Garbis: After the Elections

Now that the dust has settled it’s time to reflect upon the Yerevan municipal elections as an attempt to understand what unfolded and what went wrong.

Diasporan repatriate Babken Der Grigorian documents two people approaching the voting booth together. (Photo by Eric Grigorian)
Diasporan repatriate Babken Der Grigorian documents two people approaching the voting booth together. (Photo by Eric Grigorian)

The elections held on May 5 did not by any means stand apart from any other recent election in terms of lack of transparency and abundant fraud.

According to the Central Electoral Commission, the Republican Party of Armenia unsurprisingly came out on top with 55.9 percent of the vote. Its incumbent mayor, Taron Markaryan, is expected to remain in office. The Prosperous Armenia Party, whose candidate was Vartan Oskanyan, came in a distant second place, earning 23 percent, while the Barev Yerevan block initiated by Raffi Hovannisian won 8.5 percent. All other parties were shut out. Forty-two seats on the Council of Elders will be occupied by Republicans, while Prosperous Armenia will have 17 and Barev Yerevan 6. Since the latter two are in the minority, they will not be able to block controversial decisions or have their own passed without Republican support.

The usual shenanigans attributed to the ruling party were reported—bribing, ballot stuffing, voting in place of an absentee, assisting the elderly with how to vote, inaccurate ballot tallies, and the list goes on. One can just imagine what went on behind closed doors at the Central Electoral Commission in the evening. There’s no way of knowing just how credible the official results are., a site where election violations can be recorded from anywhere using a mobile device, registered 417 cases.

Yet despite the allegations of fraud, the human rights defender, Karen Andreasyan, received only 19 complaints of violations and concluded that the elections were “competitive and free.”

Another 160 complaints recorded in the districts of Malatia-Sebastia, Shengavit, and Erebuni-Nubarashen were tossed out of court by the Electoral Commission during hearings that were held on May 8. None of them were even reviewed.

The notion of whether bribe-taking in some form is justifiable opens the doors for debate. Naturally, bribing is an unacceptable practice. But let’s consider what senior citizens face living on a 20,000-dram monthly pension (about $50 at the current exchange rate of 406 dram to the dollar). A standard bribe of 5,000 dram buys them a week-long supply of cheese, priced at an average cost of 2,500 dram per kilo; a kilo or two of potatoes; some greens; bread; and, to splurge, a bottle of cheap domestic vodka (which incidentally also serves as excellent window cleaner). I am hard pressed to fault them for giving in to temptation.

Others justify taking the bribe by reasoning that they can vote for the candidate of their choice anyway. “They’re handing out money, why shouldn’t I take it?” is also a popular rationale for reaping some extra pocket money. They have resigned themselves to the widely accepted norm that the authorities will hold on to power no matter what. So why not make a few bucks in the process?

The people have essentially spoken during the election season. They allowed the corrupt practices during the voting process to fester, and they shamelessly took advantage of whatever favors were offered. People in both opposition and pro-government camps permitted the vote to be falsified three separate times within the timespan of a year. Despite the complaining and whining about how the government is ineffective and generally ignores the plight of the majority of Armenians, citizens allowed the Republican Party to retain its ironclad grip on virtually all branches of government. Nine out of Armenia’s 10 regions are currently led by Republican governors.

Former Foreign Minister Alexander Arzoumanian believes that the people will eventually force the government to resign through popular activism in the not-so-distant future after finally reaching the breaking point. He thinks that anticipated change will not unfold in another election, but long before. If he turns out to be right, it will be a great day for Armenia.

But the Armenian Diaspora must push for that activism to bear fruit. With all the activists we have around the world advocating for genocide recognition, imagine what could be accomplished in Armenia if they only inculcated their disillusioned compatriots in the homeland with their expertise and insight. Instead, we have a disillusioned public going through the motions of casting their ballots or not giving a damn, choosing to boycott the vote or profit from it. This destructive cycle will only repeat unless Armenian citizens willingly put an end to the falsifications and intimidation that dictate the outcome of the vote—unless they finally decide to take control of their own destinies and put an end to their persecution. It’s up to all of us.


Christian Garbis

Christian Garbis is a writer and experimental filmmaker born and raised in Greater Boston. He received his BA in English and Certificate in Film Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He has been contributing to the Armenian Weekly since 1994 and has served as an assistant editor for the paper. He lives in Yerevan with his wife and son and maintains two blogs documenting his impressions: Notes From Hairenik and Footprints Armenia. His first novel is partly based on his experiences in Armenia.


  1. It’s very-very sad that the Diaspora has become a serious liability for the Armenian state. God save Armenia from its political “opposition”; God save Armenia from democracy; God save Armenia from Diaspora’s nonsense.

  2. I would like Christian Garbis’s – or anyone’s – ideas as to what exactly the Diaspora could actually do to ensure fair elections in Armenia.

    • It all depends on what (not whom) your electing! The system is written top-down. It should be reversed, turned on it’s head otherwise it will not work. The current regime is the same as in any ex-soviet republic, as they followed the same template for a constitution.

  3. I can unequivocally state than more so than any looming threat of war in the south Caucasus; more so than the nastiest of Armenia’s oligarchs; more so than any form of crime or lawlessness in Armenia… the obsessiveness and hysteria of Armenia’s so-called “political opposition” is the NUMBER ONE reason why I sometimes feel as if I need to cut my ties to Armenia.

    God, please save Armenia from from this madness. And yes, democracy for a nation like Armenia may prove fatal…

  4. Mr. Harutik, with al due respect to your opinion you sound like Kaloost Sahakian (the sophist Armenian batkamavor) who claims Armenians’ outward migration is the result of the Oppositions’ description of the situation in Hayastan. Could it be the other way around?

  5. Mr. Aram, with all due respect to your opinion you sound like Raffi Hovanissian (the Washington-backed operative currently working in Armenia under the guise of opposition politician).

    Most nations of the world today (even European nations, even nations in much situations than Armenia) are worst off than Armenia, yet Armenians are at the forefront of abandoning their homeland.

    Why is that?

    The average Azeri, Tajik, Turkmen, Georgian, Kurd, Greek, Turk, Bulgarian, Ukrainian or Russian is doing just as bad if not worst than the average Armenians, yet the Armenians is the only one in the group that is acting hysterical.

    Why is that?

    The primary reason why Armenians (even well-off Armenians) are leaving Armenia today is the 24/7 doom&gloom rhetoric of Western and Western-backed opposition propaganda organs such as Hetq, ArmeniaNow, Lragir, Radio Liberty, Azbarez, Armenian Weekly, Civilitas, Sardarapat movement and Policy Forum Armenia.

    The primary reason why Armenians (even well-off Armenians) are leaving Armenia today is the 24/7 doom&gloom rhetoric of Western-financed activists working in Armenia under the guise of human rights advocates, opposition politicians, environmentalists, feminists, etc…

    The aforementioned have been bombarding Armenia with poison for years. The aforementioned are the MAIN reason why the Armenian spirit is broken today.

    I see news articles such as this more harmful to Armenia than Armenian criminals.

  6. I am sorry Mr. Adanalian:
    I went through the 428 “violations” recorded on the iDitord website and did not see any record of “ballot stuffing” as you report. Please disclose your source.
    I invested time and resources and monitored the municipal elections in district 7/11 and we watched over that ballot box like hawks. We stayed till the vote count ended after midnight and checked every ballot while it was counted. We then photographed the tally sheet before it was sent to the Central Electoral Commission. We then compared our tally sheet results for district 7/11 with what the CEC published, and I am convinced there was no shaninigan there either.
    I am independent, I do not defend the present regime and take no sides in this election. As far as what I observed, the people of Yerevan got for Mayor the person they chose, for better or for worse.
    When will we stop crying foul every time we lose an election?

    • Mr. Terjanian:
      when you write “we”, do you mean the RoA-ARF or in general any party that is not RPA or PAP ?

      thank you.

  7. @Avery: Any person/party anywhere around the Globe. We’re not unique, you know… But I’d rather be in better company.
    Ararat is not showing from our window this early morning. Is it shame?

    • I am sorry again Mr. Adanalian: I followed the links to the articles you want us to read, and the evidence/allegations in the articles bear no resemblance to what you wrote in your article of May 14. Again, I did not see any allegation of ballot-box stuffing.

  8. Garbis, no self-respecting Armenians cares what CIA funded “Azatutyun Radio” states about anything. Read some of the comments above, the last thing Armenia’s needs today is democracy. All I can say is I hope Armenia’s security services has people like you under surveillance.

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