messed up country?”

My own take is pretty conservative. From reading the various articles, it seems like the election was certainly dubious, but there were plenty of allegations of chicanery on both sides. 53%-22% is not exactly Bush-Gore, and I don’t think Ter-Petrossian’s claim that he actually got over 60% of the vote really helps his credibility any. He was probably done in when the third place finisher, Arthur Baghdasaryan, came to an agreement to join the Sarkissian government. That really puts the screws to Ter-Petrossian.

I don’t know much about the on-the-ground events, but my guess is that the protests will eventually peter out, and after some medium-level human rights violations (detentions, beatings, what have you), things will more or less go back to normal. It’s a situation to keep an eye on, though.


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{ 6 comments }

Joshua Foust March 4, 2008 at 11:37 am

Marc,

Welcome aboard! I’ve been following what’s happening in Armenia as well, but I don’t know enough about the situation to have commented intelligently. I’m glad you’re here to fill in the gaps in coverage.

I look forward to reading your posts!

Jack Reed March 5, 2008 at 9:39 am

Unrest on streets continues in spite of Emergency Rule.
All English language websites have been blocked. In-country Armenian blogs are not allowed to publish except official pronoucements. Sounds like the ASSR.
Ten hours of fire exchanges on the NK-Azeri border. Aliev says they are buying weapons to retake NK.
Plays into hands of the Kocharian-Sargsyan crowd.
It’s just warming up.

Michael Hancock March 5, 2008 at 10:59 pm

Welcome to the Blog! I always feel that I’m not paying enough attention to the Caucasus, and having it brought to mind on Registan will help get it under my fingernails.

The more the merrier.

Now it’s time to understand Armenia, Georgia, Chechnya, and Azerbaijan, right? Well, it might be a little harder than just reading blog posts, but you have to start somewhere.

Marc W March 6, 2008 at 10:00 am

Michael,

Indeed it is a good time to start paying attention to the Caucasus. The timing is actually a complete coincidence on my end, but hopefully it will work out for the best. I would have preferred to have started blogging during a slow period, as now I find it difficult to keep up.

In the short-term, my posts will hopefully serve as a (semi)-daily news bulletin, and I’ll gradually try and add some more analysis. Feedback is much appreciated though!

Onnik Krikorian March 6, 2008 at 4:02 pm

Just to comment on Jack Reed’s comment that all English-language websites have been blocked. Basically, that’s not the case. However, those local media outlets which do not adhere to the state of emergency restrictions are being blocked. The same is true for YouTube last I looked (probably via DOS attack). Interestingly, however, there’s a lot of activity happening from Ter-Petrossian activists on blogs inside and outside the country. Famous last words, but to date, none have been blocked.

It’s hard to say whether this is just an oversight (although we know blogs are monitored) or because they’re not considered important enough and generally are in English. Internet penetration is low and the number of English speakers using the web even lower.

Onnik Krikorian March 6, 2008 at 4:09 pm

Oh, but btw: the main rferl.org site is blocked just as the local ones are too. Pity as I wanted to re-read Liz Fuller’s FAQ.

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