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March 02, 2008


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Noel Maurer

The news hit page 6 of this morning's Times. The big news is Tuesday's primary, of course, which is why I'm going to Rhode Island. But Israeli reprisals in Gaza and the growth of Indian energy use also beat it out.

The story makes the crackdown seem unsurprising, almost expected, but postdiction is an occupational hazard among journalists.

The coverage here makes violence seem tamer than, say, the 2005 Mar de Plata riots. But that's a bad metric, because the level of realized violence can be the same, at same time that the threat of potential greater violence is very different. Mar de Plata was not going to turn into a massacre, and if you weren't afraid of tear gas (and nobody who's made it through Army BCT is afraid of tear gas) it was actually a bit fun to watch.

How did you get around? From the way you've described where you live, there can't be much of a lock-down if you could get to the center.

There is nothing like being on the ground when news is happening. If you can spare the time, I think we'd all love to get more reports; some about the background, yes, but also about the feel on the ground.

Don't take pictures of men with guns. That almost got me beaten quite badly in Lesotho. Unless you want to. In which case I'd love to see them.

I'd add an injunction to stay safe, but I know you well enough that I don't think it's needed. You will.

Jussi Jalonen

One of the most recent commentaries: "The international community has mostly chosen to approve the election results, accepting that at least all sides have cheated more or less equally".

As already mentioned, the Dashnaks have accused Ter-Petrosian - their traditional enemy, so to speak - of purchasing votes, suggesting that he has also cheated. Not surprisingly, Ter-Petrosian also refused to accept the proposals of mediation by the Dashnaks. So, cynically speaking, he seems to be getting what he was asking for; normal practices of any functioning demokratura.

But the popular reaction seems like a joker in the pack. I'm guessing that a good part of it must have been frustration at the rigged elections in general, and not necessarily frustration on behalf of Ter-Petrosian. Especially when keeping in mind his track record.

But opinions may vary when looking at the events from an immediate local perspective. So, what would Douglas think of the matter?

The main news in the newspaper here, however, would be the _Russian_ elections, which were actually a lot more interesting that one might think.


J. J.

Doug M.

There's a hard core of support for Levon Ter-Petrosian, which I'd put around 20% of the electorate. It's really several hard cores... there's a group of younger voters who don't remember how bad things were in the mid-'90s, a group of older voters who revere him as the Father Of The Country, some intellectual types who admire him as an intellectual of action... anyway, these people really, truly revere him and would do almost anything he asked.

This is, by the way, part of the reason Kocharian and Sarkisian hate and fear LTP. While they have their own loyalists, they don't inspire anything like the same adulation. It's not possible to imagine them making the sort of comeback LTP has made recently; if K&S were out of office for a few years, they'd be completely forgotten. Most of their power comes from the fact that they're in power, if you see what I mean.

In addition to the LTP loyalists, there's also a larger, squishier group that doesn't love Levon but that actively hates K&S. This group is particularly strong among liberal and educated Yerevantsi, who are pretty sick of being ruled by Karabakhtsi.

There are also a lot of people who are just tired of the way things are run here. They may not dislike K&S per se, but the rather blatant stealing of the election didn't sit well. I'd say this is a smaller group than the other two, but present.

So, you had LTP's supporters, plus groups of people who were more generally pissed off. Plus some hooligans, of course, and the occasional government agent-provocateur. (Maybe quite a lot of these, if some reports are to be believed.)

"Both LTP and Sarkisian cheated" doesn't mean much. For one thing, Sarkisian had the full might of the government behind him -- near total control of the media, millions of dollars in funding, a party machine backed by the full power of the state, etc. etc. It's like saying, in a fight between a man with a gun and an unarmed man, that both were in the wrong. It may be true, but it's perhaps not the most relevant point.

Also, any cheating by LTP would only have served at most to move his numbers a point or two. The cheating by the ruling party gave Sarkisian a (pretty implausible) first-round victory.

The sad thing is, the government probably would have won a runoff. While LTP has strong positives, he has equally strong negatives -- I'd say at least 20% of the electorate, perhaps more, would /never/ vote for him. And if pushed to it, I suspect the majority of Armenian voters would have gone with Sarkisian. Not only would he have immense advantages in campaigning, but he could also claim with a straight face to be the candidate of peace and prosperity.

If they'd just let it go, the government almost certainly could have claimed a second-round victory with little or no cheating. LTP would have been marginalized, K&S would have enjoyed a big hit of legitimacy, and a certain number of people (either 8, 12, or 30, depending who you talk to) would be alive today. Unfortunately, the government holds to the old Soviet dictum that 'free elections are all very well, but the problem is that anyone can win'.

As to the Dashnaks... they're a very odd "party", with no close equivalent elsewhere. (The closest I can think of is Sinn Fein.) They do take the long view, though, and they do hate LTP. Basically they see that they can work with K&S better than with Levon. That's in part because K&S are a little bit wary of the Dashnaks (who do control a lot of men with guns), while LTP doesn't seem to be.

Doug M.

Doug M.

Noel -- Claudia is the picture-taker.

I think the violence was about as bad as it was likely to get. The open question is whether there will be another round.

I think the answer is no, but I've been wrong before.

Doug M.

Mike Ralls

Glad Claudia and the Kids are gone, but stay safe man.

Onnik Krikorian

Doug, it should be remembered that another reason Dashnaks won't work with Levon was because he banned the party when he was president and threw their leaders into jail.

Noel Maurer

If you have either the time or the energy, Doug, a background post would be appreciated. While I am impressed at Jussi's and Onnik's command of the context, I have to say that I have no clue who the Dashnaks are, and while it is true that a short answer is only a google entry away, the utter of lack of context takes a certain something something out of the benefit one gets from reading the comments.

Not that their purpose is to educate or entertain, of course. But I certainly wouldn't mind more background.

Frex, is this an important event in Armenian history, or just an epiphenomenon thrown up by the political trends of the last decade? I can't judge.

Jussi Jalonen

Noel, the Dashnaks are a very, very ancient political faction, founded in 1890. Back in the times before the Genocide, they were at the forefront of armed resistance against the Ottoman power. Afterwards, they've been extremely influential among the diaspora community.

They're nationalist, anti-communist and at least nominally left-wing; they were part of the Socialist International (still are, in fact), but Doug's comparison with the Sinn Fein is not at all bad.

_I_ don't find them an odd party at all, but then again, I live in a country that used to be part of the same Empire.

As already mentioned, these days, they still hold a grudge against Ter-Petrosian, and for a good reason. The man banned their party, and locked up its leaders; the Dashnaks emerged as a political force once more after Ter-Petrosian dropped out of office, and today, they're the third-largest party in the legislature.

Numerically, this does not really mean much when compared to the overwhelming representative majority held by the ruling clique - with which the Dashnaks have been quite ready to collaborate - but as Doug mentioned, the Dashnaks have a lot of practical clout and firepower outside the formal political circles.

However, in spite of their hatred towards Ter-Petrosian, the Dashnaks apparently did make at least some kind of an initiative reaching for an accord. Reportedly, the Dashnak presidential candidate Vahan Hovannesian - who ranked as the fourth in the elections - did, surprisingly enough, offer to mediate between Ter-Petrosian and Sargesian immediately after the elections, but Ter-Petrosian refused.

Douglas may add his comment and details on that part of the story.


J. J.

Doug M.

Noel, I mentioned the original Dashnak party back in one of my historical posts:


-- about a page down. The modern party is, as noted, the third largest party in Armenia, but that doesn't really mean much; it's both weaker and stronger than that would suggest.

Weaker, because it has a small core of devoted supporters that it won't (doesn't want to) grow beyond; it'll never be a majority party, or even much larger than it is. Stronger, because it has deep roots in the diaspora, a lot of money, a lot of respect for its antiquity and its actions in the Karabakh, and -- this bears emphasizing -- the strong loyalty of a lot of men with guns.

Onnik, Jussi, it's true that LTP threw the Dashnak leadership in jail. But I don't think that's all of the story. It's not just the grudge, I think; it's that LTP /gives the Dashnaks no respect/. His attitude towards them seems to be pure, lip-curling contempt.

Right now everyone seems to think the state of emergency will be extended beyond 20 days (March 21). Let's see how that goes.

Doug M.

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