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Friday, 29 February 2008

Politically motivated arrests in Armenia

Below is a list of politically motivated arrests and detentions in post-election Armenia. This process is still on-going. All detainees are either affiliated with opposition parties or relatives, acquaintances and friends of oppositionists. *Source - A1+ and Human Rights in Armenia.

Leader of the New Times Party (NZhK) Aram Karapetian is charged with treachery.

Leader of the “Democratic Homeland” Party Petros Makeyan is arrested for intervening with the activities of an electoral commission.

Smbat Aivazian, member of “Hanrapetutiun” (Republic) Party is arrested for carrying an illegal weapon.

Gagik Jhanhirian is taken into custody for carrying illegal weapons and explosives. He is charged with violence against a government representative.

Leader of the “Motherland and Honour” Party Garnik Margarian were kept in the police for 20 hours without any grounds.

Suren Sureniants is taken under arrest. He is charged with the violation of the law on “Marches, Rallies and Demonstrations.”

Vardan Kirakossian and Artak Sisakian were released after a two-day stay at the police station.

Ashot Zakarian, Arsen Sargsian, Vahan Harutiunian, Artak Sargsian and Gurgen Eghazarian were taken to the police station and released in a few hours.

Husik Baghdasarian, Seryoja Siradeghian and Yurik Mamian are detained.

see also here

Disgrace of the Day - Arthur Baghdasaryan

So here we are. Arthur Baghdasaryan accepted an offer by prime minister (‘elected president’) Serj Sargsyan to take a position of secretary (= chief) of Armenia’s National Security Council. From now on Arthur Baghdasaryan and his “Orinats Yerkir” party bear equal responsibility with the ruling regime in relation to political situation and developments in Armenia.

You do not just offer this post to ‘opposition’ leader. It’s pretty important position dealing directly with issues of internal and external security of Armenia. You offer this post only to a person whom you really trust. Currently this position is led by the head of presidential administration.

I must say, Arthur Baghdasaryan is an excellent actor. There were always doubts in relation to his persona that he is playing game of Armenian authorities, with various post-election scenarios/speculations. But there was always ‘may be not’, always some kind of uncertainty there. Now we know exactly that it is not an extreme rhetoric or inflexibility from Ter-Petrosyan side that prevented Arthur Baghdasaryan from joining opposition coalition. He was just playing a game, he was always a part of ruling regime.

If current opposition movement led by Levon Ter-Petrosyan achieved something, this is one of the achievements. It helps clear things up in Armenian political scene, so that for once we will know who is who. Excellent step by chess loving prime minister Serj Sargsyan. A total disgrace for Arthur Baghdasaryan and his “Orinats Yerkir” party (and I am not talking here about thousands of his followers who genuinely believed him) who have always been a party of authorities, never an ‘opposition’ as they claimed to be. Just like nationalist ARF Dashnaktsutyun party...

*source of photo: Photolur, via A1+

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

No comment


"This election was the best in Armenia’s history."

Robert Kocharyan, Armenia's incumbent president, interview to the Public TV of Armenia, 26 February 2008

Tonight, Liberty sq, Yerevan, Armenia



*video by A1+

Full-blown credibility crisis for OSCE/ODIHR observers over election monitoring in Armenia

Election observers from OSCE/ODIHR played an instrumental role in mounting political crisis in Armenia as tools in hands of ruling regime to obtain much needed international legitimacy not due to fair elections but by positive headline of OSCE/ODIHR statement issued shortly after the preliminary results were announced. Armenian civil society and ordinary people were shocked and outraged by discrepancies between what they’ve witnessed and reported during ‘elections’ and what observers stated in their headline message of “mainly in line.” What I think about their shameful ‘mission’ – here, here and here.

It seems now that huge mass protests in Armenia’s capital Yerevan lead to a “full-blown credibility crisis” for OSCE/ODIHR election monitoring mission, as reported by Jean-Christophe Peuch of EurasiaNet:

"A controversial election-monitoring mission in Armenia has plunged the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights into a full-blown credibility crisis. Already under attack from member states that are hostile to ODIHR’s democratization mandate, the Warsaw-based office is now facing harsh criticism from civil society advocates.

[…] ODIHR is also coming under attack from opposition groupings in former Soviet states, which condemn the Warsaw office for failing to publicly expose election fraud, thus contributing to the consolidation of what they describe as authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes. In addition, recent monitoring reports that have glossed over instances of blatant fraud have also stoked a sense of chagrin among international civil society activists.

Recent elections in the Southern Caucasus region encapsulate ODIHR’s problems.

On January 5, Georgia’s incumbent leader Mikheil Saakashvili won a second five-year term with 53.5 percent of the vote. On February 19, Armenia’s Prime Minister and government candidate Serzh Sarkisian was elected president with nearly 53 percent of the vote. By obtaining just over 50 percent of the vote, Saakashvili and Sarkisian both avoided presidential run-offs against the second-place finishers in the respective elections.

Election observers from ODIHR, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament concluded in a joint statement that both ballots were “mostly in line with international commitments” made by the respective governments of Georgia and Armenia, but that “significant challenges” needed to be urgently addressed.

Opposition candidates in both countries denounced the elections results were fraudulent and called upon their supporters to take to the streets. Thousands of antigovernment protesters have been demonstrating in Yerevan over the past week, while in Georgia, a lackluster popular response prompted the opposition to temporarily shelve plans for a nationwide hunger strike.

On February 20, Armenia’s leading opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian said he was holding international observers partially responsible for the falsification he claimed took place on Election Day.

Recounts of selected electoral districts in Armenia found some cases of gross instances of fraud that either election monitors missed, or, for whatever reason, did not report on.

Finnish Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva, who currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the OSCE, held talks with Armenian officials in Yerevan on February 26. An OSCE statement issued after the meetings quoted Kanerva as calling upon the government and the opposition to solve their dispute through dialog, but made no mention of the arrests of political figures who have declared their support for Ter-Petrosian.

[…] Kanerva expressed particular concern about the situation in Yerevan, where protests calling for the annulment of the February 19 election results were in the eighth day. “After discussions with [Armenian] politicians … I’m not totally convinced about the future,” Kanerva said. “The most important thing is for peace and that there will be no violence.” […] "

Armenian NGOs condemn

STATEMENT

We, the undersigned civil society organizations, express our deep concern with the pre-election period, the election campaign and the post-election processes in the country. The assessment of international observers, even though portrayed in a positive light by the government and the government controlled media, was critical. However, the apparent discrepancy between the actual findings of the assessment with the formative first two sentences of the report resulted in the government only referring to this paragraph in the international observers’ assessment in order to legitimize the results of the election. Meanwhile, in the report, international observers pointed out to media censorship, intimidation of voters, vote buying, etc. and called vote count ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ in 16 percent of polling stations visited. Qualifying such practices as a “step forward” and in line with the commitments to hold free and fair elections discredits the notion of democracy and further lowers the standards of democratic reforms.

A number of undersigned organizations observed the elections during the voting day as well as the process prior and post February 19. The instances of violations are numerous and are documented in our reports.

We are particularly concerned with the Freedom of Media/Access to Media, Violence, Corruption and Use of Administrative Resources, Arrests of Public Figures.

One of the main points that the OSCE/ODHIR observation mission made in its interim report concerned the need to establish public trust in the electoral process. Deep rooted mistrust and often-referred-to public apathy is nothing else but self-preservation reaction of the Armenian people vs. the atmosphere of impunity for those who perpetrated electoral fraud in all past elections. The processes taking place after the elections are alarming and will definitely deepen the public distrust.

We believe that as long as electoral fraud goes uninvestigated and unpunished, there will be no trust in the process and in the legal and judicial system.

We believe that only through open and widely inclusive public discussion over the above stated problems and violations it is possible to foster the atmosphere of trust and public confidence.

In view of the above, we state that this election was not held in correspondence with our understanding of democratic values and practices.

We believe that the way the authorities handle the fraud will be indicative of the honest determination to abide by the rules of democratic free and fair elections.

We call upon the international community to see through the commitment of the Armenian government to comply with the procedure and to require documentation of proper investigation and due punishment of those who violated the law.

We call upon the Armenian government to stop politically motivated detentions. These are not calls for impunity, but a call for the government to set the example for the Armenian people and to act within the law.

We call upon the international community to make objective conclusions based on their own findings and not to discredit the notion of democracy, democratic standards and principles, as well as the international organizations carrying out an observation mission.

Signatories

Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression
Helsinki Committee of Armenia
Helsinki Citizens Assembly Vanadzor Branch
“Asparez” Journalists’ Club
“Internews-Armenia” Media Support NGO
Media Diversity Institute
Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation-Armenia
Transparency International Anti-corruption Center
Yerevan Press Club

*source

20 years on… Massacre of Armenians in Sumgait, Azerbaijan - February 1988


Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Should we support anyone who joins popular movement?

The answer is big NO. Like in case of other major popular movements, there are not infrequent cases when leader seeks support from people with questionable reputation, to say the least, or when crowd cheers anyone who joins the movement.

I have to agree with Aravot daily’s editor Aram Abrahamyan in this instance:

“Aravot” takes a critical look at some of Levon Ter-Petrosian’s allies, notably the former chief military prosecutor Gagik Jahangirian. “Now that that the former military prosecutor Gagik Jahangirian has joined the opposition they are urging us to forget the fact that his investigators tortured soldiers, that he is the one who botched the investigation into the October 27 case [of the parliament shootings.] We are told to keep silent about that because Mr. Jahangirian is now participating in the break-up of the ‘kleptocratic pyramid.’ But wasn’t he an integral part and loyal servant of that pyramid for ten years?”

The same applies to general Manvel, for instance, as Aravot editor rightly points out too. When I wrote about his alleged support for popular movement, it’s not his persona or his high-rank military position I was happy about but the fact that they reportedly stated that the army will be kept away "from interfering with politics and being used against people".

As to currently arrested former military prosecutor Jahangiryan, as MP from opposition Heritage party Zara Postanjyan says, no one forgets that his name is associated with cases of human rights abuses, especially in military (which MP investigated). However, right now he has been arrested not for that allegation, but purely for political reasons, for his support to first president Levon Ter-Petrosyan and opposition movement. Therefore, in this case I will support him and will demand his release.

I have to say big NO to detentions of people for political motives, which effectively makes them political prisoners, regardless of their questionable reputation.

"First they came..."

Thanks to mk.am who reminded me this famous poem attributed to Martin Niemoeller. There are various versions of the poem, one of which is inscribed on a stone in New England Holocaust Memorial (photo below via Wikipedia). Essentially, they are very similar and very current.

They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

Armenia capital shaken by pro-democracy rally over fraudulent presidential elections and amid mass arrests

Never before (in a decade or so) Yerevan saw such a big rally and such a huge protest against falsified elections, in support of their right to vote and the chance for democracy in Armenia. Arminfo puts number at 70 000, many say about 100 000 or even more. Ongoing arrests and detentions of a number of opposition supporters did not manage to intimidate people. Quite the contrary. The fact that prime minister Serj Sargsyan & co tried to organise ‘alternative’ ‘victory’ rally in Republic sq by ordering and forcing people (local administration, civil servants, schools etc) from all over the regions to gather in Yerevan achieved quite the opposite result.

Many people from regions were at last had a chance to come to Yerevan, as main roads were blocked and checked for days to limit their numbers for opposition rallies led by former president and presidential hopeful Levon Ter-Petrosyan. Therefore, many came from regions as if for prime minister rally, but then switched to opposition rally which was closer to their hearts.

Whether current ruling regime will eventually manage to break down these protests, remains to be seen. They can only do it by imposing Stalinist methods (they already started - arrests, Bolshevik style propaganda…).

The fact that they lost already is out of question.

Monday, 25 February 2008

People’s President, or dancing revolution in Armenia

I never thought I would see him like this again. He was people’s leader back in late 80s. We considered him one of us. Then things changed, and the most frequent image of him left in my memory was one of arrogance. And I criticised him for that. But looking at this unique video of Levon dancing in Yerevan’s Liberty sq (captured this night by A1+), whether you consider it PR (good one!) or not, it feels right again. It feels right to see him spending night in tents with other ordinary people, his supporters. It feels right to see him dancing. It feels right to see his human side again, which was so deeply hidden for years.



…and here is Lyudmila, his wife, dancing.



If this movement for democracy in Armenia succeeds, it won’t be remembered as coloured one (like in Ukraine - orange), it will be unique Armenian one – dancing revolution...

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Senior Armenia diplomats resign in support of Ter-Petrosyan

Four senior Armenian diplomats - the Armenian ambassador to Italy, Spain and Portugal Ruben Shugaryan, the Armenian ambassador to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan Levon Khachatryan, the envoy of Armenia to Ukraine and Moldova Razmik Khumaryan and the deputy foreign minister Armen Baiburdyan have resigned in protest of the conduct of presidential election and in support of opposition movement led by the first president of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrosyan. This information has just been confirmed by Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ruben Shugaryan was Armenia's first president Levon Ter-Petrosyan's press-secretary in 1992-1993, before (1991-1992) he was Ter-Petrosyan's aide.

Regardless of conflicting news of support by some high-rank officials in government, judiciary, military etc (some of them confirmed, others - not), it is clear that Levon Ter-Petrosyan has loyal group of supporters in governmental structures, who even after 10 years of him not being in power, retained their loyalty. However, it is not just a personal issue. The disappointment in current givernment is so high and voting irregularities and violence was so blatant during presidential election in Armenia, that even people who do not particularly support Ter-Petrosyan joined the protest movement which is evolving to become a movement for democracy.

It is also very indicative that even though a coalition of pro-government MPs will soon issue a statement of support to prime-minister Serj Sargsyan, they will specifically state (after amendements proposed by an MP from governing Republican Party) that they call Armenian police to protect safety of peaceful protesters.

However, the situation in Yerevan is changing very quickly. This morning clashes seemed inevitable. Then, later during the day, things changed and under the pressure of influences from various sides, it was agreed to refrain from using physical force, for now at least. But things may be different in an hour, tomorrow, or next week.

It is obvious that incumbent president Kocharyan's return to Yerevan (after his Moscow visit) and his meeting with security, military and police chiefs brought more weight to prime-minister side, and today Ter-Petrosyan position does not look as strong as it was yesterday. Also, position of international community is a serious blow not only to Ter-Petrosyan but also to everyone who cares about democracy in Armenia. But tens of thousands keep gathering in Liberty sq with the same spirit and determination, and hopefully it is too soon to say "The End".

Carte blanche to Armenian authorities?

I feel very weird today. I have this feeling that the authorities will violently break down people’s protests, very soon. They will ‘create’ provocations whether from inside or outside the opposition movement, and then will come to ‘restore order’ or something like that.

Now that the international community in face of EU and previously hesitated US “congratulated” Armenian people for ‘elections’, they (EU/US) effectively gave carte blanche to authorities to act, suggesting that they will put blind eye on their actions. It is obvious that EU/US have so many ‘more important’ issues and disagreements with Russia, that they won’t like to be involved in Armenian affairs too, thus upsetting Russia even more. International community proved once more that they too, if it is within their interests, can be happy with “virtual reality” (just like our Public TV). They do not give a s**t about democracy, human rights…

If we witness bloodshed or violence in Armenia, there will be blood on EU’s and US’s hands too.

Public TV of Armenia - "virtual reallity"

It’s fourth day of mass protests in Armenia’s capital Yerevan against massive violations of people’s right to vote during presidential elections. You would have thought that Public TV of Armenia would cover these events. But the ‘reality’ Public TV wants to present to its audiences is “virtual reality”, as someone sharply noted.

When protests were held in Tbilisi, they were showing live reports from there, with detailed info on what’s going on. When things are happening in Armenia? - absolutely nothing! It’s getting pretty ridiculous when Public TV - sustained by tax payers money - either provide extremely biased information or no information at all. Take for example yesterday. In their main news programme “Haylur” they did not show report from mass demonstrations of tens of thousands of people in the centre of Yerevan. Instead, for few second, they mentioned that the rally was taking place and then for 5 minutes presented a report about a group of people who allegedly trying to come to Yerevan to ‘defend their votes for prime minister’ but 'stopped by police to avoid clashes'.

It is a total disgrace towards profession of journalists. If there are honest journalists remained in Public TV’s information unit, they have two choices – either by defying orders show real reality in Armenia or resign.

If democratic movement in Armenia succeeds, one of the first priorities should be to guarantee media freedom and to ensure that Armenians have Public TV not only by name but by essence.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Raffi Hovhannisyan joins Ter-Petrosyan rally

In a significant moral boost for protesters in Liberty sq, a much respected politician, leader of opposition Heritage party, former foreign minister Raffi Hovhannisyan joined today Levon Ter-Petrosyan rally.

A1+ reports that Raffi raised Levon's arm and the rally burst into shouts: "Raffi", "Unity"...

*source photo: Photolure, via A1+

Students under target

Many students in Yerevan decided to follow yesterday’s rally appeal to boycott classes and join the rally in Liberty sq. However, according to Radio Liberty afternoon broadcast, since early morning there is a visible police presence in/around main university campuses in Yerevan. According to radio reports, in many university campuses police does not allow students to leave the building, even during breaks. Several students were taken to police station, but will probably be released on administrative charges. There was a report of at least one incident of police dispersing students’ march to Liberty sq, without physical means. Despite all these obstacles, hundreds of students joined the rally in Liberty sq today.

Armenia: Violence at Polling Stations Mars Elections

Assailants Target Opposition Activists, Observers and Journalists

A statement by Human Rights Watch

The Armenian government should investigate alleged assaults on election observers and journalists that marred the presidential election on February 19, 2008, Human Rights Watch said today. According to victim testimonies taken by Human Rights Watch, assailants beat and threatened opposition party activists, domestic observers, and journalists who attempted to document election fraud at polling stations during the presidential vote. "These election-day attacks targeted the very people trying to ensure the integrity of Armenia's vote," said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "The Armenian government should carry out independent and speedy investigations to ensure justice is served and to send the message that intimidation won't be tolerated."

On February 20, the Central Election Commission declared Prime Minister Serzh Sargsian the winner of the elections with 52.8 percent of the vote. Sargsian had the backing of current president Robert Kocharian. Armenia's first president Levon Ter-Petrosian was the main opposition challenger and won 21.5 percent, according to official tallies.

In nine cases documented by Human Rights Watch, assailants intimidated, threatened, and even violently attacked opposition party activists, domestic observers and journalists at eight polling stations in and around the capital, Yerevan. Victims variously described their assailants as "big guys," "athletic," "tough," and apparently supporters of Sargsian. Most victims had been attempting to expose what they believed to be violations of electoral rules, such as incorrect voters' lists, intimidation of voters, violations of the right to a secret ballot, and ballot-box stuffing. None of the victims was able or willing to return to the polling station to continue observing the voting.

In several incidents, the assaults took place in the presence of police and polling station officials who did not intervene, and in one case a police officer appeared to assist the assailants. Some victims reported the attacks to police, who are investigating.

Human Rights Watch called on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to look into election-related violence and ensure that its final report on the vote records these incidents.

In one case documented by Human Rights Watch, assailants grabbed a Ter-Petrosian proxy (a candidate's authorized representative) at a polling station in Yerevan, forced her into a car and drove her to a remote area. There, they beat her in the head and face, threatened to rape her and attack her family, and abandoned her. She eventually made her way to a police station where she filed a complaint. She is still suffering from headaches and other medical repercussions of the attack.

At least three journalists were attacked. Lusine Barsegian of the newspaper Haikakan Zhamankak was beaten, and had her camera and voice recorder stolen, when she attempted to document what she believed to be intimidation of voters at a polling station in Yerevan's Erebuni district. A cameraman from the independent A1+ television station was beaten and had his camera taken at the same polling station. Two domestic election observers, Armen Matirosian, a member of parliament from the opposition Heritage party, and Zarui Postandjian, an observer from a nongovernmental organization, were also attacked at this polling station after they tried to raise alleged election violations with polling station officials.

The OSCE election monitors stated that the elections were held "mostly in line" with international commitments.

Tens of thousands of Ter-Petrosian supporters took to the streets in downtown Yerevan on February 20 and 21 to protest the outcome of the elections and what they believe to be widespread electoral fraud.

"The Armenian authorities should ensure that no harm is done to peaceful demonstrators," said Cartner. "Armenia claims to be a democratic country, and that means allowing people to exercise their right to freedom of assembly."

Armenia has a history of flawed elections and harassment of opposition parties. In March 2003, Human Rights Watch documented widespread ballot stuffing and intimidation during Armenia's presidential election runoff. Human Rights Watch documented mass arrests of opposition supporters, violent dispersals of demonstrations, and raids on opposition party headquarters in April 2004. The protests derived from the government's failure to address the many violations of electoral rules documented in the 2003 presidential election. Details of Assaults

*see also Reporters Without Borders statement: Journalists physically attacked during presidential election in Armenia

Defenders of democracy in Armenia

I thought I would never see it again. It’s like 20 years ago, the same atmosphere in Yerevan. Despite all differences, in this crucial time for the future of Armenian democracy people seem united, they refuse to be intimidated by authorities. They share food, tea, they dance, they spend night in Liberty sq, they feel togetherness, exactly like it was 20 years ago.

I am proud of you, guys. I am proud of my parents. I am proud of my dad who after hearing in the morning that police announced “rally is not sanctioned by authorities” and “there may be unforeseen consequences”, instead of being intimidated, immediately went out of the flat and joined the crowd. Like thousands of you. You did not get intimidated, instead – you danced, tens of thousands of you. I am writing these words, and feel very emotional now. I feel proud of being associated with you.

You are great, people!


P.S. And it is so encouraging to see so many young people around. (photo via Hetq)

Thursday, 21 February 2008

The Winners - Liberty sq, Yerevan, Armenia

I am with you, guys!







*video via A1+

Journalists physically attacked during presidential election in Armenia

Reporters Without Borders called today for the punishment of those responsible for attacking or obstructing three journalists as they were covering the presidential election campaign in Yerevan on 19 February. “The authorities must take these incidents seriously,” it said. “The journalists were simply doing their job.”

When journalist Lusine Barsegian, of the opposition paper Haykakan Zhamanak, took photos of ballot-box stuffing and non-secret voting at a polling station, she was beaten by two men who seized her camera and dictaphone after she refused to leave. Witnesses, including a police official, failed to intervene and she was hospitalised. A legal inquiry has been opened.

Samvel Avagyan, who works for the daily [opposition] paper Hayk, had his dictaphone snatched from him when he tried to question people in a bus taking them to polling stations after being given ballot papers by police near a market.

Cameraman Ovsep Ovsepian, of the TV station A1+, was attacked as he got out of his car by thugs who seized his recordings and tried to smash his camera. He was insulted by one of the attackers who spotted a leaflet of opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian in the car.

*see also Human Rights Watch statement - Armenia: Violence at Polling Stations Mars Elections

Armenia: 'Karabakh movement'-2?

I really hope that this news means that the army will be kept away "from interfering with politics and being used against people"

Breaking news

DEPUTY MINISTERS OF DEFENSE JOIN POPULAR MOVEMENT

*UPDATE: According to IA Regnum, Armenian defense minister’s press secretary Seyran Shahsuvaryan denied Ter-Petrosyan announcement about support by two deputy defense ministers (as per below) to his opposition movement. I will follow the events and will update the info as soon as possible.

*UPDATE (2): EurasiaNet - One close associate of Grigorian who said that he had attended the discussions between the general and Ter-Petrosian, affirmed the information, however. "If the people are with Levon, he is with the people," the associate, who asked not to be named, said in reference to Grigorian. "The general has always taken the side of the people." The source has told EurasiaNet that the two generals plan to address the opposition rally on February 22. If it occurs, such a move could arguably bring considerable dividends to the Ter-Petrosian campaign and encourage other groups to sign on board.

*UPDATE (3): EurasiaNet - Yet, despite the generals’ no-show [during the rally], the deputy chairman of a Nagorno Karabakh war veterans group headed by General Grigorian, [Malkhasian] maintains that the statements about the general’s support for the ex-president stand.In an interview with RFE/RL, Malkhasian also did not deny Ter-Petrosian’s assertion that the two generals are “negotiating” with the chief of army staff, Colonel-General Seyran Ohanian, to keep the military in the barracks. “Everyone is interested in a fair solution to this issue in order to avoid unnecessary clashes,” he said. “This is what all Armenian officers and generals want.”

Lragir and A1+: During the rally underway at the Square of Freedom [Liberty sq] about an hour ago Levon Ter-Petrosyan stated that yesterday he met with the deputy minister of defense, Lieutenant-General Manvel Grigoryan. Levon Ter-Petrosyan said at the time of his address, deputy defense ministers Manvel Grigoryan and Gagik Melkonyan are negotiating with the chief of the general staff of the armed force Seyran Ohanyan. The issue of the negotiation is that Manvel Grigoryan and Gagik Melkonyan state that as deputy ministers of defense they will stand beside of people.

Levon Ter-Petrosyan is convinced that the other commanders of the army will be on the side of people. He said that Manvel Grigoryan and Gagik Melkonyan stated they will prevent the army from interfering with politics and being used against people, and Manvel Grigoryan and Gagik Melkonyan are guarantors of the security of the Armenian people.

Today for the first time the deputy leader of the Yerkrapah Union of Compatriots Miasnik Malkhasyan stated that the Yerkrapah Union of Compatriots is standing beside people.

...earlier

APPEAL TO STUDENTS FOR SIT-DOWN STRIKE

Lragir: During the rally now underway at the Square of Freedom the leader of the Conservative Party of Armenia Michael Hairapetyan urged the students to go on a sitting strike. Then Levon Ter-Petrosyan addressed the rally and also urged the students to go on a sit-down strike and join the rally at 3 pm [tomorrow].

*source of photo: IA Regnum

Evidence of ballot stuffing during presidential election in Armenia recorded by mobile phone

Thanks to The Armenian Observer Blog, in case anyone had any doubts, below is the evidence of ballot stuffing during so called presidential election in Armenia.

As Observer pointed out, “We can see how a man is stuffing the ballot box, while the electoral commission members watch him without attempting to interfere or stop the illegal activity.”

It's a criminal act and a total disgrace!

U.S. expresses concern over Armenia's presidential vote count

In what could be considered a significant change of tone from that of OSCE observers' press conference, US sends a signal of serious discontent with the conduct of Armenian presidential elections. Ironically, as a basis of their "concerns", they pointed out evidence from OSCE initial report. It's becoming kind of a 'norm' for OSCE monitoring missions: they detail serious irregularities within the report, but as a headline statement deliver somewhat 'positive message' of "mostly in line with international standards". However, it must be noted that even OSCE stopped short of calling Armenian elections "free and fair."

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) - The United States expressed concern on Wednesday over alleged report of problems in the vote count in Armenia's presidential election.

A report by election observers led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) called the election "mostly in line with international standards," according to State Department official Edgar Vazquez.

However, "We are concerned by some elements of the report, including a description of the vote-count as 'bad' or 'very bad' in 15 percent of the polling stations observed by the OSCE-led overseers," Vazquez said.

Vazquez also called on all parties in the country to remain peaceful and refrain from violence.

Vazquez made the comments after the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) of Armenia announced Wednesday that Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan won the presidential election by securing 52.86 percent of ballots in preliminary results from all 1923 polling stations.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Picture of the Day (2)

*Despite closed transportation routes, thousands turned out to vent their anger over yesterday’s vote.

(source of photo: Inna Mkhitaryan/ArmeniaNow)

Yerevan in 'transport blockade'

Reports from Yerevan indicate that authorities paralised and shut down all main transport means (buses, mini-buses, metro etc) to prevent - as much as they can - people from attending a rally organised by campaign team of Levon Ter-Petrosyan who refused to accept the results of what some call 'election' in Armenia.

Also, at least in one kindergarten, according to my relative - there are unconfirmed reports from others too - they refused to take children today, which many speculate is not because of safety concerns due to possible unrest but rather to prevent more people from attending opposition protests in Yerevan.

'Impressive show of power'

Picture of the Day:

*Security forces are on standby in central Yerevan as oppositionists meet to protest (photo by Photolure, via ArmeniaNow)

by John Hughes, ArmeniaNow

[...] In taking the presidency Sargsyan assumes the seat of power following a day of voting that challenged definitions of “free and fair”.

It is further expected that Armenia’s third president will take over with the begrudged blessing of western allies who once again for the sake of regional stability, will need to overlook this government’s apparent willingness to dodge democratic fundamentals – open voting and vote buying among them, as witnessed by members of this staff. (Press conferences are scheduled later today by observer missions who monitored yesterday’s process.)

To claim his landslide victory Sargsyan was aided by an army of loyalists who handed out money for votes and were accused of physically assaulting and emotionally intimidating his opposition at polling stations. Complicit, too, was State Police, who dismissed reports of such incidents as “groundless” for investigation. (To be fair, wrongdoing was not unique to the Republican Party. Ter-Petrosyan’s camp was accused of some incidents of intimidation, though in far fewer reports from sources generally sympathetic to the opposition.)

The outcome was further aided through the engagement of a British polling agency that – for the first time in Armenian elections – produced exit poll data.

The British “Populus” analysis group announced – within 45 minutes of polls closing – that Sargsyan was the run-away winner. (Conveniently, their numbers are consistent with those expected to be released by CEC.) Two giant asterisks should be attached to the group’s findings. First: the number crunchers were hired by government-run television. Second: They used data provided by the pro-government Armenian Sociological Association.

A separate poll, conducted by a coalition of Armenian non-governmental organizations, produced a considerably different outlook, giving Ter-Petrosyan 37 percent and Sargsyan 35 – a win for neither.

In a less suspicious contest, the result would likely have been close, probably forcing a Sargsyan-Ter-Petrosyan runoff. (In Armenia’s system, a candidate must get 50 percent plus one vote to win in one round.) But a runoff would not have favored Sargsyan, as his opponent might have inherited the support of other opposition candidates to amass enough votes for a second-round win.

To move from prime minister to president, Sargsyan needed a first-round win that was most easily achieved through means that may not be found in this or any other Election Code.

It is an impressive show of power. It is, too, a demonstrative prediction of what Armenians can expect for, probably, the next decade – a forceful leader with determined aspirations for what is best for his country and for himself.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Armenia elects President: 1st round of voting

*I have regularly updated this post throughout the day


May I just say, how much disgust I feel reading, hearing and watching reports on violations, attacks, intimidations… Sad, very sad… and shameful… As long as current authorities are in power, there will be no prospect for free elections in Armenia. There will be no prospect for democracy in Armenia, just a mockery of it.

***
A painfully true summary of what happened in Armenia today

RFE/RL: “I can’t even call this event an election,” said Stepan Safarian, a Zharangutyun [Heritage]leader who coordinated the party’s vote-monitoring activities. “In many cases, polling stations resembled a battlefield because there were constant reports of threats, violence and the most ugly forms of fraud.”

“I have monitored elections in Armenia since 1996 and have never seen anything like this before,” Safarian told reporters. “This is a disgrace for our country and this government.”

***
"HERITAGE" PROXY LAY ON BALLOT-BOX AMID ATTACKS
(A1+ reports; video via A1+)

video

Today a group of fellows intruded into Precinct 11/10 located in School N35 and began beating Levon Ter-Petrossian’s proxy Jora Azarian. They turned out to have stolen the seal and were trying to stuff ballots. Jora Azarian had noticed it and taken efforts to prevent their further stuffing.

The boys put to flight after noticing A1+’s camera fixed on them. When our group was leaving the precinct, they attacked the group and tried to grasp the camera. But all their efforts were doomed to failure.

A few minutes ago A1+ got an alarm that the same fellows entered the precinct and beat Jora Azarian. They again attempted to stuff ballots but Narine Azarian, representative of the “Zharangutiun” (Heritage) Party in the commission, stood in their way and lay on the ballot box.

To note, the chairman of the commission Hranush Ghazarian stated that “everything is normal in the precinct. They had observed no irregularity or violation.”

***
RFE/RL: Armenian Opposition Cries Foul Amid Reports Of Violence, Fraud

***
Presidential hopeful Arthur Baghdasaryan election campaign team claims that the “atmosphere of intimidation of people, threats and beating rules in the polling stations” (Mediamax).

His voice added also secretary of parliamentary fraction of opposition “Heritage” party (which endorses Levon Ter-Petrosyan candidacy) Stepan Safaryan stating in Yerevan today that “mass violations are registered everywhere” during the presidential elections in Armenia. Mediamax reports that Stepan Safaryan stated that the “initiators of the illegal actions are the supporters of presidential candidate, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian”. In particular, MP condemned the “mass delivery of rural residents to Yerevan polling stations and distribution of bribes at the sum of 5 thousand drams to them”.

***
Concerns re voting of the army soldiers

Panorama reports that after visiting four polling stations, the Vice President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Anne-Marie Lizin called for consultations to discuss issues connected with the voting of the army soldiers. She did not specify the issues or what kind of consultation was needed. (photo via Panorama)

***
Business as usual in my local polling station

My local polling station in central Yerevan is one of those places where elections have never been marred by any reported irregularities. Today was no exception. Around 5pm Yerevan time my parents cast their votes. There were no queues at that time, although there was never ending flow of people to cast their votes. My parents did not notice any irregularity, everything went calm and in accordance to regulations.

Unfortunately, the situation in many polling stations right now raises concerns. And according to reports, along with a number of places elsewhere, the situation is especially worrisome in Gyumri, Abovyan and Vanadzor cities.

***
While provocations are reported from all sides, it is clear that most reported voting irregularities and violations come from people supporting prime minister and directed against opposition or non-government candidates, particularly Levon Ter-Petrosyan.

***
ArmeniaNow reports (here and here) on numerous cases of voting irregularities, including open voting in Vanadzor, ballot stuffing, assault towards journalists and proxies of candidates at polling stations. It remains to be seen how significant these and other reports are in terms of their effect on election results.

***
Radio Liberty in its afternoon broadcast confirms reports coming from various sources on incidents of bussing voters to polling stations reportedly by pro-government people.

***
People queue to vote

My friends report from many central Yerevan polling stations that turn out of voters is apparently high and they have to wait in a queue of 50-60 people to cast their votes.

***
Hetq (Investigative Journalists of Armenia) continues reporting on various voting irregularities.

***
A1+ reports that its cameraman was beaten by unknown group of drunken people. When they reported this incident to European observers’ OSCE mission in Yerevan, they’ve been told that no free observer is available.

***
Local GALA TV station recorded incidents of bribing of voters in Armenia’s second city Gyumri (Panorama; A1+)

***
Neighbours vote

My normally pessimistic neighbours (“nothing will change, as usual” was their routine phrase during all recent elections) sounded surprisingly upbeat after they cast their votes early this morning in one of central Yerevan polling stations. They were hopeful that at least this time their votes will matter. Everything was calm at the time of their voting. Too early to say, of course, but positive sign, nevertheless.

***
PM ‘not so sure’, after all?

Perhaps for the first time, and perhaps for international consumption, prime minister Serj Sargsyan discussed the possibility of second round of voting in an interview with Reuters published last night .

"If there is a second round I would prefer to fight against Levon Ter-Petrosyan," Sarksyan told Reuters on Saturday.

"It will answer many questions and will bring calm to our country ... if there is a second round and Levon Ter-Petrosyan runs, he will lose overwhelmingly," he said.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

To Winners!

Whatever happens during election day, you people – tens of thousands in Liberty sq in Yerevan, thousands in Armenian regions - are Winners for me. Today you sent the very clear message that you want and demand changes, that you are, after all, not indifferent to your future and future of Armenia… that after years of oppressing your real dreams, after years of apathy, you are sick of this hibernating state.

You were there on my behalf too. My parents, relatives, friends were there too, and I am very proud of them. I have few friends who support different direction than me, who support ‘no change’. I love them too. Armenia which I envisage should be all-inclusive society, where people of different views, and, in general, different people feel at home.

There were lots of complaints in recent period about the widespread apathy among Armenian population, which seemed impossible to change. Even his fierce critics had to admit that Ter-Petrosyan made that impossible possible. If only for that, for awakening, I’d like to thank our first president Levon Ter-Petrosyan.

Saturday, 16 February 2008 saw the largest pre-election rally of people who came by their own wish, not by the pressure of administrative resources or by pop concert incentive. Some say “tens of thousands”, some – “hundreds of thousands”. I do not care about exact estimates. What is more important for me is that for people who were out there it felt like hundreds of thousands, it felt like 1988 – exactly 20 yrs ago. Time passes so quickly, it’s like it was yesterday, when I was among you marching, rallying. Hoping for better, and actually gaining that chance for better, independence, defending and securing Karabakh, building up democracy, then disappointing and sinking into the state of apathy…

I wish I am with you now, but it’s only physical distance. My mind, my heart is with all and each of you. I hope your dreams, my dreams for change, for better won’t be brutally oppressed again. This time it has to be different. I do not want to wait another 20 years, I do not want to see your soul broken. Mine will be broken too. I want to wake up next day proud and hopeful.

'Super Tuesday'

I recommend this excellent piece from the editor of ArmeniaNow John Hughes which sums up perfectly my thoughts:

“The prospect of change breeds hope. It is why college kids in America back Barack Obama and why middle-class parents of college kids in Armenia will vote for Ter-Petrosyan.

Hope stirs the buzz, and the Ter-Petrosyan campaign has it again after a week during which it received the blessing of the Heritage Party – an endorsement that could be worth up to 200,000 votes – significant in a pool of 2.3 million from which 1.15 million plus 1 would secure a victory (if the entire registration voted).

It is hope darkened by deceit but reawakened in hearts such as the woman who was in our newsroom Wednesday.

She told about campaigners coming to her door, offering her 5,000 drams (about $16) if she would vote for Sargsyan [prime minister – Unzipped].

“Who can I turn to, to report them?” the woman asked. Painfully, the answer is no one. To do so would only worsen her circumstances.

Well meaning people here are fed up with such arrogant and insulting behavior, and know they can expect at least five more years of it under a Republican Party-led government.

[…] Armenia needs new direction. It may take an old face to turn it that way. Just so, given the chance, Ter-Petrosyan keeps the promise he’s made to get out of the way as soon as the course has been steadied and a new captain empowered to steer the Ship of State."

*photo by Photolure, via ArmeniaNow

Friday, 15 February 2008

Even in Czech Republic...

I was pretty shocked and disheartened to read the news that "Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus has been re-elected by legislators, in a knife-edge vote reportedly marred by threats, bribes and corruption." I would have expected this from other Eastern European countries, like Poland, Bulgaria and Romania, which became part of EU mainly for political reasons rather than their compliance with ‘EU values’. I must admit, however, that even in some founding member-states the situation with democracy and human rights is deteriorating. Take a France, for example...

"The BBC's Rob Cameron in Prague says it took two elections, six rounds of voting and a week of intense campaigning, during which time a number of lawmakers were reportedly targeted by threats and blackmail. The mafia-style pressure tactics of the last week will leave observers wondering just how far Czech political culture has fallen". More...

Sounds familiar, isn’t it? You just need to change “Czech Republic” with…

How successful EU could be in promoting democracy elsewhere if it cannot do so even among its own member-states?

BBC Radio 4 presents somehow depressing side of routine life in Armenian capital amid upcoming presidential elections


It does not directly touch presidential elections (just a mention at the beginning), but rather presents a kind of background picture of routine life and changes through the eyes of a local resident. A bit too pessimistic, in my opinion, but anyway.

Below are selected extracts. Full transcript is available here

[…] A product of the old Soviet-style education system, Armine speaks five languages, has an engineering degree, and plays the cello expertly.

When I first met her on a visit to Armenia three years ago, she dreamed of setting up a music school for children.

She was fiercely proud of being Armenian and admonished me for my ignorance about the achievements of her people.

Now the talk is only of property and becoming rich.

"It's like so many other places in the old Soviet Union. We gained freedom but somehow we have lost our soul," says Armine.

"The Russians, once again, control most of the economy while gangsters and oligarchs swank about in their limousines and fancy jewellery, all powerful.

"The politicians are hopeless, only filling up their own pockets.

"It's a country that's going nowhere. I just want to make my money and leave."

[…] As Jewish families might buy a second home in Israel, so the Armenian diaspora - present in virtually every major city in the world and many of them extremely wealthy - are buying houses and apartments in Yerevan and the prices keep rising.

[…] The Soviet era was not known for great architecture but old Yerevan had a pleasant, intimate feel.

It is sad to see it disappearing.

The diaspora buys but does not stay, says Armine.

"Meanwhile, locals find they can no longer afford to live here. One day, this could become an empty city."

*photo via BBC

Vintage (Soviet) election posters

For people’s happiness!


Workers and peasants,
One and all - to elections!

Under the red banner,
Along with men,
We bring on fear to bourgeoisie!


*posters via davno.ru

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Arthur the loser, or the best hope for prime minister Serj Sargsyan

It was expected that Orinats Yerkir opposition party would announce today that they support Ter-Petrosyan and join opposition coalition with Levon and Raffi.

Panorama reports that they just announced that Arthur Baghdasaryan will consider the possibility of joining the opposition bloc only after the first round of votes.

He lost his best chance to prove that he is genuinely interested in forming united opposition bloc against current authorities, when he refused quitting the race before 9 February deadline. He now lost his second best chance, and whatever happened during second round of voting, in my eyes he lost credibility of genuine opposition politician. There were always lots of speculations around Arthur questioning his real motives. He now proved that people who were cautious in taking his words seriously had all the right reasons to do so.

My only suspicion is that Arthur ‘plans’ to pass the first round of voting, and this would be the best option for current authorities too, since they would be able to claim that elections were fair and one of their “fierce critics” was able to pass the first round. In that case they would be able to divide opposition camp and diminish the impact of possible protests from electorate and criticism from international community.

Taking into account the seriousness of situation and the fact that government seems to lose ground ahead of elections, the best hope for prime minister Serj Sargsyan may come from his “fierce critic” Arthur Baghdasaryan.

I hope this scenario will not get materialised.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Officers of the National Security Service of Armenia resign in support of Ter-Petrosyan

Since last week I keep hearing rumours from here and there about growing support within government and civil servants towards former president and presidential hopeful Levon Ter-Petrosyan. However, except few examples from governing Republican party, there was no other evidence, just rumours.

Today during his campaign rally in southeastern Armenia Ter-Petrosyan claimed that “there is growing support from government and law-enforcement bodies”, “state bodies with us”, “at least 90 percent of the staffs of security bodies, ministries are with the people”, and “more than 50 employees of the National Security Service (NSS) have refused to “work against their own people” in next week’s election and resigned from the former KGB in recent days.”

My first reaction was that well, ok, there may be some support, but it’s probably more of a propaganda trick aimed at providing reassurances to electorate and stirring further divisions and tensions within government which seems to increasingly lose ground.

However, I got confirmations via friend that at least several officers of the National Security Service of Armenia, whom he knows and spoke with today, have resigned, and they confirmed the growing trend. Also, one pro-government source accepted today that the situation is indeed very serious for prime minister Serj Sargsyan and no one in government camp expected the level of support Levon would gain.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

History in making: Opposition unites behind Levon Ter-Petrosyan ahead of presidential elections in Armenia

In what could be considered the most significant development ahead of presidential elections in Armenia, one of the main and arguably most respected opposition party led by former foreign minister Raffi Hovhannisyan declared his support of Ter-Petrosyan’s bid for presidency. There are already reflections of this news in Armenian blogs (here and here).

The only option left for Arthur Baghdasaryan, leader of another opposition party and presidential hopeful, is to declare formally his support for Levon Ter-Petrosyan. Although I think that the best option for him would have been quitting the race before the formal deadline of 9 February, since his name will now remain in ballot papers and this may confuse some voters, but Arthur has now second best chance. As I predicted before, this coalition is the most likely and practical way to challenge current authorities. Sources from Baghdasaryan’s camp assured me few days ago that he supports Levon and is behind him and will declare it by 14 February. We now have to wait for formal confirmation. Any other turn of events would be very damaging for Arthur if he wants to retain his status as credible opposition politician.

I've made my position clear in one of my earlier posts and now want to confirm my support for Levon Ter-Petrosyan candidacy. It is now not a simple choice between prime minister Serj Sargsyan and former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan. It’s now a choice between ‘no change’ (Serj) and ‘possibility of change’ (Levon with Raffi and others). I choose change!

Monday, 11 February 2008

Serj Superstar

This is simply hilarious.

As heard on the Radio Liberty - 10 February 2008, main evening programme:

(children – pupils – making their way to the rally of prime minister and presidential hopeful Serj Sargsyan in Kotayk region of Armenia):

Reporter: Where are you going?

Children: To a concert.

Reporter: Whose concert is it?

Children: Serj Sargsyan’s.

***
All rallies of Serj Sargsyan are accompanied by Armenian pop ‘stars’. Normally, all schools within the vicinity (and not only schools, but other organisations too, even hospitals in some cases) are ‘ordered’ to close down or ‘take a break’ and make sure that employees/students attend the concert-rally.

Western media on presidential election campaign in Armenia: Not interested?

In contrast with Georgia, so far western media does not seem to show interest in covering presidential elections in Armenia. Only last night, perhaps for the first time during this pre-election period, BBC News 24 TV channel very briefly within its headlines mentioned as they put it "huge opposition rally in Armenia" (referring to Levon Ter-Petrosyan's rally) showing video footage from Liberty sq in Yerevan.

I assume their interest will grow closer to election date, but still this is very indicative sign of differing attitudes towards 'pro-Western' Georgia and 'pro-Russian' Armenia.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Levon Ter-Petrosyan: gaining momentum

This was the most successful rally of former president and presidential hopeful Levon Ter-Petrosyan. Participants of the rally told me that Liberty sq and surrounding areas were full of people, and they reckon it was the most attended rally in recent years. This time people from much varied backgrounds and more young people attended too. Interestingly, some of the people who were in the rally said that they somehow felt the atmosphere of 88s when Karabakh movement just started and eventually brought Levon and others to power. Most significantly, while substantial proportion of people in prime minister and presidential hopeful Serj Sargsyan rallies are ‘ordered’ to attend using all sort of administrative pressures and resources, here people come because they want to come.

As to the unification of opposition leaders behind Levon Ter-Petrosyan, according to sources in Arthur Baghdasaryan’s Orinats Erkir opposition party, Arthur is behind Levon, negotiations are still in process and they will announce their support by 14th of February. The reasoning behind this is the desire to use campaigning, including by TV channels, as full as possible. At least, that’s what I’ve been told. I am not sure whether it’s right to wait, instead of announcing it now, but let’s see.

Next rally will be on 16 February, at 3pm, in Liberty sq.



*video via A1+

Burnt archives

The building of Ministry of Justice in Armenia has been burnt down this morning. It may be pure accident - fire, nothing more, but with all those burnt archives and documents there are only rhetorical questions to ask...

*source of photo: A1+

Friday, 8 February 2008

‘Levon-traitor’ leaflets in Yerevan amid news on another violence against his supporters

Just received a call from very close person of mine. The way she described the situation in Yerevan sounds very disturbing, indeed. According to her, at least in Yerevan State Pedagogical University - and I assume in others too - there were lots of leaflets everywhere this morning accusing former president and presidential hopeful Levon Ter-Petrosyan in being “traitor” who will “sell our country” and urging people not to attend his tomorrow’s rally in a central Yerevan.

Meanwhile, new reports on violence against Ter-Petrosyan supporters came out this morning suggesting that at least three of his supporters were beaten (one seriously) overnight for distributing leaflets on upcoming rally in one of the Yerevan districts by people allegedly connected with a local campaign manager of prime minister Serj Sargsyan.


These reports came just days after violence erupted against former president rally and amid increasingly biased coverage of these events by Public TV’s main “Haylur” news programme.

*source of photo: A1+

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Election monitors, like polls: Do we trust them?

International election observers, particularly those from various European structures, used to be considered by people living in countries which struggle with the establishment of democratic institutions as an important tool to limit potential electoral fraud and to grant legitimacy to those who got elected, be that President or MP.

However, recent developments in the region and particularly Georgia, cast serious doubts on political motivations of observers’ decisions. Well, there was always a suspicion of it, but what happened in Georgia was so blatant that could lead to serious breach of credibility towards the whole system.

Immediately after the Georgian presidential elections, they declared that the elections ‘generally met standards’, thus giving so much desired legitimacy to Georgian president Saakashvili. Then, soon after they published a report detailing serious irregularities, which under any other circumstances should have cast serious doubts on the conduct of election. And now a senior US representative in the region Matthew Bryza, who previously endorsed the elections, warns that Georgian elections could not be considered as a good example for others. So why did not they shout about before? Why now, when their “concerns” do not worth a penny? Was it because of Saakashvili’s “pro-Western” status? Rhetorical question, indeed.

We are just 2 weeks away from presidential elections in Armenia. What happened in Georgia has already seriously damaged observers’ reputation. In order for observers to regain it, they have to behave like proper independent observers, regardless of vague “pro-Russian” or “pro-Western” labels. Their preliminary conclusion, which is normally made the day after the election, should not differ substantially from final one. If they are not sure, they’d rather wait few more days and then declare their findings which are very important in terms of acceptance and legitimacy of the results. Otherwise, they risk equalling their reputation to that of polls in Armenia. Nothing could be more damaging.

P.S. On a kind of bizarre note, via Reporter_arm, below is a clip with John Prescott, head of PACE observation mission in Armenia for upcoming presidential election. During his own election campaign in Britain back in 2001, he (then deputy prime minister) actually punched one protester who threw eggs towards him.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Ter-Petrosyan under attack

Today, during former president and presidential hopeful Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s rally in Artashat, a group of people (allegedly connected with Hovik Abrahamyan, campaign manager of prime minister Serj Sargsyan) attacked the participants of the rally, aiming directly at Ter-Petrosyan too, and hit them with stones and bottles. According to A1+ reports, Ter-Petrosyan escaped injuries, but among injured is his bodyguard.

Levon Ter-Petrosyan is in police station now demanding investigation and considering this as an attempt of assassination.

Follow the news via A1+

Video update via A1+:



...and now those 2 female ‘agent provocateur’ – they were spotted by local residents and recorded by A1+ crew just before the rally begins. Particularly, local residents alleged that these 2 females received money to trigger provocation here, which at the end was ‘successfully’ accomplished, as recorded by A1+ cameraman.


*photos by Photolur, via A1+ and RFE/RL

Love messages for very different 'Valentine'

Apparently, during one of his rallies (or may be not only one) – broadcast by TV – prime minister Serj Sargsyan finished his campaign speech with very distinctive and memorable “I love you”. Now a number of Armenian TV and radio channels (including Public TV) broadcast ‘love messages’ by Armenian ‘stars’ devoted to country, family, husband, children, friend etc etc and always ending with very distinctive “I love you”. No direct reference to presidential election campaign, of course.

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Decisive rally?

Yerevan, Liberty square, 9 February 2008

Organisers of former president and presidential hopeful Levon Ter-Petrosyan rally promise important announcements that may cardinally change the turn of events.

The rally will be held in Liberty sq, at 3pm, on 9 February 2008 - a deadline for any candidate to formally withdraw from the presidential race, and thus the last chance for opposition to unite before the first round of votes.

* see also here and here

Sunday, 3 February 2008

"Threats of assassination" amid almost imminent declaration of united opposition


"Threats of assassination"

Head of opposition party Orinats Erkir, presidential hopeful Arthur Baghdasaryan claimed during the rally of many thousands of his supporters in Yerevan that last night he received threats of assassination. No further details were provided. He said that if something happened to his life, the direct responsibility for that will lie on current authorities.

Declaration of united opposition seems imminent

Arthur Baghdasaryan confirmed news on intensive negotiations between him, Levon Ter-Petrosyan and Raffi Hovhannisyan on forming a united opposition bloc ahead of presidential elections and hinted that next rally will be a rally of united opposition. He did not specify details of that coalition, indicating that the negotiations are in process now. I wrote about this scenario few days ago and consider it the most likely and most desirable turn of events (see my post Window of opportunity: Will opposition unite ahead of presidential elections in Armenia?).