A little background: we're having an election here in February. It's for the office of President, which has a moderate amount of power and a lot of symbolic importance.
In this corner, there's establishment candidate Serge Sarkisian. Sarkisian is the long-time lieutenant of current President Robert Kocharian; he was Defense Minister for many years, and is currently serving as Prime Minister. Sarkisian, like Kocharian, is from Nagorno-Karabakh, and the two men have been close for many years.
In the other corner, there used to be a bunch of squabbling and not very effective opposition candidates. However, in the last few weeks a real rival has emerged: Levon Ter-Petrosian, President from 1991-1998, who was forced to resign by Kocharian and Sarkisian almost a decade ago. Armenia has a two-step Presidential election -- if nobody gets 50% in the first round, the two leading candidates go to another round two weeks later -- and right now Ter-Petrosian looks good to reach the second round. Already one opposition party has announced that it will back him.
Ter-Petrosian carries heavy negatives; his Presidency was a time of economic collapse and political confusion. On the other hand, he has broad name recognition, he's respected as an intellectual and a (relatively) honest man, and a lot of people are unhappy enough with the current government to vote for him as a protest.
The Eurasia Daily Monitor picks up the story:
Both Sarkisian and Kocharian claimed that Ter-Petrosian remains too unpopular to pose a serious threat to them in the forthcoming election. But all indications are that the two Karabakh-born men, who were appointed to key government positions in Yerevan by Ter-Petrosian in the 1990s, are seriously worried about the political comeback of the savvy 62-year-old former scholar, widely acclaimed in the West for advocating a more conciliatory line on Karabakh. The regime exposed its jitters ahead of Ter-Petrosian’s rally by blocking any televised advertisement of the event and breaking up a promotional street march staged by a small group of opposition activists. Armenia ’s leading TV stations, all of them overseen by the presidential administration, have also been hard at work, vilifying Ter-Petrosian with extremely biased coverage of his past and present political activities.
Also in October the authorities launched a controversial financial inspection of companies owned by Khachatur Sukiasian, the sole Armenian “oligarch” who has dared to publicly voice support for Ter-Petrosian. Two of those companies have already been accused by the State Tax Service of evading taxes. One of their chief executives is currently under arrest pending trial.
Comment from an Armenian acquaintance: "Sukiasian will be the Armenian Khodorkovsky." Khodorkovsky, you may recall, was the Russian oligarch who defied President Putin and ended up in a cage. And not a very big cage, either.
Also facing accusations of tax evasion is a small TV station in Armenia ’s second-largest city of Gyumri that broke ranks to air Ter-Petrosian’s September 21 speech in full. Its owner claims to have been warned against doing that by electronic media regulators in Yerevan .
This is entirely plausible. "Electronic media regulators" would be the Ministry of Transport and Communication, which is run by another one of Kocharian's close allies. It's worth noting that the TV station in question has never had a problem with the tax authorities before.
The continuing absence of credible opinion polls in Armenia makes it difficult for observers to gauge the extent of Ter-Petrosian’s popularity. Relatively strong attendance at his landmark rally suggests that many Armenians disillusioned with their government are now ready to at least listen to the once revered man who led them to independence. Ter-Petrosian and his opposition allies will hold another demonstration in Yerevan on November 16.
That's our wedding anniversary. (Seventh. Three years and two weeks after we met.) We were going to go out to eat downtown. Hum.
Well, anyway. I haven't blogged about the Presidential election, because I don't think there's much story yet... the Kocharian administration has deep pockets, the country's media are entirely under their thumb, and if things get too shaky they're perfectly capable of stuffing ballot boxes and stealing the vote outright. So, not much to say. However, it's clear that they are spooked by Ter-Petrosian's candidacy, which means there's a small chance they may do something stupid. (See, e.g., recent news from our neighbor Georgia.) That would be... well, interesting anyway.
But what inspired me to write this post? Well, today I read the following.
"Haykakan Zhamanak" claims that General Nerses Nazarian, chief of the Yerevan police, tried to eat a leaflet announcing Ter-Petrosian’s Friday rally as he partied with friends earlier this week. “Right from the beginning of the party General Nazarian was visibly not in high spirits,” the paper reports, citing unnamed witness accounts. “But parallel to the consumption of alcoholic beverages he started complaining that his bosses are unhappy with him because he is failing to properly fight against leaflets carrying Levon Ter-Petrosian’s pictures. Despite the police efforts, those leaflets can be found everywhere in Yerevan . And so Nazarian, lamenting this situation, suddenly took one such leaflet out of his pocket, crumpled it and started eating it. His friends managed to quickly take him away from the site of the party.” But, adds the paper, Nazarian still managed to “swallow the first bit.”
So the police chief, under criticism from his bosses for not stopping the leaflets, picks up a leaflet and starts to eat it. That's straight out of Kafka.
Is it true? I have no idea. The newspaper Haykakan Zhamanak -- aside from sounding like the name of a 20th level orc barbarian -- is generally considered a reliable source. The two locals I ran this past though it sounded plausible. "To show how serious he is," said one.
I really don't have anything to add.