Books on Armenia
Principal ethnic groups
Update No: 301 - (30/01/06)
Armenian opposition in disarray
President Robert Kocharian has wrong footed the opposition. He is not a very
pleasant man; but he is an astute political operator.
He realized, unlike his ghastly co-dictator in Belarus, Alexander Lukashenka,
that things could never be the same again after the series of colour revolutions
in the FSU, two very close to home in Georgia and Ukraine. He does not want to
share the fate of Eduard Shevardnadze. As a much younger man, he can see a life
beyond politics. He has insisted, like Putin, that he will not attempt to change
the constitutional rules, which disallow him to stand for a third term, and
contest the 2008 presidential elections.
The main opposition parties are reeling, following the collapse of their latest
attempt to foster mass protests against his administration, all concerning a
clever referendum on minor constitutional changes that he held late last year -
having got Western backing for them, a masterstroke.
Opposition leaders are now saying that they are prepared for a period of
prolonged political skirmishing. Despite their evidently weak position at
present, some opposition leaders continue to proclaim that their efforts to
topple Kocharian will succeed before Armenia holds its next parliamentary
elections in 2007.
A coalition of 27 opposition parties and non-governmental organizations had
sought to use the November 27 constitutional referendum to launch a fresh
political counter-offensive against Kocharian.
At first, the coalition urged a referendum boycott. After the official approval
of the constitutional changes amid controversy over turnout totals, the
opposition coalition opted for a mass-protest strategy. In doing so, however,
opposition leaders appeared to miscalculate the population's willingness to take
to the streets, as the initial rallies drew sparse crowds. The initial rallies
failed to attract crowds of more than a couple of thousand people.
The opposition originally envisioned that the protests would continue until the
government agreed to its demands, namely the invalidation of the referendum
result due to insufficient turnout. Opposition leaders insisted that officials
massaged both the turnout totals and the voting tally. At the first protest, the
opposition issued an ultimatum, giving Kocharian 72 hours to agree to the
invalidation demand. One leading presidential critic, Aram Sargsian, leader of
the Republic Party, went so far as to vow that the protest movement would smash
the current [Kocharian's] Third Republic, which was founded in 1991, after the
breakup of the Soviet Union, and build a Fourth Republic in its place.
The low turnout at the November 27th rally did little to impress Kocharian's
administration, and officials ignored the opposition referendum demand. The next
opposition rally on December 9th also failed to generate a significant turnout.
It marks the second time that the protest strategy has failed to achieve the
desired results. A similar campaign in 2004 fizzled after government security
forces used tough tactics against protesters in April 2004.
Concurrent with the protests, opposition leaders announced that they would
embark on a comprehensive effort to document electoral violations during the
referendum, as well as initiate a petition drive in support of the call to
invalidate the referendum result. As with the protests, though, both efforts
fell flat. Political observers in Yerevan noted that opposition parties were not
undertaking any active steps to gather signatures.
Tactical difference among leaders now appears to be straining the opposition's
cohesiveness. For example, the National Unity Party, led by Artashes Gegamian,
joined in the call for a referendum boycott, but began distancing itself from
the mass-protest strategy in early December. On December 14th, two prominent
leaders of the Ardarutiun (Justice) Bloc, Stepan Demirchian and Arshak Sadoyan,
followed Gheghamian in saying that rallies are not appropriate. In addition,
attitudes vary greatly among those leaders still favouring the protest strategy.
Sargsian is among the more confrontational leaders. Others, such as Vazgen
Manukian of the National Democratic Union, seem interested in staking out a
softer position. In an interview with the A1+ weekly, for instance, Manukian
pointedly refused to endorse a statement made by Sargsian that Kocharian could
be ousted with a single phone call once the "critical mass" of
opposition protesters was reached.
In addition to a lack of popular backing, Armenia's opposition does not seem to
enjoy significant international support for its effort to cancel the referendum
results. In general, foreign governments and international organizations, such
as the Council of Europe, have supported the opposition's contention that
referendum turnout figures seemed inflated. Yerevan-based European diplomats
reportedly voiced their dissatisfaction with the conduct of the referendum
during a December 8th meeting with opposition leaders.
Foreign support mounts up
Nevertheless, foreign governments and international organizations have
stopped short of characterizing the referendum's outcome as tainted. It appears
that some opposition parties are set to adopt a more aggressive stance in the
international arena. For example, the Justice parliamentary faction has already
decided to replace its representative in the Council of Europe's Parliamentary
Assembly with a bitter presidential foe, party leader Stepan Demirchian, who
will replace the moderate-minded Shavarsh Kocharian.
Opposition-leaning media outlets have started to express frustration over the
inability of the anti-Kocharian coalition to make headway in promoting political
change. "They sent people home to organize a long and strong
struggle," noted one sarcastic commentary published in the Aravot newspaper
on December 10th.
Armenian experts suggest widespread apathy concerning the constitutional
referendum worked against the opposition. At a December 6th discussion sponsored
by the National Press Club, political scientist Stepan Safarian maintained that
the only issue capable of generating broad public interest these days is the
Nagorno-Karabakh peace process. This is stalled by the fact that Kocharian is a
hard-liner on the issue - as one might expect from the former president and
warlord of the contentious enclave!
Construction of Hrazdan power plant launched
Armenia and Iran have launched the fifth block of Hrazdan thermal power plant,
Armenian minister of energy, Armen Movsisyan, announced at a meeting on December
8th. Iran will provide 150m Euro towards the project, New Europe reported.
Russian premier Mikhail Fradkov said that Russia's party is also interested in
participating in the project. In this context, Movsisyan affirmed Russia's
desire but added that it was not supported with a specific proposal but Armenia
will consider Russia's desire. However Russia is participating in the project.
Movsisyan said, "We actively work with the Project Institute, which has
arranged the building of the 5th block of Hrazdan thermal power plant." It
was recalled that the Russian party, RAO UES, of Russia and Gazprom Corporation
initially claimed the right for building the block, as well as laying the
Armenian part of Iran-Armenia gas pipeline. The Armenian government chose two
Iranian companies, Sanir and MAR.
Movsisyan confirmed that the pipeline would be commissioned in early 2007. He
stated that Iran-Armenia gas pipeline will be an energy security factor for
Armenia and not considered as an alternative to Russian route of gas supplies.
It was decided that the Armenian party would pay for the Iranian gas by means of
electricity supplies. According to experts, if Russia increases gas tariffs and
Georgia does the same regarding transit tariffs then Armenia may resort to
Iranian gas supplies fully.
FOREIGN ECONOMIC COOPERATION
Russia among Armenia's major trade-economic partners
Moscow continues to be one of the main trade and economic partners of Yerevan,
said Armenian foreign minister, Vardan Oskanian, at a meeting on the results of
the ministry of foreign affairs activities in 2005. "Russia continues to be
one of the major trade and economic partners of Armenia. In the first eleven
months of 2005, trade turnover between Armenia and Russia was about 300 million
Euro," Oskanian said, Interfax News Agency reported.
According to him, the holding of the 'Year of Russia' in Armenia boosted
bilateral cooperation in 2005. A number of visits at the top level were held,
during which the parties discussed matters of development of mutually favourable
cooperation, as well as settlement of the Nagorno Karabak conflict, development
and ensuring stability in the region. He also stressed the seventh session for
the Armenian-Russian Intergovernmental Commission for Economic and
Scientific-Technical Cooperation. The agenda of the meeting included matters of
development of bilateral industrial, energy, transport, bank and trade
cooperation, full exploitation of the enterprises conveyed to Russia by Armenia
within Property for Debt Agreement. The parties also discussed the direction of
the work of Kavkaz-Poti train-ferry.
Touching on the development of Armenian-Russian relations in 2005, Oskanian said
that strategic cooperation with Russia in the military-political,
trade-economic, and humanitarian fields remains among the priorities of
Armenia's foreign policy. Armenia also continues to actively develop and expand
relations with the US in all areas, Oskanian said. Among the key results of
Armenian-US cooperation is the approval by the US-based Millennium Challenge
Corporation of a five-year assistance programme for Armenia worth 235.65 million
Euro, the minister said. In addition, the traditional volume of humanitarian aid
the US provides to Armenia will remain in place in 2006, he said. Besides,
Oskanian noted the continuing education cooperation between Armenia and Russia.
Some 100 free education places are allocated in Russian higher education
institutions for Armenian citizens. The activities of the Russian-Armenian
(Slavonic) University promoted the education cooperation. Last year was also
productive for Armenia's European integration, Oskanian said. Relations between
Armenia's regions and Russian Federation subjects became notably activated in
2005. Delegations of Russian Sverdlovsk, Perm, Samara, Rostov and Penza regions,
Krasnodar Territory, Moscow and Saint Petersburg visited Armenia.