Dr. Haykak Arshamyan
6 March 2015
A series of rapid events took place in Armenia in January and February 2015, including the casualties involving more than 20 Armenian soldiers on the Armenian-Azerbaijani border; the violent attack on the members of the “Founding Parliament” movement on the Armenia-Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) border by the police and special forces of NKR; the brutal and ulterior murder of the Avetisyan’s family by a Russian soldier serving in the Russian Federation military base in Gyumri; a new wave of attacks on civic activists and political figures; and a start of small and medium businesses’ protests against the new tax policy..
Despite all this, what happened recently with the Prosperous Armenia” Party and its leader Gagik Tsarukyan, exceeded all expectations, which additionally affected on the coalition of the so-called “non-governmental forces.”
The confrontation between the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) and the country’s second-largest party Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP) was initiated by the leader of the former, Serzh Sargsyan, who declared a “war” on Gagik Tsarukyan, the leader of PAP, in his speech at the Council of RPA on February 12.
The harsh rhetoric of Sargsyan’s speech went beyond ethical norms. Moreover, the leader of the
Republican Party was in fact guiding the Speaker of the Parliament, the Prime Minister, the Finance Minister, and security agencies to start a political persecution against Tsarukyan. The speech also was an open message for other members of RPA, who then began to detract and criticize the leader of PAP and his team members in different formats and venues.
An important aspect of this is that Sargsyan initiated this confrontation not as President of Armenia, but as the leader of the Republican Party. The looming question is why did he not start the confrontation from the Presidential office on Baghramyan 26 as a person who is in the position of president? Or why did he not choose the backdoor politics that is very typical for Armenian politics?
By choosing to handle the situation as he did, Sargsyan tried to transform this clash into a partisan fight and caused Republicans to use different methods of “black PR,” by manipulating their power and resources. This type of behavior is generally reserved for pre-election campaigns when two powerful political forces use any method and rhetoric to discredit and break the reputation of their political opponents.
However, the above-mentioned situation is only the surface of the conflict. The next, more hidden part of the confrontation is the package of constitutional reforms, which aims to incorporate the model of parliamentary republic in Armenia. It is well known, that the “non-governmental forces,” including Prosperous Armenia, argued against these reforms. On the other hand, the ruling party has been circulating this reform package for around two years and has already received the support of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), who left the camp of the “non-governmental forces.”
The Republican Party and its leader are confident that by possessing all the resources of political power, they can pass the reforms by a national referendum, which will then help them to monopolize the political field of Armenia, as well as be in power and continue running the country till the next parliamentary elections in 2017. The only political force that could compete with the Republican Party by its financial and human resources was the Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP) and its allies including Armenian National Congress and Heritage Party. The latter two parties do not have significant financial or human resources, but they could participate in the parliamentary elections in coalition with PAP, which would make their alliance a competing alternative to the Republicans.
Therefore, the demolition of the political and economic resources of leader of Prosperous Armenia Gagik Tsarukyan has become a priority for the Republican Party, and especially for Chairman of the Republicans Serzh Sargsyan.
As further developments attested, Tsarukyan was expelled from the National Security Council, as well as from the governing councils of several universities. Moreover, the redistribution of Tsarukyan’s businesses has started, including the transmission of “Kentron” TV station, a powerful media tool under the auspices of the leader of PAP.
If events continue in this way, Prosperous Armenia will lose its financial capacity and will not be able to succeed in the next parliamentary elections. This means that the attack against PAP and its leader Tsarukyan has both political and economic motives.
The now famous speech of Sargsyan on February 12 was followed by a rebuttal speech by Tsarukyan, where the leader of the non-governmental forces accepted the challenge. In his speech Tsarukyan announced a large upcoming rally, where a further strategy of power change will be developed. Additionally, it was announced that this rally would be a starting point for removing the current political force from power.
However, surprisingly, February 20 was announced as the day of the consolidation rally, i.e. a week after the confrontation started. Usually, during serious internal political crises such rallies must be called rapidly, in order to mobilize huge masses that are disappointed by the authorities and that are running on high emotions and courage. Conversely, it seems that the non-governmental trio with PAP as its leader, in a deliberate and planned scenario, gave a chance to the ruling power to finalize its political revenge.
As it seems, the events surrounding PAP were also accompanied by backdoor games and intrigues. On February 17, former President of Armenia Levon Ter-Petrosyan, despite the vastly accelerating political confrontation in which the Armenian National Congress (ANC) and he personally were deeply involved, delivered an open letter to Serzh Sargsyan, where, surprisingly, he did not talk about the political crisis. The message was centered on the issue of international acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide on the eve of its centennial, emphasizing that this should be above the internal politics and situation in Armenia. With this letter, in fact, the first president of Armenia offering his services to his political opponent to assist both in the processes of internationalization of the Armenian Genocide issue and in case of difficulties that potentially can occur in the process of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict settlement.
The letter had another interesting point that referred to the previous political team of Ter-Petrosyan. The former president suggested his involvement in some issues of Armenian foreign policy with his former political team. However, Ter-Petrosyan’s relations with the large part of his former team are currently not friendly. In other words, Tsarukyan’s closest ally put himself and his party out of the political confrontation, which was followed by the cancellation of the announced demonstration by PAP.
At the same time, ANC separately announced a traditional rally to be gathered on March 1. Two days later, on February 19, ANC leader issued another article, where in fact he was expressing his gratitude to Prosperous Armenia for the path they passed together. This was also a message to Baghramyan 26 that ANC is gradually moving away from its ally. Possibly, realizing that the ruling power is going to win the game anyway and that PAP and ANC themselves were not ready for an open confrontation (noting the missed opportunity of 2008), Ter-Petrosyan tried to get out of the crisis without losses while keeping his political team safe.
In the end, President Serzh Sargsyan and his Republican party have reached a new devastation of the political field. The united oppositional platform that gradually formed during the past few years was severely blown by its political opponent. As a result, the financial stronghold represented by Gagik Tsarukyan and his Prosperous Armenia Party will be marginalized as a result of this external shock, as well as because of the disappointment of party members and supporters.
With these steps the ruling authorities are attempting to monopolize the political arena, formally keeping the opposition as a political institution, so that they may carry out constitutional reforms and try to get the majority of parliamentary seats during the upcoming elections in 2017, which will enable the Republican Party to hold onto power until the next phase of parliamentary elections.