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A few weeks ago there was a “occupation” of sorts of liberty square by a main opposition group here in Armenia. I realized that I did not know very much about what these opposition leaders wanted to so I have dug around and here is what I have found so far:
Formed in 2008, the Armenian National Congress, (Հայ Ազգային Կոնգրես) or HAK, is the main opposition coalition of 13 political parties. They are led by the first president of Armenian, Leon Ter-Pertrossyan. The group lists several demands on its website, which include the following:
The immediate release of all political prisoners.
- Attaining complete freedom of speech, access to media, and assembly.
- Truly independent investigation of the crimes of March 1 with the significant participation of International experts.
- Initiation of a dialogue with the authorities about democratic reforms after the fulfillment of at least the first condition..
- Holding of pre-term presidential and parliamentary elections.
We call on all parties, organizations and citizens who are concerned about the fate of the homeland to apply for membership of Armenian National Congress in large numbers.
While at first glance these may seem like demands that could at the very least not hurt the citizens of Armenia and most likely increase their rights we also must look at why this group was formed and where its issues with the current government come from.
One of the main issues that must be recognized is the leader of this party. As stated above, Ter-Pertrossyan was the first president (of 3 total) of Armenian but he was also the candidate who narrowly lost the disputed elections in 2008. Ter-Pertrossyan started his political resurgence in 2007 by criticizing Robert Kocharyan and his prime minister and current president, Serzh Sargayan. Specifically, he accused them of abuse of power and stealing billions of dollars from the Armenian people. While I have no idea if these claims are true or not, I wonder if having one of the three men who have governed the country and narrowly lost a bid reclaim the presidency lead a movement for greater transparency and freedom is either; one, insincere or two, not the best way to inspire a grass roots movement.
These criticisms aside, it does seem that the HAK is as strong of an opposition as Armenia has had in a long time, if not ever. And while the leader can hardly be called an outsider or a real change in the power structure of the country, from what I have read in the past, Ter-Pertrossyan has shown signs of having more democractic leanings and less ideological driven in foreign policy than his two successors.
As for their most recent protests, the HAK set up tents and camped out in Freedom Square. The purpose of these protests was to force the government into a dialog focused on the demands that I have listed above as well as the release of a political activist named Tigran Arakelyan. While it is somewhat unclear if there was an agreement reached, Ter-Pertrossyan did call off the rally. He also stated that from here on the sole mission of the opposition would be to seek the resignation of President Sargayan. Unfortunately, this again starts to sound a little bit more like a personal feud than a legitimate opposition pushing main for freedoms of the people.
I should also note that there is a second, if less vocal opposition group called the Heritage Party. I was unable to find much about them though it seems that they are a more true pro-democracy left party.
Frist off, writing about this conflict as an outsider is a very tricky thing. There are legitimately intense feelings on both sides and as in most cases where there is conflict, history is a contested thing and facts become part of the fight. I will attempt to lay out the very basics in as fair way as possible. I also want to make clear that I do not pretend to be an expert and if someone finds inaccuracies or gaps, please let me know.
1. Both Azerbaijani’s and Armenian’s have been living in the general regions of their countries for thousands of years. For most of history the region has been held by the Persian, Mongolian, Ottoman, Russian Empires (I’m sure I’m missing one or two but the point is that there was not a long history of self rule).
2. The rise of the nation states (and organized fighting) followed the collapse of the Russian Empire and lasted, on and off, from 1918-1920. While there was some history of fighting between Azeri and Armenian leaders in the region, this was the first organized large scale fighting. Nagorno Karabakh (NK), which is the main issue in the current conflict was first fought over during this time. Both sides claim that historically, the (very fertile) area had been a deeply special place for their people and so it should be part their country.
3. After initially hesitating, the Soviets granted NK to Soviet Azerbaijan as a autonomous region. At this time it was mostly an ethnically Armenian territory, though there were many Azerbaijanis who used the area seasonally, who were not counted by the census. In the late 1980’s an independence movement started in NK, which was eventually backed by Armenia (and directly contributed to the weakening of the Soviet Union itself).
4.Upon the collapse of the soviet union a full on war broke out. Millions of refugees were expelled from both countries (more so out of Armenia, many still live in camps in Azerbaijan). The Armenians in the NK region with direct backing from the Armenian military ended up with all of the region as well as several districts beyond that in Azerbaijan. In May 1994 a cese fire was signed and the conflict has simmered ever since, with no real progress on a lasting resolution. Both Army’s still maintain large amount of troops and sporadic fire still takes place to this day.
5. Turkey has loomed large through all of this. It was only a few years after the killings of millions of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire that the initial fighting began. Today Turkey’s borders with Armenia are closed, mainly because of unresolved conflict with Azerbaijan (though Turkey’s refusal to recognize the killings in 1915 as a genocide have not helped relations).
Hello hello! I am putting together this blog as a way to keep in touch with family and friends as I spend the next year in Yerevan, Armenia. I will do my very best to keep all posts short, to the point and hopefully somewhat entertaining.
As I have done with past blogs I will make sure to include lots of pictures and touch on subjects as diverse as how I am way too big for the minibusses during rush hour to what I learn from my research in the coming months.
My hope is that you can use this space to communicate with me (and each other) as well and that it will not just be me talking about what I had for dinner last night. I hesitate to write blogs because of that inherent preachy nature, so please comment and let me know if you have something you would like to post!