Can an Armenian Spring Come with One Flower?

For the first time in post-Soviet Armenia’s history, a non-establishment candidate has almost won the presidency. Liberal candidate and Heritage Party nominee Raffi Hovannisian’s supporters assert that the Feb. 18, 2013 Presidential Election was rigged. His official 36.8 percent—against conservative incumbent Serge Sarkisian’s 58.6 percent—is widely viewed as not reflective of the actual vote. Hovannisian’s supporters cite the near 70 percent their candidate received in Armenia’s second largest city, Gyumri. Unlike in the rest of the country, Gyumri’s mayor is not a local strongman of incumbent President Serge Sarkisian and his Republican Party.

Raffi Hovannisian and other leaders addressed a huge crowd gathered at Freedom Square on Feb. 20 in support of Hovannisian. (Photo by Khatchig Mouradian, The Armenian Weekly)
Raffi Hovannisian and other leaders addressed a huge crowd gathered at Freedom Square on Feb. 20 in support of Hovannisian. (Photo by Khatchig Mouradian, The Armenian Weekly)

Hovannisian’s strong performance has brought hope to many, particularly in light of speculation that Sarkisian would handily win reelection. Hovanissian’s performance, which some minimize as a mere vote of protest against the regime, is also surprising in light of a lack of endorsements from other opposition forces such as Prosperous Armenia, Armenian National Congress, and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation. It is unclear whether this was an inability to build coalitions or a strategy of direct outreach.

Hovannisian has a record in both. In the latest parliamentary elections, he partnered with another former foreign minister, Alexander Arzumanyan. The two parted ways after securing a small number of seats and disagreeing over their pledges and plans. This may explain, in part, why Hovannisian launched a presidential campaign of direct outreach, which often included random appearances in different neighborhoods to shake hands. His outreach to young people also included an appearance on ArmComedy, Armenia’s popular version of Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” with occasional Stephen Colbert-like nationalist sarcasm. Hovanissian told the hosts that he cancelled everything as soon as he got their invitation.

Hovanissian also cancelled his comfortable life in his native California, relocating to Armenia in the aftermath of the 1988 earthquake. A lawyer and diplomat, he soon accepted to become the newly independent country’s first foreign minister in 1991 and fax “Armenia is free. Please recognize” to the world. Yet his diplomacy, charisma, and fair-mindedness seem to contradict some of his arguably hard-line positions. Hovanissian wants Armenia to recognize Nagorno-Karabagh as a free country, which many believe would hinder the hitherto unfruitful peace negotiations and even be used as an excuse by conflict party Azerbaijan for a military attack against Armenia and Nagorno-Karabagh. It is particularly offensive for incumbent President Serge Sarkisian to hear hints that he isn’t doing his best for the region he hails from and fought for. Yet Hovanissian is the only major political figure to have recently visited Azerbaijan’s capital Baku.

Hovanissian’s perceived hardline position on Nagorno-Karabagh, as well as the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, may explain Western powers’ reluctance to support his case. Sarkisian, his critics argue, has been more than accommodating in demands to reconcile with Turkey, in part because of the West’s implicit recognition of his first, 2008 election. The New York Times bluntly articulates Washington’s stake in the Feb. 18, 2013 Armenian election: to “maintain stability in a country that has become an increasingly important, if uneasy, United States ally in monitoring Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

In the eyes of some, international observers’ monitoring results seemed to reflect Washington’s interests (while a non-governmental observer reported massive ballot stuffing). A group of activists interrupted the press conference by official observers and read a statement about the fraud. They didn’t mention Hovanissian’s name and only identified themselves as “Citizens of the Republic of Armenia.” One of them screamed in Armenian, “Do you have such elections back home?”

Presidential elections, save the first one, have always been divisive and sometimes bloody in Armenia. All of the candidates who won second place and their supporters felt that the election was rigged. Unlike Hovanissian, however, these candidates were or had been a key part of the establishment and had influential supporters with eyes on power and resources. Most of those forces have been quiet, waiting for the next comeback opportunity. Hovannisian’s failure or choice not to unite opposition forces is an apparent shortcoming. But it may have been a blessing, as a stronger challenge might have actuated more intense election fraud. An Armenian saying advocating for unity states, “Spring won’t come with one flower.” But it can start with one.

Simon Maghakyan

Simon Maghakyan

Simon Maghakyan is a Denver-based educator and activist. He teaches political science at the University of Colorado Denver and Red Rocks Community College; coordinates community development for the Armenian National Committee of America-Western Region; and previously campaigned for human rights in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia with Amnesty International USA. He writes in personal capacity.


  1. As I said earlier in “Sarkisian Ahead with 58 Percent, Hovannisian Declares Victory for the People” , Raffi Hovhannissian would be better to focus on a political career in his country of birth the USA. It will be more productive for the Armenians worldwide.

    • What you talking about Pat??? what is going to do in US, that will help Armenia? Armenians need to take charge of their own destiny and take control of their country. By living in US and paying my taxes to Uncle Sam how the hell am i helping Armenia? If you don’t have anything meaningful to say please stay out.

    • I like this idea. Armenia should send him as an Ambassador of Good Will back to where he came from.

      How about coming back to Fresno to end corruption and poverty there? It’s one of the most impoverished cities in California right? Outmigration is rampant.

      Gangs are on every corner. Police brutality is outrageous. Corruption eats up into poor farmers profit margins and water and air pollution kills local population.

      Raffi can solve all of this trouble with his great political skill and perseverance. I can just imagine one day of a hunger strike at the Saroyan Park and a few days of demonstrations in front of the City Hall and the Fresno regime crumbles under the weight of new democracy. Next stop – Glendale, but that’s a tough one…

    • I concur with Voskanapat. Raffi can do a lot of good in California. He can solve the worsening economic situation, as well as the rising cost of living, illegal immigration, and the capital flight taking place. All the Armenians in So Cal who are claiming the elections in Armenia were falsified should look to clean up their place of residence first before trying to clean up Armenia.

  2. “Hovanissian’s perceived hardline position on Nagorno-Karabakh, as well as the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, may explain western powers’ reluctance to support his case.” If author thinks so, he has no idea about politics. Raffi (former AAA member, which is closely affiliated with State Department) could never become Foreign Minister out of blue. And, those 37% are not Raffi’s votes, they are “Anti-Serj” votes. He has may be 5% from there, he just got lucky, so no need to flatter himself.

  3. Raffi is exactly what Armenia voted for, wants and needs! Here is a legally elected Armenian president who has an honest fair perspective towards ALL citizens and who is 100% guided by rule-of-law-for-all! Oh yes! This one flower is planted by the people to create spring for the people! Congratulations Armenians!

  4. Let us give credit to this Youngman Simon Maghakian ( w/NJ relatives?)I wonder.He has delved into the issue of elections. Hovanissian´s abilities etc., etc., etc.,
    Simon understands Raffi quite well.BTW I have met and talked w/RXaffi in Yerevan a fdew times.He is BRAVE and w–/cojones(those who know spanish or are familira with this expression will know what I mean).Not only hje dared into the adversay´s(little brother Axerbaijan´s) den,but he also did that 21 yrs ago in Istanbulla(Constantinople) at an Internationmla meeting , as FM of RA,stating that great Turkey ought to recognize the Genocide perpetrated on its (then) citizenes,the Ermeni rayas….
    he certainlhy is stout Armenian and knows what he is after and doing…
    May I remind the forum participants here , that Raffi has all the right to opt and insist for Recognition of NK by RA!!!
    1. when Mr. Aliev openly declared not too long ago that the Armeniasn of the World, or Diaspora are our enemies…
    2.Quite recently when again Aliev bestowed the Heroe title on an Axe-murerer and that on a SLEEPING PERSON….
    3. The continueing snipings of Armenian soldiers on the border,AFTER AN ARMISTICE was signed betweeen RA and Axerbaijan.
    Above were ENOUGH ,OR OUGHT TO BE ENOUGH for recognition of NK and/or annexation of it to RA.
    Moreover, in light of above why on earth did FM ,Mr. Nalbanian Go to Paaris to talk peace with counterpart,without latter or latter´s country and president asking pardon for above 3 ionstances.Shall I go on and go back further back,when the Khatchkars were being destroyed in NAKHIJEVAN, OUR DIPLOMACY was fast at work through OSCE Minsk Group negotiating PEACE.Peace with people or were destroying our CULTURAL AND HISTORICAL MONUMENTS!!!! the largest Christian Cemetery in the world that old. I believe the Fish is stinking from the HEAD!!!!!as we say in Armenian,or to that effect. Time is for DESPERTAR!!!(spanish ) to sort of wake up from a siesta or a numbed condition,whatever!!!!
    Raffi is the person that with the help o f other such will be able to by and by conduct present RA/Artsakh and why not JAVAKHK numbed POSITION to a well awake Armenian Nation/State with a Powerfull Diaspora.Latter I have several times over mentioned here has to RE ORGANIZE WITH A NEW STATUTE, based mainky on PCA´s(Professional Colleagues Association members over a 100,000 strong and establish a NATIONAL INVESTMENT TRUST FUND.Nucleus of which to be formed by our 6/7 magnates to bring its working capital to at least a billion dollars ,on which said PCA´s and all our wealthy will build upon.For , without a tangible FUND that will be reinvested earning more intersts WE CANNOT ASPIRE TO ACCOMPLISH MUCH.Thanks to our heretofore acting all establishments and may they go on with theri good work but at this juncture we need CHANGE IN DIASPORA too

  5. Hye4Life, USA is your country even though you have armenian roots. You’d better think objectively. You are AMERICAN-Armenian my friend. unless….

    Trying to see where a path may lead, is better than just watch the end of your street.

  6. I strongly disagree with Pat and Garen. Raffi deserves this victory. Armenia needs brains from Diaspora as welll, not only financial donations. And for the “affiliations”, I would quote the Bible for our politicians: “Let anyone who hasn’t sinned throw the stone”.

  7. [quote=”Garen”] And, those 37% are not Raffi’s votes, they are “Anti-Serj” votes. He has may be 5% from there, he just got lucky, so no need to flatter himself.[/quote]

    Totally agree with you.

  8. Hye4Life, what will be next, insults or something like that? And if I was in front of you, you would have almost jumped on me ? Is this a unique opinion place? Do I need a membership card to be “one of yours”?

    btw you’d better continue to pay your taxes in the US, and do your duty as a Citizen, this will surely be meaningful to the country you’re living in.

    • Pat since you seem to think you are Captain America, please stop posting in Armenian related articles. While I do agree with some of your views, I however, strongly this agree with your constant attempts to glorify anything American, and attempts to project American traits upon Armenia.

  9. Truth and justice under the rule of law are conclusions based on public processes based on credible evidence. That’s how it works in every court room and public process in the world. These conclusions may or may not be the “real truth” but they are the basis on which we govern our lives when we live under the rule of law. They are legal/public facts on which we as a practical matter rely so that we can function without being paralyzed in perpetual, existential doubt. For many, it was clear that Al Gore was elected president of the United States, but in the end, whatever the irregularities, he followed the established legal process and abided by the conclusion reached by that legal process.

    For most people in Armenia, it is clear that Serge Sargsyan was reelected president of Armenia. These were, to all objective observers that did not have a horse in the race or party-stake in the elections, the cleanest, fairest and freest in Armenia’s short history. They were not perfect and we may not like the result, but that’s the trade off between rule of law and living by mobocracy.

    Now, in the name of the rule of law, a minority faction, much smaller than the 36% protest vote of which Raffi (or any other candidate would have been a beneficiary in any country in the world), is trying to substitute a mob action for the legal/public fact that most of Armenian society and the world has accepted.

    Is it a coup? A cabal? An oligarchic conspiracy with Raffi as its poster child? He was, and may still be a licensed, US attorney. He never was, as far as we know, qualified as an Armenian attorney. Surely he knows better than to substitute mob action for legal processes. If so, did he fail to learn or has he forgotten ABCs of his profession. Or is he unable to control the forces behind and around him? Either would disqualify him to be president of a country, let alone a country in a precarious time and difficult part of the world. Which is why the vast majority of Armenia’s citizens are not out on the streets or supporting Raffi’s misguided or out-of-control actions.

    The responsible thing if he is a true patriot would be to pull back, even if he has to lose face, and accept the legal/public facts that emerged from the not always pretty process of elections. Let’s see if Raffi is a patriot or on a self-indulgent ego trip at the Armenian nation’s expense. So which is it? Is he on an ego-trip or is he being taken for a ride?

  10. Mike, couldn’t agree more. Right now I am questioning Raffi’s patriotism. Do we need this right now? Haven’t we learned enough from those “arab springs”, “orange rebolutions”, Georgia, etc.? No revolution ever brought anything good. At stake is Artsakh, even Armenia’s future.
    Arshag, why Raffi deservs it? For what, what has he done? He never was popular in Armenia. Even his small coalition with “Free Democrats” broke apart. For his statements about officially declaring Artsakh’s independence? You know what will happen after that… WAR. Did he see a war? He was in Armenia at that time, why didn’t he go to fight for his country? Those are irrensposible statements, he is just a populist and demagog. No one, and I mean no one more than Serj will want Artsakh’s independence. What Raffi is doing right now, only damages Armenia and its reputation. Why should I believe Raffi or these 5-6 thousands people on the streets that dont like Serj? Since when 37% became a majority?

  11. None of those things.Raffi does have ability to DARE!!!!(cojones)You guys here know what that measn in spanish and English too.Some in Ca use it quite often.At the begiiningn of his diplomatic career way back in 1992 he had the NERVE,plus the C to stand up (or sitting9 in Istanbulla to bring to attn of Int´l participants our G E N O C I D E ….
    how about that??????
    why he didn´t go to fight?????
    A career diplomat does not engage in WARFARE….period. Like I wrote on another thread here.Raffi is at the head of this …WHICH I WOULD DUB as an EVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENT!!!
    i even ¨¨suggested ¨´ a Revolving sort of Presidency . Serge Sargsyan, Hairikian and raffi ea for a 2 year period(Paruyr first offered that.I never use one other person´s initiative as min).I see on another thread here B has picked up my E V O L U T I O N A R Y and uses it.O.K. with me even if that person B. does not mention my is good for the Patria , that´s enough for me ,am satified.
    We need that.And repeat ARF was corect to come FWD.Yes even at this llth hour.As a watchdog this age old Armenian politidcal party knows when TO MOVE!!!! and stand the ground-
    Remember when the protocols8infamous9 were being pressed on us , their Three Ministres immediatley RESIGNED.All three together.For ,I know ARF is not there for an ATOR(chair9 shall we say…but to act for the Nation!!!!!
    Am no Tashnag,git a load of that please and don´t come up with that!!!
    I am non partisan and know when to defend a person or entity.Like did Mr. David Hakobian( didnm´t know hee was Marxist9 when he defended -only such person in all Armenia- when khatchkars were being destoyed by axeris–He said on Difrect debsate on H1 RA T.v.¨¨At this moment we should stop peace negotiations with Axerisd.till they immediately stop ,beg pardon and then go back to negotiating table with the OSCE Minsk Group´s …
    Nobody listned to himn not Oskanian(at that FM,nobody—) In Yerevan couple months later I ask friend who was that man(didn´t know his name then or who he was. comes up my friend ¨¨he is Marxist¨´So what I retorted, might as well be Maoist , Tashnag what not..when he has said the right thing we should all accept if.No need to explain..silly for us to negotiate peace when that party is destroying our nATIONAL MONUMENTS ETC., SAME oc cufred when Axe murderer was made heroe in Baku and our FM goes to Paris to again negotiate peace.With all means let him go BUT AFTER HE HAS ASKED HIS COUNTERPART TO OFFER THEIR REGRET…….
    A saying in armneian is quite suitable to our such sstance…HAYUN KHELKE OUSH GOUKA:::however, it appears that Oush is not coming even in the light of other such mis haps-So we must WAKE UP AND DEFEND FIRST OUR OWN rights in Homeland,put things in order,same in Diaspora then go sit and talk with counterparts in Foreighn land s
    Said enough
    Hasgcoghin BAREV

  12. AR, I think you have misunderstood me on certain points …
    I’m not more Captain than капитан.
    It doesn’t matter.

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