Time for Plain Speaking and Calling to Account
The following is the speech make by Levon Ter-Petrossian announcing his candidacy for president. He has not made a public address in a decade (since his last presidency) and this speech has been criticized for the obvious reason that everything he accuses his successors of doing, was done first by him.
TIME FOR PLAIN SPEAKING AND CALLING TO ACCOUNT
An Address by Levon Ter-Petrossian
At the Rally in Freedom Square in Yerevan, Armenia
October 26, 2007
The atmosphere today, reminiscent of the inception of the powerful national movement in 1988, prompts me to entitle my address “Time for Plain Speaking and Calling to Account.” These two things are necessary, first of all, in order to review the ten years of Kocharyan’s presidency, and then, to clearly identify the challenges that Armenia faces today.
In my September 21st address, I only touched upon a few points, but the response that has ensued renders it necessary to reflect upon them in greater detail and substance.
From the outset, I should make it clear that I will be offering purely political assessments, based solely on official statistics and data made available in the media. These assessments should therefore not be construed as having any legal force, and in no way do they challenge the presumption of innocence of those individuals whose names will be mentioned further. For as long as there are no court rulings, these people are just as innocent as anyone present at this rally.
THE NATURE OF THE KOCHARYAN ADMINISTRATION OR REGIME
In the address I mentioned earlier, I characterized Armenia’s current leadership as a “regime that is criminal and corrupt from the top down, conducting its affairs not according to the rule of law, or the will of the people, and not through political dialogue, but by the rules of the criminal underworld. That is to say—a thoroughly mafia-style regime, institutionalized to the last detail, that has already relegated us to the rank of similar regimes in the third world.”
In the terminology of classical statecraft, such a regime is called a “kleptocracy” – literally, “rule by thieves.” But I would prefer “bandocracy” - “rule by bandits” as a more accurate term, since theft is a crime committed individually, while banditry is committed by a group.
So, what then is the raison d'être of this system of “rule by bandits”? Nothing but ensuring the welfare of a limited group of individuals in charge of all levers of power, through the merciless dispossession and deprivation of its own people. All of this is cynically disguised in the grand phraseology of patriotism, national interest, genocide recognition, and the independence of Artsakh. In reality, it is clear that the Homeland for them is conquered territory, or at most a business establishment; so-called ‘national interest’, the basest form of personal profiteering; and genocide recognition or the liberation of Artsakh, pocket change for running their fraudulent activity. The level of their rhetoric is in direct proportion to the size of their embezzled wealth. The louder they talk about patriotism, national interest and the welfare of the people, the more they steal from the pockets of those very people.
THE STRUCTURE AND KEY LINKS IN THE CHAIN OF “RULE BY BANDITS”
Armenia’s current system of power is structured according to the principle of a pyramid, with a clearly defined monarchical-hierarchical ladder. At the top of the pyramid is Robert Kocharyan, the President of the Republic. The second in line is Serzh Sargsyan, the Prime Minister, and in the not-so-distant past, the Minister of Defense. Competing for third place are Hovik Abrahamyan, the Deputy Prime Minister, and Armen Gevorgyan, the President’s Chief of Staff. Following them are the majority of ministers, deputy ministers, and chiefs of provincial administrations, as well as a few notorious mayors and chiefs of local administrations.
Several key links ensure the functioning of this criminal system.
First is the Chief of Staff of the President, whose influence was particularly strong during the terms of office of Prime Ministers Armen Darbinyan and Andranik Margaryan, when in fact it was Alexan Harutyunyan and Armen Gevorgyan who made personnel decisions, established the rules of buying and selling, directed the process of granting licenses, and ensured the conduct of pro-forma auctions and tenders. That is to say, they wielded power beyond their authority, which otherwise should have belonged to the cabinet of ministers.
The second key link is the Customs Department headed by Armen Avetisyan. The authority of this Department has expanded from customs enforcement and collection of duties to that of a national smuggling operation. The Customs Department is the machine that helps form monopolies, assign quotas on the export and import of goods, create unequal conditions for entrepreneurs, squeeze undesirable business competitors and push them into bankruptcy. Though not on the same scale, the Tax Department serves the same purpose, with small and medium size businesses and entrepreneurs taking the most heat, since larger taxpayers make the greater portion of their payments in an entirely different location, remaining essentially outside the jurisdiction of that Service.
The third most important link is the Prosecutor’s Office under Aghvan Hovsepyan, which guarantees the legal security and impunity of the bandits’ regime, obscuring and covering up its violations and crimes, and terrorizing and silencing critics and opponents of the regime through fabricated prosecutions.
The fourth key link ensuring the vitality of the regime is the Central Bank, the monetary policy of which, particularly the questionable process of appreciation of the dram, has led to the collapse of the country’s already poor industrial base, substantially limited the export opportunities of local producers, and drained over 40% of the real value of foreign remittances, redirecting it to the pockets of import monopolists and the bureaucrats that sponsor them. In addition, the banking system under the control of the Central Bank permits the flow of the regime’s financial means, and legalizes its criminally-obtained huge earnings.
And finally, the fifth key link, Public Television, headed by Alexan Harutyunyan, wages the propaganda defense of the criminal regime, vigorously accomplishing the sordid business of discrediting its critics and political opponents. Almost matching this success are a few TV channels and print media, directly or indirectly controlled by the state.
THE FORMATION AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE REGIME
This criminal regime was not formed overnight. Its origins are directly connected to the heinous crime of October 27, 1999. The existence of such a regime was impossible under the political alliance between Vazgen Sargsyan and Karen Demirchyan, given their complete control of the parliamentary majority and the cabinet – a counterbalance serious enough not only to prevent the President from overstepping the law, but also to virtually place him in the position of the Queen of England.
It was the October massacre that cleared the stage for the launch of the Kocharyan regime, and its subsequent expansion. After that carnage, the rest, as they say, was just technical. In the following few months, the Kocharyan administration managed to overcome its brief initial panic and consolidate its positions, getting rid of foreign elements within it that hindered its freedom of criminal activity – Prime Minister Aram Sargsyan, Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutyunyan, Prosecutor General Boris Nazaryan, Mayor of Yerevan Albert Bazeyan, other ministers and officials of the Republican Party and the People’s Party of Armenia, such as Vahan Shirkhanyan, Levon Barkhudaryan, Smbat Ayvazyan, Shahen Karamanukyan, Zaven Gevorkyan, Leonid Hakobyan, Gegham Harutyunyan, Edward Simonyants, Andranik Kocharyan, Tigran Hakobyan, David Matevosyan, Mushegh Saghatelyan, Armen Yeghiazaryan, Artak Zeynalyan, and others.
The National Assembly, designed as the principal counterbalance to the Presidential power, underwent a serious transformation as well, as many opportunist representatives of its joint Republican and People’s Party majority, known as the Unity Bloc, betrayed their martyred leaders and took an oath of loyalty to Robert Kocharyan. The Parliament, thus, transformed itself from a political body to an amorphous, subservient meetinghouse, bereft of ideas, a simple appendix to, and dutiful agent of, the Presidential power. The regime reached its apex after this year’s parliamentary elections, with Serzh Sargsyan’s ascension to the office of Prime Minister. Today, we are dealing with a completely monolithic, totally uncontrollable, closed system of power, held together by a web of criminal cross-commitments.
THE ECONOMIC CONSEQUENCES OF THE REGIME
The gravest consequence of the Kocharyan regime is Armenia’s misshapen economic system. It has nothing in common with either socialism, or feudalism, or the nominally declared capitalism, resembling rather a Mongol-Tartar style khanate system. The liberal economy, the existence of which in our country is advertized tirelessly around the clock, is a fiction, for everything in the economic arena is driven by not market forces, but by the will and command of the junta that has usurped power.
It is in the closed offices of the President and Prime Minister that such matters as the distribution of property, the sale of state property and land, the granting of monopoly privileges, the organization of auctions and tenders, the establishment of export and import quotas, and even the granting of licenses and authorization of land allocation and construction work are decided. That is to say – there has been a fundamental breakdown in the operation of the three most important principles of capitalism or market economy: equal opportunity, free competition, and inviolability of property. If not, then in what other country of the world would an ordinary minibus driver manage to enrich himself in a year or two so much that he would start making tens of millions of dollars of investments, say, not in the economy of his native Artsakh, but in the United States? Or, where else would a 25-year-old man become one of the country’s ten richest business people, only two or three years after graduating from college?
Year after year, official statistics record the tiger-leap pace of economic development in Armenia, expressed in the double-digit growth of the GDP. Studies by serious economists, however, indicate that this data, to put it mildly, does not correspond to reality, and annual economic growth, in fact, does not exceed 3-4%. What, then, is the secret of this double-digit arithmetic? Well, there is no secret: economic growth figures are directly proportional to the dynamics of foreign remittances. In other words, the Armenian economy grows only as much as does the volume of remittances, expected to reach the $2 billion mark this year.
That means that even if the Armenian economy continues to develop, it does so outside Armenia, primarily due to the physical energy of the hundreds of thousands of Armenian laborers who have emigrated to Russia in search of economic opportunity. It is not by chance that in my previous address I suggested that the labor force appears to be Armenia’s only export item today. Unfortunately, Armenia’s mining, energy, and telecommunications companies, now mainly in foreign hands, have yet to generate any real profit for Armenia, except for salaries and social security tax payments.
The official statistics are unreliable in another respect as well. There has been a criminal cover-up of the real volumes of imports to Armenia of monopoly commodities, particularly gasoline. In the fall of 1997, Armenia was importing 30,000 tons of gasoline per month. Starting from 2002, per official statistics, monthly import volumes of gasoline have been held at the level of a mere 12,000-15,000 tons – a ridiculous figure, given the steady rise in the number of automobiles in the country. The truth is, every month, more than 50,000 tons of gasolines enter the Republic. What is this, if not gross manipulation, state-sponsored smuggling, the crime of the century, if you will, which, beyond any doubt, will be investigated by any number of parliamentary commissions and judicial bodies? An almost similar situation exists with the imports of other monopoly commodities. Another such scheme involves the import of large volumes of Kazakh gas, which is absent in the official statistics as well.
Many people, including professional economists, argue that a significant portion of the Armenian economy is in the “shadow.” This is a euphemism. As puzzling as it may sound, there is no shadow economy in our country. The shadow economy is economic activity that, for various reasons, exists outside the state’s control, and in varying degrees, it is present in all societies, including the most developed and law-abiding. Armenia’s power system, however, is so well organized and omnipotent that nothing can escape its control, and it itself runs all criminal business activity. Therefore, this is not a shadow economy, but universal robbery and state racketeering, directly leading to the existence of two parallel budgets in Armenia – the official one, and the one that lines the pockets of the authorities. Judging by the available data, the latter is significantly larger than the former. During the last five years, the criminal regime has pocketed at least $3-4 billion of public funds, which, if invested in Armenia, would have brought about significant qualitative changes in the country, or if invested in Artsakh, would have delivered its independence already.
Not to tire you any further, I will conclude this section, but would like to offer two additional comments.
First, I do not believe that the Statistics Agency, which employs decent professionals, is feeding the government fabricated data. Fabrication occurs, and the Agency’s data gets distorted for propaganda purposes, at higher levels of government, just as it was done in the Stalin and Brezhnev eras.
Secondly, I am amazed at the conduct of the employees of the Yerevan offices of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. They cannot have failed to notice the enormous distortion and statistical manipulation taking place. Their official reports essentially coincide with the idyllic picture of the economy offered by Armenian government propaganda. Their semi-confidential internal reports, however, present a different state of affairs, revealing, to a greater or lesser degree, almost all of the negative phenomena in Armenia’s business and economic life, including the gasoline imports scheme.
THE SOCIAL CONSEQUENCES OF THE POLICIES OF THE REGIME
Against the backdrop of the virtual wonderland portrayed on the TV screens, double digit economic indicators, and the impressive gentrification of downtown Yerevan, specialists, including international experts, fail to see any real progress in the quality of life of the general public in Armenia. No matter how rational they sound, the specialists’ explanations of this phenomenon are far from convincing, and even farther from comprehensive. Is it an undeniable fact that social polarization is not on the decline – it is actually on the rise: the rich are getting richer, and the poor poorer. The posh stores and restaurants and modern apartments in downtown Yerevan are accessible to no more than 5% of the population. The vast majority of the people, particularly in provincial cities and rural area, are condemned to abject misery and the daily struggle for survival. Half-empty villages and scattered families – this is the real picture of Armenia.
It was already noted that the principal source of income for the country’s population is foreign remittances, 40% of the volume of which no longer reaches its addressee, due to the steady decline in the dollar’s exchange rate. Hence, the year-to-year increase in the volume of foreign remittances does not at all lead to an increase in the quality of life. And there is more to this issue: according to official statistics, 80% of foreign remittances are spent on purchasing imported goods. In other words, this capital, which has already reached about $2 billion this year, leaves Armenia the same way it enters, which means it has no real impact on the county’s economic development.
It cannot be denied, of course, that salaries, pensions, and welfare payments have been rising. Yet, given the rise in consumer prices over the last ten years, increased monetary revenues have almost zero impact on the quality of life of the general population. $100 today has the same purchasing power as $20-25 ten years ago. There is no consumer good or service that is cheaper today than it was ten years ago. This year’s official statistics are not available, so I will compare data for 2006 and 1997. As per those statistics, over the past ten years prices for gasoline have increased 2.2 times, diesel fuel twice, electricity by 40%, cold water supply 3.5 times, phone service 3.5 times, beef and lamb by around 50%, animal fats by 28%, vegetable oil by 57%, milk by 52%, wheat bread twice. Increases in consumer prices are even more striking when expressed in dollar amounts.
Despite this “robust” economic progress, and double-digit growth indicators, even the official statistics admit that not only has emigration not subsided, but continues to remain steady at a rate of 25,000 people each year. In the recent period, the authorities and their propaganda machine have been trumpeting and rejoicing over the fact that the number of unemployed people in Armenia has declined to the level of 60,000. Of course, about half a million Armenian citizens who have emigrated in search of employment do not count as unemployed. So, if the 60,000 people mentioned above emigrate as well, then there will no longer be any unemployment in our country. Armenia will become the only country in the world to fully eradicate that global social evil.
THE MORAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL CONSEQUENCES
One of the most hurtful consequences of the Kocharyan regime is, clearly, the unhealthy moral and psychological climate established in the country. The air of inspiration, freedom, and pride so characteristic of our first decade of independence has been replaced by fear, subservience, desperation, and hatred. Moral degradation has reached a point where consumerism, bribery, greed, deceit, betrayal, careerism, and sycophancy are no longer viewed as societal vices. The regime’s amoral activity has brought to the fore the basest of human instincts. Enormous damage has been done to our people’s traditional values of honesty, justice, decency, and selflessness. People have lost faith in state institutions, the law, politicians, political parties, and even those who hold moral authority. Our natural human bond with our birthplace has dissolved. Deserting fatherland, home, and even family has become commonplace. The society has become – rather, has been turned into—a suspicious, pessimistic, desperate mass of people, deprived of any ideals – a very shaky foundation, indeed, to build a powerful state upon. I must note with amazement, but also with sorrow, that our people exhibited greater pride, vigor and optimism during the years of war, darkness and cold, if you will, than they do today. I am therefore hopeful that they will recover their dignity, and redeem their country and their future again.
THE LEGAL AND POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES
The legal consequences include first of all the total destruction of the independence of the judiciary. This would be amply proved—even without the abundance of other similar evidence—by the recent events concerning Judge Pargev Ohanyan. In ten years, one judge—in violation of the rules of the monolithic system—finally had the courage to issue a verdict upholding someone’s innocence, and he was immediately removed from his position by the President of the Republic. As for other law enforcement agencies – the Prosecutor’s Office, the Police, the security services—they all have been turned into a repressive machine in loyal service of the regime.
Under the total control of the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister, and with exemplary obedience and docility, these institutions today perform two functions: first, to cover up, hide, and conceal the horrible crimes committed by the regime – corruption, embezzlement, even terrorism and assassination; and secondly, to intimidate and persecute the political and economic opponents of the authorities. The principal method of their activity is collecting so-called “kompromat” (compromising material) and preparing special dossiers on all active citizens, including many of you present at this rally. The entire arsenal of Stalin’s dictatorship is engaged toward that purpose – betrayal, anonymous tips, illegal wiretaps, forged evidence, the practice of obtaining forced testimonies and convictions, trials carried out exclusively on the basis of testimony by a single person, and so on. There is no one in Armenia that has not been subjected, in one way or another, to at least one such illegality.
Have no doubt – there are personal files on every political figure, Member of Parliament, business executive, large or small entrepreneur, professor, medical doctor, and member of the intelligentsia. Ever mistrustful of even their subordinates, the country’s leaders have established files on every single public servant, to keep them under the constant threat of blackmail, and force them to serve the regime with obedience. Under “obedient servants of the regime,” I do not in any way mean the tens of thousands of honest and decent low- and mid-level public servants, including those in the judiciary and law enforcement. They are as humiliated, affronted, and hurt by the hated regime as our entire public. Although the lack of alternatives has kept them silent, the rising popular protest will bring them closer, and they will join the people, as they did during the national movement in 1988.
More horrible than its legal consequences are the political consequences of the regime. Thanks to the brilliant domestic and foreign policies of the great patriots Robert Kocharyan, Serzh Sargsyan, and Vartan Oskanian, Armenia now finds itself off the main highway of world progress, in the position of a pariah state, firmly in the company of similar states in the third world. Not only does this undermine the foundations of Armenia’s statehood, already condemned to survival in an ever-unfriendly geopolitical situation, but it also threatens to damage our positions in the Nagorno Karabakh peace process. Corrupt, authoritarian, dictatorial and therefore seemingly powerful states, hated by their own people nonetheless, are in fact the weakest of all. (Suffice it to recall the collapse of the Iraqi state before our eyes, in just a matter of weeks.) And in contrast, states that respect the rule of law, are democratic and free, and command the trust of their citizens, are incomparably more powerful. The upcoming presidential election in Armenia provides an opportunity to build such a state, and this time around, the Armenian people have no right to miss this opportunity.
There are many other disastrous consequences of this regime, particularly in culture, education, and spiritual development, but because of time constraints, I will discuss them on another occasion. Let us move now to the main topic of the day – the tragedy of October 27, 1999.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF OCTOBER 27TH
As I have noted, the origins of the criminal power system in Armenia are directly connected to the heinous crime of October 27, 1999. Despite numerous accounts and analyses over the past eight years, it seems to me that the true nature of that horrible event has still to be properly assessed. The 3,000-year history of the Armenian people and statehood offers only three precedents to October 27th. In 705, the Arabs burnt alive the entire leadership of the Armenian aristocracy, locking them up in several churches in the town of Nakhchavan and its suburb of Khram. On April 24, 1915, the Young Turks beheaded the entire Western Armenian political elite and intelligentsia. And in the 1930s, Stalin purged the most prominent members of the Armenian leadership and intelligentsia. But in this case, the comparison is purely superficial. The massacre of October 27th defies easy parallels with any of these precedents, since, unlike those, it was carried out not by foreigners, but by Armenians themselves.
Before I address the main point, let me share with you a fragment of memory. The morning after the horror in the Parliament, I received a call from the Ministry of Defense inviting me to attend a meeting between the leadership of the military and the country’s political forces. I categorically declined, and admonished my contacts by telling them: “What business does the military have meddling in politics or the country’s domestic affairs? You have a totally different mission –to defend Armenia’s borders and deter threats against the country.” In addition, I issued a statement immediately, urging people to rally behind the President and work together to overcome the crisis. Later, Robert Kocharyan called me to thank me for it. That was my first and last conversation with Kocharyan following the change of power. My concern at that moment was not the strengthening of the President’s position, but the need to avoid chaos and deter potential aggression by Azerbaijan. It is not a secret that the Armenian successes in the Artsakh war were greatly conditioned by the chaos and near-anarchy that accompanied the transition of power in Azerbaijan from Mutalibov to Elchibey, and from Elchibey to Aliyev. Therefore, Azerbaijan would not miss the opportunity to consider taking advantage of a similar situation in Armenia. So, in any case, let us now move to the tragic topic of the day.
At first glance, everyone thought that solving the October 27th case would not present a particularly complicated problem. The crime took place right before the eyes of hundreds of Members of Parliament, and millions of TV viewers; the perpetrators were not only known, but also had been detained, so it was difficult to imagine that anything could prevent an objective investigation and trial. All of that, however, was but the initial impression. Very soon, we would all bear witness to an extremely bizarre development. The President of the Republic, through direct intervention, not only did his best to hinder the normal course of the investigation and trial, but in fact, ensured a “miscarriage” of the case, preventing the exposure of its possible conspirators.
In crimes of this nature and magnitude everywhere, public suspicion inevitably falls on the authorities. Therefore, the President of the Republic should have been the one most interested in refuting any such suspicion. Even if that was his only motive, he should have afforded the investigators and the court absolute freedom, called in the world’s leading experts, and ensured the full openness and transparency of the trial. What happened was the exact opposite. The President barred the military prosecutor from testifying before the Parliament, later removing him from the case altogether; he then fired Prosecutor General Boris Nazaryan, replacing him with Aghvan Hovsepyan, a loyal instrument of the regime; he publicly intimidated the plaintiff’s defense team, calling one of its members a “homeless person”; under direction from superiors, the court dismissed the case against Alexan Harutyunyan, the main suspect in the sub-case involving the organizers; soon afterwards, under the pretext of amnesty, the court released six other defendants as well; and on and on… Willingly or not, Kocharyan made himself the target of suspicion, which suggests that he must have had serious reasons for taking such a risk.
There were two serious violations of the law committed by the courts in the October 27th case.
First: The Amnesty Act of June 12, 2001 stated clearly that amnesty did not apply to cases under court investigation. Since the October 27th case was already under investigation, the Act certainly did not apply to the defendants in that case. Therefore, Judge Uzunyan, by dismissing the cases of six defendants under the Amnesty Act, committed an unforgivable violation of the law, which affected the course of the trial.
Second: A more egregious violation of the law was committed by another judge, who dismissed the case of Alexan Harutyunyan, solely on the grounds of an unsubstantiated claim by Nairi Hunanyan that his earlier statements against Harutyunyan had been obtained under torture. Before dismissing Harutyunyan’s case on such grounds, the court was required to uphold the fact of torture by a court ruling, and convict the torturers; none of that was pursued. The Harutyunyan case was dismissed unlawfully, which means that all of Hunanyan’s statements, in which Alexan Harutyunyan figures as the key suspect and critical actor in connection with the sub-case dealing with the organizers within the October 27th case, are still in effect.
I do not believe that these judges were so professionally incompetent that they failed to understand the unlawfulness of their rulings. If not, and if they risked their careers and professional reputation nonetheless, then either pressure was put on them, or they were driven by other motives. In either case, sooner or later they will be held responsible before the law.
The October 27th carnage shall forever remain a shameful stain on Armenia’s statehood, and may partially be removed only if the case is fully resolved. This should be one of the main tasks of Armenia’s future president, but it will not be accomplished if Serzh Sargsyan is elected.
THE CURRENT STATE OF THE SETTLEMENT OF THE NAGORNO KARABAKH CONFLICT
Let me now turn to the settlement of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict, which, as I have underscored so many times, is the single most important issue facing the Armenian state. Its resolution, more than anything else, determines the future of Armenia and Artsakh, the economic development of our countries, and the prosperity of the Armenian people. As long as that issue is not resolved, as long as the blockades that choke us are not lifted, as long as relations with our immediate neighbors are not settled, and as long as our country is not integrated in regional and international frameworks, Armenia shall be denied the opportunity of growth and development at a modern pace, no matter how many people state the opposite.
I have always viewed the question of Nagorno Karabakh not as a matter of land or territory, but purely as a human rights issue. A population of 150,000 in an isolated mountainland, and all they want is to live freely, proudly, happily and safely, as the French, the Germans, the British or the Americans do. As it turns out, the international community does not really care. The world that is so concerned about individual human rights does not view 150,000 people as humans, but rather as a mere statistic, a national minority at best—a notion normally applied to extra-territorial minorities. But since, to the chagrin of the international community, Nagorno Karabakh happens to be an ethno-territorial unit, international conventions on the rights of national minorities do not cover it. Therefore, there remains only one solution: the realization of the right of the people of Nagorno Karabakh to self-determination. Other solutions are not possible – not because Armenians and Azerbaijanis are inherently incompatible, as Robert Kocharyan suggests, or because of religious antagonism, as others insist, but because the political reality is that Azerbaijan is incapable of providing for the security, freedom, and welfare of the people of Nagorno Karabakh.
In my address last month, I noted with regret that thanks to the criminal policy of Armenia’s current authorities, the resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict in the last ten years has reached the point of near hopelessness, since Azerbaijan has been steadily hardening its position, and is no longer considering any compromise. What are the grounds for such a pessimistic assessment? Not so much that Armenia’s simultaneous representation of Karabakh at negotiations has in fact pushed the latter out of the settlement process, stripping it of the status of a full party to the conflict under the OSCE resolutions; and not that the Karabakh issue was unwisely removed from the realm of self-determination, only to be dealt with as a disputed territory. Not so much because of all of that, but because of a far more important and extremely painful reality.
For almost a decade, Armenia’s authorities, making fools of the international community, have imitated genuine interest in a swift resolution to the Karabakh issue, while in reality pursuing a totally different objective – doing everything possible to frustrate and abort the process. The peace-loving pronouncements of our statesmen, affirmations of support for compromise, and seemingly constructive initiatives are nothing but bluff, designed to mislead the international community and hang on to the status quo. They must have thought that the OSCE mediators were so naïve that they would take the bait, and no longer exert pressure. If the mediators have managed to pretend that they trust the earnestness of the Armenian side, it does not necessarily mean that they have not perceived this primitive plot. The reason they have not made any great effort so far to push the parties toward an agreement in principle is simply that on the long list of the superpowers’ priorities, the Karabakh conflict can be found somewhere near the bottom. Yet Armenia’s authorities spare no effort in selling this as their greatest success, since they believe it aids their program of preserving the status quo in Karabakh.
The desire to preserve the status quo stems from the premise that sooner or later the international community will come to accept the faits accomplis, and finally recognize the independence of Karabakh. In theory, that is a valid line of reasoning, supported from a historical point of view by several practical precedents. Yet, as I noted on one occasion a decade ago, the real question is whether Armenia can afford to preserve the status quo for another twenty or thirty years, whether our resources will be enough to help develop the economy, overcome the obstacles of the blockade and isolation, and finally, sustain our competitiveness vis-à-vis Azerbaijan?
The status quo concerns neither a map, nor a ceasefire line, but rather a stable balance of forces. From that point of view, let us acknowledge with regret that we are in a very distressing, if not miserable, position. Ten years ago, Armenia and Azerbaijan possessed more or less comparable human, economic, and military capabilities. Today, however, a large gap exists between the countries in all three parameters, and this gap appears to be growing. A comparison of macroeconomic indicators demonstrates that Armenia trails Azerbaijan in all areas of economic growth, and the distance is widening from year to year. Between 1997 and 2006, Armenia’s GDP grew 4 times, Azerbaijan’s more than 5; Armenia’s industrial output grew 3 times, Azerbaijan’s 5.3; Armenia’s national budget 3.8 times, Azerbaijan’s 5; Armenia’s exports 4 times, Azerbaijan’s 8; Armenia’s trade balance in 2006 was a negative $1.19 billion, Azerbaijan’s a positive $1.104 billion. Indicators for 2007 are going to be even more disturbing.
I don’t doubt that my friendly opponents will declare tomorrow that “by making these figures public, Ter-Petrossian has sown defeatism, preparing the groundwork for the sellout of Karabakh to Azerbaijan.” But I entreat them, “Calm down, gentlemen. Put an end to the demagoguery. Stop misleading the public with patriotic oratory. Stop hiding the truth. The people are more intelligent, logical, and rational than many of you are.” Let us realize once and for all that no president of Armenia, even in his wildest dreams, can sell out Karabakh. First of all, the future of Karabakh should be determined not by Armenia or Azerbaijan, but solely by the people of Karabakh. Secondly, the July 8, 1992 Decision of the Supreme Council of the Republic of Armenia prohibits the signing of any document by Armenia that would “refer to Nagorno Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan.”
What, then, is defeatism? Denying the public the knowledge it needs, and numbing its senses to the point that it will wake up one day to find out that Karabakh is gone? Or trying to unite the nation by telling it the truth, and alerting it to the imminent threat that must be prevented? Out of my great respect for our people, I have never appealed to their emotion, but only to their reason. I have never kept the truth from them, no matter how bitter that truth. I have never made false promises, or engaged in demagoguery and populism. And I am not about to give up these principles. Let it be considered impolitic; let it affect my ratings. I am who I am, and that is who I will remain. I was not any different in 1988; then, you understood and placed your trust in me and my comrades on the Karabakh Committee, and the result is an independent Armenia and a liberated Artsakh. I am convinced that you will understand and trust me now as well.
With this lyrical digression, let us return to the Karabakh issue. The informal document presented by the Co-Chairs, which Armenia has agreed to “in principle”, is nothing other than the step-by-step proposal that was rejected ten years ago. Armenia’s current authorities, after years of procrastination and diplomatic trickery (Vano would call it “monkeying around”) which have led to disastrous results, have now quietly agreed to a plan that they themselves vigorously opposed as defeatist, traitorous, et cetera. There can only be two explanations for this – our authorities are either bluffing again, attempting to cause further delay in the peace process, or – to give them the benefit of the doubt – they have finally realized that there is no alternative to the step-by-step approach, given the diametrically opposed positions of the parties on the status of Karabakh.
The Co-Chairs’ document, for face-saving purposes, contains a vague provision on some future referendum or plebiscite in Karabakh. 99% of the document, we are told, has been agreed upon, and there are only a few details that the parties still disagree on. These so-called details, however, may be so essential as to defy consensus for quite a long time. Azerbaijan has pinned its hopes on its oil revenues, and is in no haste, whereas Armenia, for reasons unknown, fails to demonstrate the necessary will to resolve the issue as well. Moreover, there are serious grounds to believe that even if all disagreements are addressed, Kocharyan, true to himself, will fail to sign the document, avoiding responsibility, and placing this burden on the shoulders of the next President. To speak plainly, this is a deadlock, and Kocharyan is to blame for it, together with Vartan Oskanian, and in part, Arkady Ghukasyan, who yielded Karabakh’s internationally recognized mandate as a full party to the conflict to the President of Armenia. The way out is clear, although difficult.
First, we must clean out our own stables, raise a powerful wave of popular action, thwarting the attempt of this regime to reproduce itself, restore the constitutional order of the Republic of Armenia, and declare an uncompromising war against corruption, nepotism, and the abuse of power, to create a genuinely democratic, lawful, free, and just state, in the clear understanding that the future of Karabakh depends fully upon Armenia’s strength.
Second, we must return to the earlier format of the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, whereby Karabakh was represented as a full party to the conflict. Clearly, this is impossible to imagine if Serzh Sargsyan is elected President, since he too, being from Karabakh, like Kocharyan will claim some sort of entitlement to representing the Karabakh side in the negotiating process.
Third, the futile and dangerous policy of Armenia’s current authorities with regard to Karabakh must be fundamentally revised, shifting from the mindset of delays and preservation of the status quo to one of resolving the issue.
And fourth, it is pointless to be afraid of, or to avoid, compromises, for there exists no other solution on earth. In politics, as in business, only those deals are successful in which both sides stand to win. A deal with only one beneficiary cannot succeed or endure.
A FEW OTHER CONSIDERATIONS
Before concluding this lengthy speech, let me ask for your forgiveness if I tax your patience a little more. I feel I must share with you a few other considerations.
From a purely human standpoint, the severe criticism directed from this podium against Armenia’s statesmen pains me deeply, for both Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan were my personal friends and comrades in war, individuals whose role in modern Armenian history is yet to be properly acknowledged. Their conduct since 1999 cannot in any way annul or overshadow their undeniable and significant role, along with that of Samvel Babayan and Arkady Ghukasyan, in the liberation of Artsakh and the reestablishment and consolidation of Armenia’s statehood. The harsh words in my remarks stem not from my intention to discredit or denounce them, but are driven solely by the need to call attention to the inadmissibility of allowing the current regime to reproduce itself. The best outcome, and a final opportunity for Robert Kocharyan and Serzh Sargsyan to save their dignity and reputation before history, would be for them to voluntarily retire from the political arena, which, I am convinced, would be fittingly acknowledged by the grateful and forgiving Armenian people. Anticipating potential accusations, I wish to underscore this right away: their Karabakh origin has absolutely no bearing on my position. Had they deserved it, they would be welcome to rule Armenia not just for ten more years, but for 100 years, as their ancestors, the Hetumians of Artsakh, ruled the Kingdom of Cilicia for 150 years. I consider unacceptable attempts to drive a wedge between the people of Karabakh and Armenia through malicious talk and provocation; they are unjust and dangerous. I will therefore do everything within my power to prevent the spread and reach of such attitudes, especially since 99% of the support base of the disgraceful system established by Kocharyan and Sargsyan consists of natives of Armenia proper.
I have no doubt that tomorrow some of my opponents will say, putting on a serious face, that Ter-Petrossian once again ended up stating facts and making criticisms, offering no programmatic solutions, and failing to address the accusations raised against him and the former authorities. Well, first of all, it is ridiculous to expect that someone who has just broken a ten-year silence will provide every answer to every question in one speech, since each public speech has its own purpose. Politicians present their platforms through a series of speeches, press conferences, interviews, articles, election programs, and campaign rallies. As for accusations, and to dispel any doubt as to whether or not I am afraid of or avoid confronting them, I will present a comprehensive catalogue of such accusations –everything our distinguished President has threatened to remind me of: the years of darkness and cold, the “fuel oil case,” the electricity fraud, the demolition of the country’s industrial capacity, the wild privatization, the pulverization of deposits in the Savings Bank, the closure of parties and newspapers, the betrayal of the cause of Artsakh, a misguided personnel policy, pro-Turkishness, counter-nationalism, cosmopolitism, and so on. I am convinced that the majority of the public, albeit some with malice, are earnestly looking forward to hearing my explanations regarding all of these accusations. Rest assured, you will have many opportunities to hear those explanations. Whether they convince you or not I leave to your judgment.
I understand that the greatest intrigue that has brought many of you to this rally is the question of my candidacy in the upcoming presidential election. Believe it or not, that question doesn’t really interest me. I am deeply convinced that the principal issue facing Armenia today is not who the next President will be, but whether this regime can be prevented from reproducing itself, for it is a depraved, humiliating regime, which treats its citizens as a foreign ruler would, and it is a disgrace to the Armenian people. As I declared in my September 21st address, if I saw a force that I thought was capable of shouldering that task, I would spare no effort in helping shape its victory, and if not, I would be left with no other choice but to accept the will of the people. To tell the truth, I had intended to make my final decision on the eve of the start of the campaign season. But the authorities’ recent repressions against my followers, as well as the tremendous energy generated by this rally, make it impossible for me to delay that decision further. Therefore, from this moment forth I declare myself a candidate for President of the Republic of Armenia.
This is not an idle statement, but a radical change in my status as a political figure. From this moment on, any repression against my followers, or any punitive action against them by the Tax Department, shall be viewed as a criminal encroachment upon the electoral rights of our citizens, and shall be presented as such both to our public and to the international community. Let every police chief, local community leader, and tax inspector understand in full: committing violence against citizens exercising their constitutional rights is a crime, and those who do so shall sooner or later be held responsible before the law. We are keeping a list, and topping it are senior police officers Alexander Afyan, Ararat Mahtessyan, and Nerses Nazaryan, while two local community leaders from Yerevan, whose names may or may not be made public at upcoming rallies, depending on their future conduct, are candidates for inclusion.
Armenia’s current authorities are in their death throws. Let nothing frighten you. They are more frightened than you are. Their fit of nerves proves it.
The national movement in 1988 had a well-known slogan – “Struggle, struggle until the end!” Saying “the end”, we had in mind two goals: to reestablish Armenia’s independence, and to liberate Artsakh. We have accomplished both. And today, saying “the end”, we must set two different goals: to restore Armenia’s constitutional order and dignity, and to secure the de jure recognition of the freedom of Artsakh.
And thus: “Struggle, struggle, until the end!”