Armenian gambit – by Zviad Kirtava and Victor Kipiani



In Armenia, super-velvet revolution can occur rather unexpectedly.

However, “there is no smoke without fire” and no revolutions are truly unexpected.

Serzh Sargsyan’s rule was the continuation of Robert Kocharyan’s rule. Likewise Kocharyan, Sargsyan could also easily find his loyal substitute, and quite possibly political turmoil would not have reach such a scale. Or, the transfer of power could have been even almost smooth.

Sargsyan has not only made Armenian people stunned with his authoritarian rule, the decline of democracy, and the economic stagnation of the country with the bigger corruption, than ever before for independent Armenia, but he was the one to tailor the constitution according to his own will, just like Vladimir Putin. And then he made the biggest mistake – he simply lied to the society when he promised that after two terms of Presidency he would not try to get any other seat – either presidential or of Prime-minister’s.. He promised that, and he “forgot” – hoping that people would also forget…

And even more, he did not even try to paint this lie – even a small play did not come to treat public dissatisfaction. Richard III says in the Shakespeare’s play that he is basically not willing to be a king, and stages the “public appeal” and finally just “subordinates” people’s request – “I did not want to, but I have to obey to my dear citizens’ will”…

After that, we have watched classical scenario which was described as one of the preconditions for revolution in the old Soviet textbooks: namely, the elites were not able to manage and the lay-people did not want to live such a life anymore.

Of course, there is one factor to be taken into consideration – Kocharyan and Sargsyan are Karabakhians and ascended to power in Armenia through Karabakh war. Patriotic optimism, which has been national spirit by the Karabakh war in the Armenian community, probably is no longer as high as it was 20 years ago, when Kocharyan was elected president and when the whole society and the political elite in capital have given power to those who won the war and who was the most important strategic partner of Russia – having Russia’s unconditional support … but for 20 years Karabakh’s official reunion has not occurred, and significant regional isolation due to Karabakh is obvious, Azerbaijan’s economic boom  increasingly shifts balance between these – still-in-war countries, and Russia – against all odds tries to please not only its strategic ally – Armenia, but started to provide weapons also to Azerbaijan, by all these reasons already in the country and in particular in Yerevan, perhaps the prospect of the looks-now-eternal reign of Karabakhian elite results in more irritation or even frustration.

Sargsyan’s sudden resignation was not only sign of his political shrewdness, but he understood that his ambitions destabilized the country and were shaking power of his party. And he preferred to step back – thinking that he would not lose anything, securing Karapetyan’s premiership for next four years (or even less), and then he would return. That same model, which was already well-tested and certified in Russia by Putin-Medvedev tandem.

But Sargsyan was late. Nikol Pashinyan turned out to be a very strong opponent.

It is noteworthy that the Pashinyan is not a novice politician, as many believe: in his time he was close associate of the first president of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrosian, and recently won 21 percent of Yerevan Mayor’s elections. He correctly assessed the level of discontent of people and benefited from the advantage that Sargsyan had given him by his selfish wish to remain in power. Stepping back was now late already, as the public got at streets and felt the power. Everyone understood that Sargsyan’s “leave” and Karapetyan’s stay would have changed nothing – again the Armenian Republican Party and its chair – Serzh Sargsyan – would be the ruler force. And Sargsyan would not have been “long gone” – Karapetyan  would return the seat to him as soon as the public shouting sparked.

After that the events were changing with the kaleidoscopic speed – in Yerevan and other cities, the protests (and performances!) became increasingly massive and well-organized. The ruling party itself has already realized that Karapetyan’s attempt to keep the seat could easily turn the protests from velvet-ones to possibly-violent. In fact, not naming their own candidate, was probably the best solution for RPA– for easing tense situation, and at the same time to show to Nikol Pashinyan he could not become prime minister without the support of the ARP. It was an invitation for Pashinyan to negotiate with Republican Party if he wanted the second (and the final!) vote – would not end with the similar rejection on May 8th.

But, as we say in Georgia “the hail came and met the stone.”

Pashinyan only needed not even a whole day – to show what it means to be fully supported by the mobilized people and the right, well-calculated, patient, non-aggressive tactics. The entire blockade of roads, railway and airport ruled out the prospect of the ultimatum to Pashinyan.

At present, the situation is the following: Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) said it would support “People’s candidate who will get a vote of 1/3 in the parliament”.

Many have considered this as the capitulation of the RPA – that they are now ready to support the undisputed leader of the protest movement – Nikol Pashinyan (let’s consider that as option “A”).

We are not sure that this is true.

It is quite possible that the plan “B” has been worked out – if the government was agreed with Gagik Tsarukian’s block and “Dashnaktsutyun”, that these opposition factions would present their own candidate on May 8th session, and by having this new “People’s Candidate”, the Government of Armenia will try to get a new, – more acceptable than the Pashinyan – person for prime-ministership.

Another possible – “C” – option, which is less likely to be called, Alliance with the control of “cohabitated” governance – Pashinyan, as prime-minister, and RPA as a key force (controlling law enforcement and central election agencies) – the final outcome of which is not so difficult to predict, and such an outcome will more probably not be desirable for the Pashinyan’s camp.

One cannot exclude Armenian “cohabitation” – if the events are developing in this scenario – our readers should not be surprised. The point is that this kind of changes cannot be written in just by street’s power, given the firmness of the ruling political force in the Armenian political and business elite. Moreover, Sargsyan’s activity shall not be presented only in dark colors: for example, he has in fact diversified Armenian foreign policy, signing a special EU-Armenia Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement (CEPA) as some sort of counterweight to Armenia’s membership in the Russia-managing Eurasian Union. Besides, during Karapetyan’s prime-ministership Armenia achieved very impressive 7% economic growth rate.

If the Pashinyan’s candidacy is hampered by the opposition factions of the May 8th Parliamentary election and the voting option for the other “People’s Candidate” will be dropped (as a result of mass protest of the people in the streets), according to the Constitution of Armenia, the parliament shall be dissolved and new elections held.

And the new elections will be still carried out by the existing government, which has been holding Armenia for 20 years already!

Of course, it is impossible to be sure in anything, but we think the chances of the Pashinyan’s repeated turndown is higher, as the fate of the future government of Armenia cannot be resolved without Moscow. And for Moscow, and in particular for the newly reelected-once-again Vladimir Putin, not only is it important to see the government in Armenia that he has experienced and trusts, but also the form of transfer of power itself. Pashinyan has shown a convincing political shrewdness when he said that he would not leave the Eurasian Union and “ODKB” in case he is elected as the premier, but he also emphasized that he plans to negotiate with Russia on certain issues, and expressed his wish to negotiate with the EU as well. Russian would rise brows on such bi-directional foreign policy. But the main thing is another – a bad precedent for Putin will be merely the fact of the victory of the Velvet Revolution in Armenia – it might rise same aspirations Russia and, moreover – a hope for the success of those aspirations!

So, if the domestic political influence on the Armenian affairs will continue to be the main impact of the events, then any results can be achieved, including Nikol Pashinyan’s smooth election on May 8th. Such an outcome could be possible if Armenian (yet) opposition would be successful in convincing the Russians that the velvet revolution is only an “Armenian” issue and there is no more (geopolitical) element in it than merely change of domestic power. In this case, the Pashinyan will be easily endorsed by the Parliament. However, we shall remember that this process will not be completed by the end of May 8th and the main test is waiting for him after the coronation: when the real contours of the Armenian opposition movement and the goals and dreams of society, as well as Moscow’s attitude to the changes in Armenia will be revealed. And not just of Moscow: We have almost heard nothing about Baku and Ankara’s attitude towards current developments, at least in the form of public opinions…

And if our projection is justified and the May 8th parliamentary session ends without election of prime-minister (which automatically means the new parliamentary elections, carried out by the government of acting Prime Minister Karapetyan), it would be proof that the Russian influence in the Armenian Gambit was still a decisive factor – affirming the familiar scenario and familiar partner (or maybe – simply lack of strategic vision of Russians?)

If the main participants of the Armenian process will try and successfully convince Moscow that any configuration power will remember well who is the “true friend” of the country, the velvet transfer of power will only win. We have started this article by mentioning Shakespeare, and would end by another his quote from Macbeth, which later was applied by contemporaries regarding King Charles I of England as that “nothing in his life became him like the leaving it”.

In any case, the history of such rapid and could-be-fundamental changes reveals a rule: one important thing is to change (even at the expense of extraordinary efforts) the system, and the second – and the more difficult task – the ability to navigate correctly after the change, balancing internal and external threats.

Hopefully, the common sense and peace will prevail in our neighboring Armenia!


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