In a recent assessment of developments in Armenia, the RSC published an analysis on 15 June entitled, “No Rest or Respite for Armenian Politics,” focusing on the confrontation between the Armenian government and the notorious petty “oligarch,” Gagik Tsarukyan, and his opposition “Prosperous Armenia” Party.
On the morning of Sunday, 14 June, Armenian security forces and investigators raided and searched the residence of Gagik Tsarukyan, the head of the opposition “Prosperous Armenia” Party, in the town of Arinj, north of Yerevan. Following the search of his palatial home, Tsarukyan, a sitting member of the Armenian parliament and one of the country’s wealthiest men, was then brought to headquarters of the National Security Service (NSS) in central Yerevan for a more than eight-hour interrogation. At the same time, a number of his party officials and activists in the Gegharkunik region were interviewed by security officials.
Throughout the afternoon and evening of Tsarukyan’s interrogation, several hundred of his supporters gathered outside the headquarters of the security forces to demonstrate in support of the party leader. By evening, police arrested about 100 of the demonstrators, largely for brazenly violating limitations on public gatherings and social distancing requirements, and for openly defying the outright ban on rallies, each an element of the country’s state of emergency that remains in effect due to the COVID-19 crisis.
In Armenia, as with most countries, a Sunday morning is an unusual time for any such dramatic political development. But in this period of unprecedented crisis over the coronavirus, the usual context no longer applies. Beyond the unusual timing, however, politics in the South Caucasus remains driven by an especially strident appeal, with an intensity largely defined by polarized tribes and passionate clans.
Against that backdrop, the significance of these recent political developments in Armenia is less centered on the fortune or fate of any one political party or individual leader but is more central to the broader course of political culture and governance. Moreover, this most recent confrontation between the Armenian government and the political opposition also reveals some serious concerns over the longer-term implications for the future of pluralistic politics and deeper democratization in Armenia.