Archive for the 'Elections' Category

NYC: Armenians and Progressive Politics, May 30-31, 2008

As I have mentioned before, I will be on a panel discussing the post-election unrest in Armenia this weekend. I hope I will meet some of you in New York during the symposium. For those of you who cannot attend, below is an abstract of my talk:

When Armenia erupted in violence earlier this year, many were hesitant to believe reports of deaths and destruction. Few expected violence in a tiny republic that has been harshly affected by an ongoing economic blockade and a recent war with neighboring Azerbaijan.


But the assumption that Armenians are united given their collective experience of oppression was challenged on the streets of Yerevan. With cries for “Justice,” many Armenians in their homeland protested corruption and a perceived conspiracy by government officials, most of whom were from the region of Nagorno-Karabakh. Many Armenians in the Diaspora, concerned with their historic homelands image and national security, viewed the movement as one destabilizing Armenia.


While it is correctly argued that many of the protestors hoped to receive personal gain by supporting the opposition, the Levon Ter-Petrosyan team for many others seemed to be a medium to express outrage against unaccountable and unresponsive government. The opposition was the mean and not the end. Conversely, much of the outcry has been expressed in regional hatred, raising the question whether injustice can bring about justice.

More specifically, one wonders whether a government can change without a change in the society. What’s the relationship between institutions and the society? Which one holds the lead in transforming politics and traditions?

Armenia: Nasty Politics

When, on March 1, 2008, a high school friend from Yerevan woke me up with text messages urging me to update Blogian, I asked him why he was involved in the opposition movement. His answer was that Robert Kocharyan (the president at the time who was going to be replaced by Serzh Sargsyan) was a Turk! My friend’s reference was to Kocharyan’s and Sargsyan’s origin in Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave in Turkic Azerbaijan that sustained its independence through a bloody war in the 1990s. Ironically, my friend’s father also hails from Karabakh.

Days after ten people died on the streets, I asked my friend again why he was supporting Levon Ter-Petrosyan (Armenia’s first president and the current leader of the opposition). His answer was that he was fighting for freedom of speech.

While there is a sense of working for justice among people on either aisle of Armenia’s post-election conflict (pro-government people arguing for stability and opposition people arguing for more democracy), there has been an awful hatred in both sides. That hatred, unfortunately, doesn’t only show the division but implies prejudices in Armenia’s society – hating Turks, anti-Semitism, sexism and other kind of biases.

This morning, for instance, I received a fake photo (posted above) of Armenia’s first president Levon Ter-Petrosyan with a kippah with the Star of David on his hand. Ironically, I didn’t receive the photo from a teenager but from a self-perceived intellectual from Iran’s Armenian community (and a reader of this blog). While Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s wife is Jewish, attacks against the opposition have often used anti-Semitic remarks.

More ironically, a self-declared anarchist website, which loudly supports the opposition, also has fake photos depicting Armenia’s government not as Turks, despite the popular sentiment among opposition radicals, but as Nazis.


And Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s official blog posts an image by Ara Aslanyan that depicts Armenia’s current president Serzh Sargsyan’s chest as a vagina (suggesting that the president is a “pussy”). This is after the opposition’s strategy to use women in their protests.


Until Armenia’s society condemns this kind of racism and sexism, their work for justice is not going to prevail.

US: Borat’s “Good Friend” Running for White House

Libertarian politician Bob Barr, who is featured in the mockumentary Borat as eating cheese made of the Kazakhstani journalist’s wife’s breast milk, is running for president.

Although Borat has long endorsed “Basketball player Barack Obamas,” it is interesting how he will react to his “good friend” Barr’s bid for the White House.

Interestingly, Barr was asked about his appearance in Borat which the former Republican apparently finds funny.


U.S. Elections: Hillary Accused of Playing the Race Card

From Chicago Sun-Times:

A disturbing trend has emerged from the long Democratic primary. Whenever Sen. Hillary Clinton is trailing in the polls, a racially divisive issue pops up.

Clinton loses 11 consecutive races, and the photograph of Sen. Barack Obama in Somalian garb shows up.

Clinton falls behind in pledged delegates and gets caught in a lie about her Bosnia adventure, and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. story reignites.

The fallout over Obama’s “bitter” comment fits that same pattern.

He’s quoted as saying: “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Obama was apparently referring to rural voters, a demographic he has had difficulty reaching.

The comment is being characterized by some pundits, Clinton and the GOP nominee John McCain as “elitist,” and evidence that Obama is “out-of-touch” with ordinary Americans.

But during his bus tour through Pennsylvania two weeks ago, Obama made the same point at several town hall meetings and crowds applauded.

Although he may not have used the exact same words that have caused such a furor, he offered the same assessment: When people believe they are getting a raw deal, they become bitter.

Here we go again

With polls showing that Obama has begun to narrow the gap in Pennsylvania — a state Clinton was predicted to win by double digits — Clinton is stirring up a backlash that her campaign hopes will net her some swing voters.

“Pennsylvanians don’t need a president who looks down on them,” Clinton told a crowd in Philadelphia.

Her campaign has fueled the controversy, with supporters passing out “I’m not bitter” stickers in North Carolina.

But Clinton and McCain’s outrage has more to do with the demographic Obama called bitter than the words he used.

Indeed, neither of them said a word when Obama used harsher language to tell a predominantly black audience in Beaumont, Texas, that they needed to do a better job parenting.

“We can’t keep on feeding our children junk all day long, giving them no exercise. They are overweight by the time they are 4 or 5 years old, and then we are surprised when they get sick,” Obama said, drawing loud applause.

Obama also chided parents for letting their kids eat “potato chips for lunch or Popeye’s for breakfast.”

He gave a similar speech at a town hall meeting in Pittsburgh, and black people applauded along with everyone else.

Obviously, it is tough for African Americans to be called out on a subject that is rarely discussed publicly, let alone in mixed company.

But blacks in the audience took the attitude that Obama wasn’t talking about them — he was talking about their cousin.

At least one expert, Bart Landry, a sociology professor of the University of Maryland, criticized Obama for his remarks, saying he gave black parents a “bum rap.”

But there wasn’t anywhere near the blowup that happened after angry sermons by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s former pastor, were looped on the Internet.

Obama takes the high road

Indeed, given that Gov. Ed Rendell, who is leading Clinton’s campaign in Pennsylvania, has said publicly that “conservative whites” would not vote for Obama because he is black, Obama could have had a lot more to say about the mind-set of rural voters in that state.

Instead, throughout his campaign across Pennsylvania, Obama took the high road. He left race out of the conversation, and focused on the issues that voters raised during town hall meetings.

Clinton, who not once has challenged Rendell’s disgraceful stereotype of Pennsylvania voters as racist, has consistently seized upon polarizing issues in an effort to boost her campaign.

Obama has tried to end this latest battle of words, saying: “If I worded things in a way that made people offended, I deeply regret that.”

He had no reason to apologize.

In attacking Obama as “elitist” and “arrogant,” Clinton is again appealing to the lower nature of voters.

She has once again proved that she is willing to feed the ignorance of voters like the ones Rendell has described.

But worst yet, Clinton is now communicating to these voters that she that can put an “uppity” black man in his place.

Armenian Activist Meets with Clinton

Armenian-American socialite Annie Totah, who has raised eyebrows for her usage of ultraconservative anti-Obama articles, has recently met with presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. According to the Armenpac website, the meeting took place last week.


Recently Annie Totah, Co-Chair of ARMENPAC, the Armenian American Political Action Committee, had the opportunity to once again get together with Senator Hillary Clinton at her residence in Washington, D.C.

Clinton, whose Presidential candidacy was bolstered with victories in Ohio and Texas, met with supporters at an intimate event in her Washington residence. Clinton, whose solid record of support for Armenian-American issues goes way beyond that of the other presidential hopefuls, was recently endorsed by ARMENPAC.

“I always appreciate the opportunity to speak with the Senator about the issues most important to Armenian-Americans. It’s truly inspiring to think that Senator Clinton, who has been such a good friend to our community, may be the next President of the United States,” said ARMENPAC Co-Chair Annie Totah.

“Along with my fellow colleagues on the ARMENPAC Board of Directors, we make it a priority to meet with, work with and support candidates who are in a position to affect policy and legislation that can be beneficial to Armenians in America and our brothers and sisters on our homeland,” added Totah.

Annie Totah also had the opportunity while at this event to discuss Armenian-American issues with Maryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley, Senator Clinton’s Presidential Campaign Manager Terry McAuliffe and Mid-Atlantic Campaign Director Natalie Jones, among others.

Clinton Camp Compares Richardson to Judas

Talking to The New York Times about long-time Clinton family friend and famed Hispanic politician Bill Richardson’s endorsement of Barack Obama, a Clinton ally has compared Richardson to Jesus Christ’s traitor.

“An act of betrayal,” said James Carville, an adviser to Mrs. Clinton and a friend of Mr. Clinton.

“Mr. Richardson’s endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out for 30 pieces of silver, so I think the timing is appropriate, if ironic,” Mr. Carville said, referring to Holy Week.

Wow, so Hillary is Jesus?

Armenia: Joint Washington Post Column by President-Elect and an Opposition Leader

The Washington Post, apparently, has a group of Armenian columnists and they all happen to be high profile political leaders. After last week’s column by opposition leader and former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan(Ter-Petrossian), now president-elect Serzh Sargsyan (Sargissian) and one of the opposition leaders, Arthur Baghdasaryan (who didn’t participate in the protests), have published a column on the post-election unrest in Armenia:

Moving Forward In Armenia

By Serzh Sargsyan and Arthur Baghdasaryan
Monday, March 17, 2008; A17 

Armenia‘s reputation as a stable, democratic country in a troubled region has taken a battering recently. Although international observers gave an overall positive rating to the conduct of last month’s presidential election, opposition forces took to the streets, seeking to overturn the people’s will. Riots and armed demonstrations left more than 100 injured. Tragically, seven protesters and one police officer died.

Public faith in our economy and political institutions has been undermined. Simply put, we had a competitive election. Dragging this crisis on, literally through the streets, only hurts Armenia. For almost a decade — since then-President Levon Ter-Petrosyan resigned — our country has avoided civil uproars and armed violence, allowing for a period of internationally recognized democratic and socioeconomic progress.

But after he lost his bid to reclaim the presidency in February, Ter-Petrosyan resorted to a dangerous and profoundly undemocratic form of populism. He radicalized a part of the opposition and guided it into a standoff with the state, which led to the March 1 riots in which armed demonstrators confronted police. It was clear to all moderate political forces — pro-government or supporters of the opposition — that declaring a state of emergency was the only possible option to protect our citizens. We have until Thursday, when the state of emergency is lifted, to find political solutions and ensure that Armenia does not slide back into chaos.

The two of us were competitors in the presidential election. But we are united in our desire to end the current crisis and put Armenia back on track. Cooperation is the way forward.

The political alliance we have created, between the president-elect and the Rule of Law Party, is an effort to do things democratically and through compromise. Between us, we represent 70 percent of the votes of the Armenian people. This is a serious and solid mandate. On this basis, we will pursue ambitious but realistic reforms that will strengthen our democracy and our nation’s socioeconomic progress. In this moment of crisis, we have agreed to assume responsibility for joint governance.

This form of government has not been imposed upon Armenia; we have chosen it as the best way forward. This new, grand coalition will guarantee that the people’s will is reflected.

We insist, however, that continued progress is possible only through dialogue and reform. Violence has no place in democracy. Therefore, we ask those who are still promoting instability on the streets to join us in political dialogue and to help us guide our country toward prosperity.

Armenia faces a series of external challenges that we hope to address. First among them is the long-standing conflict over who should control the Nagorno-Karabakh region between our country and Azerbaijan; second is the normalization of relations with Turkey. Only a government with wide popular support, not one created through street violence, can successfully resolve these problems. We will also continue to ask the international community to recognize the Armenian genocide, though this issue should not prevent us from moving forward.

We do not assume that all of our country’s ills will be solved through a coalition government. And we will certainly address the expectations of the several thousands of voters who are dissatisfied; we must do so to build consensus. But we must also recognize the expectations of the many more thousands of voters who chose the government that is in power. We will do our utmost to restore public trust in the electoral process and to unite the nation again.

Our priority is to run a transparent government and have a clear agenda, which we will announce. We will fight corruption head-on. We are confident that with the world’s help, reason and responsibility will regain the upper hand in Armenia. We have no time to waste — there is a lot of work to do. Despite recent events, our country is still moving forward. The international community has everything to gain through supporting a stable, transparent and elected government in Armenia.

Serzh Sargsyan, prime minister of Armenia, is chairman of the Republican Party. He is the country’s president-elect. Arthur Baghdasaryan, a former speaker of Armenia’s parliament, represented the opposition Orinats Yekir (Rule of Law) Party in the February election; he placed third.

Armenia: Catholicos Rejection Rumor Confirmed


Image: Armenian opposition leader and former president Levon Ter-Petrossian at Yerevan’s Liberty Square on March 1, 2008 after the police has chased the rest of the protesters. Via unzipped

The rumor that opposition leader and Armenia’s first president Levon Ter-Petrossian did not receive Armenia’s spiritual leader – Catholicos Garegin II – has been confirmed to be true. The Catholicos of All Armenians and head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, according to Armenia’s current president Robert Kocharian’s official website, advised with the administration before paying a visit to the former president in an apparent attempt for political reconciliation.

Kocharian told reporters:

His Holiness called me when the events had already taken a dangerous turn, he said that he was very concerned and wanted to meet with Levon Ter- Petrossian and asked my opinion. I said that we would welcome such step even thought we were somewhat skeptical that it could yield any results. But we welcomed the idea of such meeting even if it had a small chance of success.

As it turned out His Holiness went there but Levon Ter- Petrossian did not receive him. I was astonished; I cannot imagine that anywhere in the world anyone can close the door in front of the Catholicos.

The impression is that at the moment he believed that the events were unfolding in a manner, which made the authorities to panic. It is possible that he thought I had sent the Catholicos. But I hadn’t, it was his initiative, and this initiative of the Catholicos was perceived as a sign of panic on behalf of the authorities and in that case, certainly, he assumed that the meeting would not be to his benefit. It was not the case whatsoever since we were bringing in additional force, and the restoration of law and order was a matter of time. Not meeting with the Catholicos Levon Ter- Petrossian lost an opportunity of facesaving.

Although the current Catholicos is sometimes rumored to be involved in world mafia, he is generally much more respected among Armenia’s society than the current or the former presidents. At the time when the Armenian nation has not had a state, the Church has been the keeper of Armenian identity and survival.

It is interesting that the former president is eager to accept foreign journalists but not the Catholicos. According to photojouranlist Onnik Krikorian, Ter-Petrossian took an hour to show his certificates and books to foreign media in his mansion before he started to interview. Perhaps he could have spared an hour for the Catholicos?

Unfortunately, some anti-Ter-Petrossian activists may use the Catholicos rejection to further their conspiracy theories. As the former president’s wife is Jewish, some anti-Semites in Armenia accuse (in  comments) the Petrossian group of being sponsored by Jews. Needless to say, some anti-Kocharian protesters call the current administration ‘Turkish’ – with a racist reference to Kocharian’s roots in the Armenian breakawy region of Nagorno-Karabakh from Soviet Azerbaijan (a Turkic country).

In any case, Ter-Petrossian has demonstrated poor judgment in the recent weeks – further alienating some who thought that he might deserve a second chance.

European Parliament Resolution on Armenia Unrest

From the European Parliament website:

Human rights: Armenia, Russia, Afghan journalist and Iranian homosexual

Human rights – 13-03-2008 – 17:11

In four human rights resolutions adopted at the end of this week’s Strasbourg session, MEPs deplored the violence used by the authorities against opposition demonstrators following presidential elections in both Armenia and Russia, and demanded reprieves for a journalist condemned to death in Afghanistan and for a gay Iranian who could be in grave danger if forced to return to his home country.

Violence following the elections in Armenia
In the wake of the presidential elections in Armenia on 19 February, a police crackdown against opposition supporters who were peacefully contesting the results left eight dead and dozens injured. A state of emergency was declared on 1 March and media freedom has been restricted.  Parliament’s resolution, adopted by 60 votes to 1 with 2 abstentions, deplores the loss of life, urges all parties to act responsibly and calls on the authorities to investigate the violence and take other measures.
The International Election Observation Mission stated that the elections were “administered mostly in line with OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and standards” but also identified a number of concerns, in particular concerning the media’s commitment to providing impartial information.
In the resolution, Parliament “expresses its concern at recent developments in Armenia” and “calls on all parties to show openness and restraint, to tone down statements and to engage in a constructive and fruitful dialogue aimed at supporting and consolidating the country’s democratic institutions”.
Call for inquiry, with punishment for perpetrators of violence
It also calls “for a prompt, thorough, transparent, independent and impartial investigation of the events of 1 March” and “for all those responsible to be brought to justice and punished for misconduct and criminal acts of violence”.  The Council and Commission should offer EU assistance to help with the investigation.
The Armenian authorities are asked to lift the state of emergency, restore media freedom and take all measures necessary to ensure a return to normalcy. In addition, they are urged “to release citizens detained for exercising their right of peaceful assembly”.
EU support for Armenia to improve democracy and rule of law
Parliament points out that the EU’s Action Plan with Armenia under the European Neighbourhood Policy covers the strengthening of democratic structures and the rule of law. In this context, it urges the Commission “to focus its assistance to Armenia on the independence of the judiciary and the training of police and security forces” and calls on the Armenian authorities “to implement swiftly all the remaining recommendations made by the International Election Observation Mission”.
MEPs urge the Armenian authorities “to cooperate fully with the international community on finding an agreed solution” and they express support for the EU Special Representative to the South Caucasus and the OSCE’s Special Envoy.
Turning to Armenia’s conflict with neighbouring Azerbaijan over the status of Nagorno-Karabakh, the resolution “deplores the recent loss of life on the ‘line of control’ during fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces” and “calls on all sides to refrain from further violence and to return to the negotiating table”.
Lastly, MEPs reiterate “the clear EU commitment to building closer ties with Armenia and the South Caucasus countries” but emphasise that “closer cooperation with the European Union must be based on real and tangible progress and reforms and a full commitment to democracy and the rule of law”.


Registered Agent of Turkey Clinton ‘Hillraiser’

While the Clinton campaign has dropped a nationalist Turk from their fundraising team, at least one “hillraiser” – a reference to those who have raised $100,000 for the New York Senator’s presidential bid – is a registered agent of the Republic of Turkey whose contract includes fighting the Armenian Genocide.

John Merrigan, a contract lobbyist on behalf of Turkey, is listed on Clinton’s website’s Hillraisers page. A federal government link features Merrigan’s and another colleague’s contract with the Turkish government under the Foreign Agent Registration Act. The first point in the contract is “Preventing the introduction, debate and passage of legislation and other U.S. government action that harms Turkey’s interests or image” – with a clear reference to Armenian Genocide affirmation in the U.S. Congress.

Apparently, it is legal for registered foreign agents to collect funds for presidential candidates. Yet it would be interesting to know what the Clinton campaign thinks about this.

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