But What About Levon?

Photo: Wikipedia

Commenting on the virus that is corruption, Mahatma Ghandi once said: “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”

Now to the title of this article: “But what about Levon?”

From the outset, let’s declare unequivocal support to the relentless fight against corruption and misuse of power, embarked upon in the Republic of Armenia. This is a battle supported by new Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and carried out by the Special Investigation Service, the National Security Service and related authorities.

The recent, high-profile arrest of Armenia’s former President Robert Kocharian was a true indicator of how far these investigations are willing to go in order to weed out corruption at its roots. If he is proven to have misused his power (after all, corruption comes in many flavors), Kocharian deserves to have the book thrown at him.

And while authorities are working on a cure of this virus called “corruption,” let’s not forget that the initial outbreak that spread the epidemic into the halls of power in Armenia started with the country’s first President: Levon Ter Petrosian.

In his recent interview on Al Jazeera, Prime Minister Pashinyan said the greatest achievement of his unprecedented movement was restoring the “voice” of the people.

His predecessors (presidents under the previous Constitution), Serge Sargsyan and Robert Kocharian successfully kept that “voice” away from the people, by overseeing elections rampant with questionable practices, highlighted by the charge levelled against Kocharian – of “overthrowing the constitutional order” during events surrounding the 2008 election, when he allegedly mobilised the armed forces against protestors. The ensuing clashes resulted in 10 deaths.

While investigators and the Constitution are ultimately the ones who can determine Kocharian’s level of guilt, there is no doubt that both he and Sargsyan kept that “voice” away from the people. Not a single election that elected or re-elected them to their roles, was reviewed as free of irregularities.

However, let’s make no mistake. The person who originally took that “voice” from the people was none other than Levon Ter Petrosian—the Godfather of “election doctoring” in Armenia; the pioneering architect of “crushing the will of the Armenian people”; the mastermind behind tactics that would become contagious—after all, both Kocharian and Sargsyan worked in his administration before succeeding him in the office of President.

Don’t just take this author’s word for it (as the author of another article, “Levon the Virus,” there’s no question where I stand), but do read these excerpts from what Human Rights Watch wrote following the 1996 elections, which Ter Petrosian apparently won: “Demonstrators marched to the parliament, where the Central Election Commission (CEC) was housed, and broke through gates to demand a recount. In the process they beat Speaker Babken Ararktsian and Deputy Speaker Ara Sahakian.”

“In response, police brutally beat demonstrators and later arrested at least twenty-eight opposition leaders and supporters and CEC staffers. Among them, according to credible reports, Aghassi Arshakian, Kim Balayan, David Vartanian, Gagik Mgerdichian, and Aramad Zarkaryan, were brutally beaten; the latter required hospitalization for a fractured skull and broken nose and ribs. Attorneys for some of the detained, notably ARF leader Ruben Akopyan, were not permitted access to their clients.”

Further, Ter Petrosian also brought in the military in 1996, as Kocharian is charged to have done in 2008… and much more.

Human Rights Watch again: “In the wake of these events, police detained about 200 more individuals believed to have participated in the demonstration, President Ter-Petrossian banned public demonstrations and called in army troops to patrol Yerevan, and the Procurator General announced his intention to press charges of attempting violently to overthrow the government against Vazgen Manukyan and seven other opposition leaders. Police closed the offices of the National Democratic Union (Vazgen Manukian’s party), the National Self-Determination Association (a tiny opposition party), the Union of Constitutional Rights (a nationalist party), and Artsakh-Hayastan (an organisation for the promotion of Karabakh issues).”

Amnesty International also wrote about these incidents in great detail at the time: “A Reuters television producer reports that she saw armed people in camouflage dress break into the building, and drag people out while punching and kicking them: at least seven severely beaten men were taken away in a police van. Inside the building four women were said to have been among those attacked by the uniformed men. “

For more on the voting processes which led to the protests described above, let’s read the following from Human Rights Watch: “…in the majority of districts without international observers, no local observers were allowed, dead people and minors miraculously appeared on lists of voters, soldiers were bused in with orders to vote for Ter-Petrossian, and ballot boxes were reportedly stuffed. The elections failed to win the approval of the OSCE ODIHR Election Observer Mission, which concluded that ‘very serious breaches’ in the voting raised concern ‘for the overall integrity of the election process’.”

There are some familiar trends here, right?

Those of us following more recent Armenian elections have heard of this stuff. Calling on the military, beating protestors, busing in voters, raising the dead to vote on election day, ballot box fraud…. All of this began with the 1996 outbreak of the corruption Virus we can call Levon, which was passed on to those who followed Ter Petrosian like the epidemic that it was.

Not only did Ter Petrosian do all of the above, he also banned opposition parties, jailed or expelled their leaders from the country, closed their offices and … there was something else… Oh yeah, he offered to hand the liberated territories of Artsakh to Azerbaijan.

To some, Levon Ter Petrosian might be much or slightly better, or much or slightly worse than those who followed him as leaders of Armenia. To others, it might be of great or little significance that he was the first to use his power and resources to steal the will away from the people.

Regardless of our opinions, the people of Armenia are owed his day in court to respond to what was witnessed by local and international observers alike. While Pashinyan is proving himself as a brave battler for freedom from the corrupt, his past relationship with Ter Petrosian (Pashinyan ran his 2008 campaign) is being thrown in his face by commentators.

Make no mistake, we all want Pashinyan to be successful as the leader who oversaw the end of the cycle of corruption in Armenia. It was Henry Kissinger who once quipped that “corrupt politicians make the other ten percent look bad.” Most of us believe that Pashinyan is in that ten percent!

But there is something called “selective anti-corruption measures” that the Prime Minister would prefer not to be accused of. Even though he has long spoken about justice for what happened on the streets of Yerevan during the Kocharian election in 2008, authorities need to cast their nets wider.

A former Governor and party chieftain in Nigeria, Professor Oserheimen Osunbor was asked about Muhammadu Buhari’s performance as his country’s President, after his anti-corruption measures were being criticised as “selective”.

Osunbor answered: “A selective anti-corruption war for Nigeria, if that be the case, is far better than no anti-corruption war at all. However, government must strive to be fair to all and ensure that the anti-corruption war does not spare anyone.”

Let’s agree with the idea that solving the corruption and abuse of power that followed Levon Ter Petrosian will make Armenia a better place. However striving “to be fair to all” and ensuring the “anti-corruption war does not spare anyone,” requires us to ask: “But what about Levon?”

Moving forward, then. Duxov!

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Haig Kayserian

Haig Kayserian is the Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee of Australia (ANC-AU). He has previously held several leadership positions in the Armenian-Australian community. Haig holds a Bachelor’s degree in Media and Cultural Studies from Macquarie University. He is an investor in internet technology startups.
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11 Comments

  1. You nailed it Haig. The selectiveness of the witch hunt is a troubling indicator of Levon’s behind the scenes presence in the current system. All I can say to all those Armenians celebrating- keep a very close eye on Artsakh and the underhanded attempts at destroying the relationship Armenia has with its sole protector and security guarantor Russia. Therefore the government’s attempts to interfere in the functioning and stature of the CSTO while participating in NATO should be scrutinized.
    Also keep a close eye on which of the current owners of the 4 dozen mines currently operating in tiny Armenia, STILL looting billions from the country yearly, are brought to justice and the mines returned to the nation. They are after all the true oligarchs that established during Levons era. They should have been first instead of Kocharian. Make no mistake, Armenia is a rich country in terms of mineral wealth.

  2. Those who were celebrating the scoundrel’s “Velvet Revolution” are finally beginning to wake up. Too late. Nikol is Levon’s second coming. You should have know better. Now, expect a major war in Artsakh in the next couple of years. Also expect to lose major amounts of territories to Azeris. Nikol and his Globalist financed government will accept the loses and sing a peace agreement. In the meanwhile, they will keep you, the ignorant and self-destructive peasantry, distracted by their “fight against corruption” show. We Armenians deserve all the black pages in our history.

  3. The author does a good job of highlighting all the illegalities and shortcomings of LTP’s authoritarian reign in an attempt to draw parallels between Kocharyans case and what happened in 1990s. What the author fails to understand is the uniqueness of the events of March 1 2008 considering the fact that it was the only time that a leader in Armenia used lethal force of that magnitude to crush protests. The death of 10 people in the aftermath of the election is what makes it very controversial up to now. Was it only the result of post-election skirmishes or it was premediated crime to spread fear.
    There is no doubt that the last 30 years in Armenia have been far from perfect. Almost all political parties can be accused, one way or another, of being directly or indirectly involved in different types of illegal actions. The question is how far can the current government go in restoring justice. Vazgen Manukyan who lost the 1996 rigged election later joined Serjik and justified Serjiks rigged elections. Serjik himself is responsible for all kind of shameful acts. Dashnaks who are very critical of LTP stood by Rob and Serjik and justified all their actions.
    So where is that red line beyond which past crimes can be deemed acceptable. Will the author and the “commentators” feel satisfied if LTP was detained for what he has done in 1990s? Looks to me he will. How about Dashnaks complicity in what was going on for 20 years? Is it ok to detain those Dashank leaders who stood by Serjik and shook his hand in front of TV cameras only to keep their ministerial posts and many other luxuries such as having thier own TV station, something other parties could only dream about? I very much doubt that the author is going to like that one!
    In the end of the day, the current government has the public support to carry on with its reforms and this case should only be seen in the context of restoring justice regarding the most deadly protests in modern history of Armenia.
    As for the commentators and Pashinyans relationship with LTP. Well, those commentators were out of touch with Armenia’s reality before the revolution and remain out of touch with Armenia’s reality in post-revolution Armenia. Pashinyan has yet to receive an official congratulation from LTP for becoming PM!
    The litmus test for Pashinyan is going to be the election. If they truly reflect peoples will then he has my support and I beleive the support of the overwhelming majority of Armenians.

  4. I suspect that Pashinyan hurt his image with the Russians tremendously with the arrest of Kocharyan as it is clear they are not happy about what transpired. I don’t know if now his days are numbered, but certainly his every move is being watched closely.

    From our perspective as Armenians, LTP is of course the real criminal. What I don’t understand is, why was it that (since 2008 at least), LTP has been walking around ‘free’, and worse, allowed to make in-roads into the Armenian government AGAIN? Why wasn’t a criminal case investigated against him and all his wide-scale looting of Armenia during his regime?

    My take on what happened during Petrosoglu’s regime: he knew a war was coming in Artsakh based on his KGB ‘connections’ with his ‘friends’ including the Aliyev clan. He also knew (or suspected) Armenians were eventually going to win if the war was to be drawn-out. So being a globalist foreign agent and TRAITOR to the Armenian nation, what does he do to help the globalist program, while not showing his true colors? Make Armenia starve economically and start looting the whole nation and sell all the assets to foreign entities in an attempt to control Armenia. It’s an age-old formula, an economically weak nation would be unsuccessful in waging any war.

    This damage to the nation actually is still on-going today left over from this tyrant. Why hasn’t he been tried for High Treason yet?? To me this shows how Armenia’s each and every three ‘governments’ have been immature and politically incompetent. And this is so deeply rooted into the society and mindset there that I suspect the Pashinyan government isn’t likely to improve much. I sincerely hope for his sake and Armenia’s that Pashinyan isn’t working with LTP. If he is, he will just be another political corpse.

  5. What about Serzh? What about Oskanian? What about Tsarukian? What about Grzo? The ARF embarrasses itself by specifically pointing to LTP to deflect from Kocharian’s misdeeds when everyone knows LTP banned the ARF from Armenia. You-know-who wants revenge more than justice.

    • You anti-ARFers are a funny lot. So basically you are suggesting, it was OK for Levon Petrosoglu to start the process of selling off Armenia and causing massive economic damage to the nation (which continues to affect the lives of all Armenians to today) and then attempt to hand off Armenia’s lands to the enemy so long as Petrosoglu “banned” the ARF.

      Just curious, what “organization” are you representing that you believe is ‘relevant’, or are you just an all-around lone-wolf?

  6. @ Mr Hagop
    Why would anyone hate ARF? You serioulsy think people have nothing to do but hate ARF?! People have the right to express their thoughts and that doesn’t make them haters. The only funny thing here is your narrow political partisanship. Try to have a more self-critical approach to different issues. Why is it that after 30 years of solid presence in Armenia ARF has failed to become a dominant and major force in politics? I don’t live in Armenia, but I have many friends and relatives there who are not members of any organization or party and believe me they all consider your beloved ARF as a single issue party which always goes with the tide to survive and keep its presence in the parliament. How many coalitions they formed in the last 20 years? Every time claiming that they are going to change the system from within. What did they change? Have you ever seen a ARF leader criticizing tax evasion by this or that oligarch? Armenia is much more than Artsakh and Genocide. It is a real country with real people.
    These are not hate. It’s food for thought.

  7. @ritooli,
    I’m all for criticizing the ARF where it is due, but what I could never understand is, what about the absence of any praise when it is also due? Considering that the ARF is prevalent in the diaspora, no Armenian is helping Armenia BY DEFAULT through anti-ARF rhetoric. This is a totally irresponsible and ignorant position to take.

    I don’t live in Armenia either, but in the diaspora our answer to all the anti-ARF sentiment is 70 years of Soviet anti-ARF propaganda and indoctrination. As and the saying goes, despite 30 years of independence, “old habits die hard”. That’s why the ARF has never been quite relevant in Armenia, and certain Armenians display a certain ignorant ‘hatred’ for all things ARF, like our friend “Boghos” above, regardless of what that might lead to. This same mentality was used by Levon Ter Petrosoglu.

    In the case of Petrosoglu, it was both globalist-agenda driven as well as personal, and as the globalist who was brought to power as the first “president” of Armenia, he killed two birds with one stone, 1, harming any chances of the ARF getting a head start in Armenia because the Soviet mentality was still fresh, and 2, accomplishing the personal vendetta he had against the ARF for exposing his father as the traitor that he was. And as another saying goes, “like father like son”.

    It is not a secret that the ARF is quite weak and not followed in Armenia. This is not the case outside of Armenia now is it? Thus I laugh at any Armenian with anti-ARF rhetoric, usually spewed by former Soviet educated Armenians from Armenia, and/or the other two traditional do-nothing parties in the diaspora. Typically their rhetoric starts with something like “where was the ARF when blah blah blah”. Or “what was the ARF doing when blah blah blah”. No one ever said the ARF was/is ‘perfect’. But I’m still waiting for an Armenian to show me what actually was so “perfect” WITHOUT the ARF. Any anti-ARFer care to enlighten me?

    Come on, tell me, how was life for Armenians a lot better without the ARF? I really, really want to know why the ARF is so bad for you, as an ‘Armenian’.

    -Was it the decreased assimilation rate in the diaspora which the ARF played a pivotal role in?

    -Was it when Karekin saved Syunik from the Bolsheviks and Azerbaijan/Turkey?

    -Was it when the ARF was the responsible party for establishing Armenia in our time, which made it possible for Armenia to exist?

    -Was it when the ARF defended Armenians everywhere when their lives were in danger, including the liberation of Artsakh?

    -Was it when they slowed down the Turkish massacre of Armenians during the Genocide thus giving at least some Armenians enough time to save themselves?

    Like I said, the ARF was not and is not perfect. Especially in light of some of the less than savory individuals I have met proclaiming to be representing the ARF.

    The ARF was also responsible for making Armenia legally possible, but as some critics correctly point out, it also got grossly outplayed politically after WWI against Turkey and Europe. Then again, this was based on lack of experience and the absence of a state for many centuries at that point. I suspect these examples are usually why traditional Soviet anti-ARF propaganda took hold in Armenia. But then the (early) Soviets also gave Armenian lands to Azerbaijan, and it stayed that way.

    My main message above was, don’t come here telling us that we are against Petrosoglu because he was anti-ARF and ignore everything else, including his selling Armenia down the river. This only shows ignorance and yes a “blind hatred” of the ARF where you are willing to overlook everything else so long as the ARF was somehow slammed down. So bottom line, I have no issue with any non-ARFer. But I have a lot of issues with ANY and ALL anti-ARFers. Do you get the difference?

  8. Petrosoglu and Pashinyan, both are living proof that even a garbage man or a pimp can become a PM. These two criminals should be arrested and tried for the crimes they committed on March 1, 2008. You heard it from me , this convict Pashinyan will be thrown out before the end of this year.

  9. Mr.Hagop,” Was it when the ARF defended Armenians everywhere when their lives were in danger”? Yes, as an old school Tashnak, I salute You Unger. Been there done that.

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