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Armenia's 100 Lost Days

  • Anahit Bakhshian

Has Serzh Sarkisian wasted his first 100 days?

Has Serzh Sarkisian wasted his first 100 days?

Dozens of Armenian citizens remain incarcerated in cells and basements across the country, among them members of parliament, intellectuals, public figures, and peaceful activists against whom no formal charges have been brought. They could have been charged or released during the new president's first 100 days in office. They were not.

The Armenian judiciary could have affirmed its independence from the executive branch and handed down an impartial assessment of the February 19 presidential ballot, which was marred by systematic procedural violations and widespread bribery, intimidation, and fraud. It chose not to do so.

The tragedy of March 1, 2008, when police and security forces descended upon their own citizens, forcibly dispersed thousands of protesters encamped on Liberty Square, and later resorted to brute violence that culminated in 10 deaths, could have been evaluated by a commission devoted to establishing the truth. The government could have invited opposition parties to participate in that process as equals. It did not.

Opposition groups, and indeed civil society itself, planned peaceful demonstrations at Liberty Square, the Matenadaran Museum of Ancient Manuscripts, and other locations in Yerevan. The city administration could have granted official permission for those demonstrations. It did not.

That retreat from democratic practice has harmed Armenia's reputation abroad.

The UN General Assembly and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have both passed one-sided, antihistoric, legally unfounded, and politically prejudiced resolutions that effectively made those institutions complicit in Azerbaijan's aggressive campaign to scuttle the ongoing peace negotiations and ultimately to annex Nagorno-Karabakh.

That region in 1988 was the first in the former USSR to seize on the opportunity presented by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost in a bid reverse the legacy of Stalin's divide-and-rule politics and seek decolonization and independence in full compliance with international and Soviet law.

Had it been competent and democratic, the Armenian government could have defeated these partisan, polemical, and duplicitous resolutions, which designate Nagorno-Karabakh as "occupied" territory. It was not competent and democratic, so it could not.

The current authorities and the political parties that support them, which together account for more than 95 percent of parliament deputies despite having polled a far smaller percentage of votes, have an obligation to reach out to the opposition, both within parliament and on the street. They have done neither.

No one can demand or even expect an immediate and total break with the policies espoused by the previous leadership, although President Serzh Sarkisian has claimed to have achieved precisely that. But we citizens of Armenia have demanded immediate action on a number of yes-or-no issues that could have, and should have, been resolved swiftly -- certainly within 100 days of Sarkisian taking office.

But the answer has invariably been negative: No release of political prisoners. No fair and impartial inquiry into the March 1 violence. No unrestricted demonstrations for democracy.

Those refusals have damaged Armenia's international aspirations -- and Karabakh's. More importantly, they have paralyzed our nation's trust in authorities who were elected through deviance, confirmed by blood, crowned in emergency rule, and inaugurated against a backdrop of crowded prisons. The real 100-day question is whether these are the aftershocks of a bygone era or the birth pangs of a new one.

We, the citizens of Armenia, stand firm against the tidal wave of corruption. We will accept nothing less than a systemic shift in Armenia's governance that paves the way for the return of democracy to a land where it once flourished.

Anahit Bakhshian is chairwoman of the board of the Zharangutiun (Heritage) party, the sole opposition party represented in the National Assembly. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
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