The three demands of the Armenian National Congress put before the government—namely the release of all “political prisoners,” the right to hold public rallies at Liberty Square, and a new (although fruitless) investigation into the events of March 1, 2008 that left 10 people dead— have now all been surprisingly met. The most popular jailed activists associated with the opposition, “Haykakan Zhamanak” newspaper editor Nikol Pashinian and Sasun Mikaelian, were finally released on May 27 after a general amnesty was approved by the parliament. President Serge Sarkisian’s accommodation was not necessarily expected, yet it can be viewed as a strategic move to woo the favor of voters for the parliamentary elections in 2012, followed by his expected bid for the presidency in 2013. His outreach is also a perfect and timely way to appease Europe and the U.S., which have both been calling for systematic reforms and the implementation of democratic norms in Armenia.
By placating the critics, the Armenian government is demonstrating that not only does it hold a heavy hand, but that it can also be sympathetic to those who are dissenting. Now the Armenian National Congress, headed by former president Levon Ter-Petrosian, is slated to hold “talks” with the authorities in the near future, the outcome of which is subject to speculation. With these gestures, the government is essentially exhibiting its God complex—omnipresent and despotic, yet forgiving.
Now, questions as to how the authorities will further subdue the opposition hover. Several probable variants can be considered, among them:
1. The Armenian National Congress represented by Ter-Petrosian in closed meetings negotiates with the Sarkisian Administration. In a gesture of goodwill, the president extends an olive branch to his archrival and offers him the position of prime minister and the formation of a super-coalition, bringing friends and foes together on the same team. Ter-Petrosian accepts his offer. Ter-Petrosian’s die-hard supporters follow his lead and join him in the government, while staunch oppositionists are left betrayed and isolated. The Congress in its current form collapses and the opposition becomes confused and disorganized. Sarkisian promises the Congress leaders that its faithful will win parliamentary seats in the upcoming elections, fairly or not. The ARF-Dashnaktsutiun prays for a Kocharian comeback, hoping to regain its ministerial seats should he be reelected with its unwavering support, while the Heritage Party continues its boycott of the state of affairs.
2. As in point 1, the Congress leaders and Ter-Petrosian join the government, leaving the opposition fragmented and reeling from a concussion. Then, the ARF- Dashnaktsutiun—in a blinding, sublime revelation and a renewed comprehension of its party values and modus operandi—decides to pick up the ball dropped by Ter-Petrosian. The party rallies its dormant disenchanted followers who are still wondering why the organization never became a powerful political force in Armenia since its party leaders were freed from jail by their savior Robert Kocharian days after he first became president. Dashnaktsutiun reaches out to Heritage party and puts aside whatever bad blood existed between them related to who is more faithful to the universal Armenian cause. As a result of a tremendous amount of hard work—substantially more than either party has ever undertaken—their opposition alliance rivals the popularity previously garnered by Ter-Petrosian. The Dashnaktsutiun, realizing it has no charismatic leaders to speak of, supports Raffi Hovhanisian in his bid for the presidency. Members of both parties are harassed by the authorities and some are even beaten and jailed, but their dedication to the integrity of the Armenian state and its citizens does not waiver. The people are ecstatic. The blindsided authorities are marginalized and the opposition wins the majority of seats in parliament; in 2013, Hovhanisian is elected president and the ARF heads the government. Then the new authorities begin cleaning house: They break the monopoly on imports enjoyed by the oligarchic families; the rampant corruption that had infested the tax, customs, and police departments is virtually eradicated; and the prices of goods and services begin to stabilize. The rule of law is enforced throughout the republic and for the first time in the country’s post-Soviet history the courts rule independently. Countless thousands of emigrants return home, and frustrated businessmen from the Armenian Diaspora are invited to reinvest in Armenia, with the former red-tape strewn processes of establishing corporations streamlined and tax collection transparent.
3. Talks break down between the Congress and the authorities. With the renewed charismatic calls by firebrand opposition cheerleader Pashinian, ever-smitten with Ter-Petrosian, the Congress wins an overwhelming number of parliamentary seats despite the elections being marred by irregularities and fraud, yet they remain an unquestionably sizable minority. The Heritage and ARF-Dashnaktsutiun parties retain their modest number of seats but remain undermined by the pro-government coalition, while the arrogant Congress leadership continues to mock them as being insignificant players not part of the “real opposition,” insisting that the parties should have joined them rather than being obstinately opposed. The Congress shows its thanks to Sarkisian for refraining from cracking down on its supporters by backing away from fielding a presidential candidate to challenge his reelection (so long as Congress leaders are promised a couple of seats in the government in a display of unity). The rift between Dashnaktsutiun and Heritage is never repaired, and both parties remain without influence, their members twiddling their thumbs during parliamentary sessions. Sarkisian, with the support of both the “real opposition” and the pro-government coalition, slides to victory.
Although these predictions may seem fantastic, perhaps even preposterous to some, they are no less credible than the blowhard forecasts printed on the opinion pages of daily Armenian newspapers. But my point should be obvious: In Armenian politics, anything and nothing can be expected.