“If you are Turks, stay on the bus; if you are Armenians, get off and join us!” shouted an angry pro-opposition protestor after stopping a minibus in Yerevan on March 1, 2008. He then angrily looked at a woman with a child silently suggesting her to get off the bus to join Armenia’s former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s post election protest.

“Are you expecting me to get off a bus with my child?!” The angry woman’s response paid off, and she was left alone. That is left alone for a while.





In a few days, after several people were killed on the day of the protest, there was a knock on this woman’s door – now it was the police looking for protestors. “Did you participate in the protest?” she was asked. After saying “no,” her husband was escorted out and taken to the local police department – he hadn’t participated in the protest either. In fact, the couple hadn’t event voted in the elections. Yet they were harassed twice – by the opposition and the government. This is a true story. It happened to someone I have known for all of my life.



In these days there is no middle ground in Armenia. One will laugh at you if you say you are neutral. In fact, being neutral may be seen as something more sinister than being for one or the other. Tensions are high – a couple even divorced over the presidential election. Armenia’s brightest comedian Vartan Petrossian (no relationship to the former president) mentioned this in his “Love and Hatred” – a brilliant and well-attended play about Armenia’s political polarization.



Vartan Petrossian’s message was clear – Armenia’s society needs love. But change should start by changing and improving ourselves. And women in politics can play an important role. Of course he delivered these messages with humor – and one wonders whether most of the audience got the point – especially in regards to women’s rights. In any case, the audience loved Vartan Petrossian.  





There was hardly any love on August 1 – when, according to Agence France Press, 5,000 people attended a pro-opposition protest outside Matenadaran (a manuscript depository). As my cousin and I were approaching Matenadaran, one of the speakers (who we couldn’t see) was urging to send the “current administration to grave.”



When Levon Ter-Petrosyan took over the podium, he was greeted with cheers by most of the crowd (others were seemingly observers like myself). Levon started his long, lecture-like speech making several points – Armenia’s legislative branch has become the tool of the executive branch, even Stalin didn’t pursuit such a totalitarian intimidation of opposition supporters, the current president won’t be able to solve serious problems such as environmental protection, etc. The last one was my favorite part of the speech. At last environment is getting some kind of attention by some group in Armenia – although it was mentioned as part of a long list that merely seemed to point the lengthy load of responsibilities that the government doesn’t work on.


Anyway, Levon’s speech was initially quite interesting. He got my attention when he said that since 1999, after he left politics, Armenia’s parliament had not voted against any proposal by the executive branch or overturned any veto by the president. He said that compared to the statistics when he was president (1991-1998), it “couldn’t be compared.” I am not kidding. I expected Levon to give some details or facts but his comparison was limited to saying that it couldn’t be compared. That was disappointing.


Anyway, I don’t want to sound like an anti-Levon activist. I actually have to agree with one of the people I interviewed that Levon’s presence in politics today is in many ways positive. He has built a very strong opposition and the government is, without doubt, concerned with the situation. Cosmetic or not, the new administration is making some reforms which would be unlikely had Levon been absent from Armenia’s politics.



Yet it is ironic that most people who are for Levon do not love him; they hate Serge – Armenia’s current president. A phone booth had been vandalized with “Mah Serzhikin” (“Death to Little Serge”) resonating with one oppositionist leader’s message, as I have quoted above, to send the current government to grave.


A friend, who is pro-Levon due to being anti-Serge, suggested that the current president has the chance to use the March 1 event as an example of possible further clashes to pressure oligarchs out of economic monopoly in the country.


(Believe it or not, elimination of monopoly would make huge changes in Armenia. Armenia’s most competitive industry is perhaps the taxi service, and it is way the cheapest thing that Armenia offers. A thirty minute drive can cost as little as $3, and most short commutes are usually $2. This is because there are hundreds of taxi services in Armenia – no monopoly whatsoever – that is until the price for the monopoly-controlled natural gas goes up in early 2009.)  


Another thing that needs improvement is the often-government-controlled media. Two hours before the start of the protest, when I was watching state-controlled public television’s 5:00 p.m. news, I didn’t see any information about the upcoming event at Matenadaran. Instead, Haylur – the news program – spent over five minutes talking about a jazz/fashion (not even mentioning where and why it took place) festival that had taken place the day before.


I had actually gone to the theatrical fashion event with several friends. It was pretty good, and I almost fell in love with one of the models there. That’s as close as I got to seeing love in public.   


All photos by the author (copyright Blogian.net)