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Caucasus Report: December 30, 1998

30 December 1998, Volume 1, Number 44

Siradeghian Says 1996 Armenian Presidential Election Was Rigged. Former President Levon Ter-Petrossian falsified the 1996 election to secure a second term and then fell into a "three-month depression," one of his closest associates was understood to imply last week. In an interview with state television, flamboyant former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian admitted what has been alleged by the opposition and largely believed by the Armenian public, dealing a crushing blow to his former omnipotent boss.

Siradeghian's hour-long monologue was an explicit follow-up to his earlier remarks that Ter-Petrossian made a fateful mistake by not agreeing to a run-off vote, and that Vazgen Manukian (the main opposition challenger) "didn't win [the election] either."

Siradeghian said that on the night following the September 21, 1996 voting, the Armenian leadership gathered at the Ter-Petrossian campaign headquarters, receiving "distressing news" from local election precincts. Siradeghian said he then asked Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian: "Is Levon ready for a second round? Vazgen said: 'No, he is not ready'... And in fact, the second round didn't occur."

"One month before the ill-fated 1996 elections, it became clear that a failure is expected," Siradeghian said. "I attribute the whole flop of 1996 to Ter-Petrossian's fatigue. He had already depleted himself," he added.

A manifestation of that, according to Siradeghian, was the fact that during his late period in office, Ter-Petrossian opted to act as an "Asian type of a leader." "This means governing not by a political system but palace intrigues, sacking-and-appointing."

Ter-Petrossian claimed the deployment of army troops on September 25 1996 was justified to "maintain constitutional order" in the face of violent opposition protests. The confessions of the then interior minister shatter this argument. If they are true, the former Armenian leadership committed a coup d'�tat to remain in power. Yet as local observers point out, Siradeghian is engaging in a well-calculated game, implicating the present Armenian authorities in the alleged vote-rigging as well.

During his TV interview, Siradeghian stressed that the entire leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, including President Robert Kocharian, was also present at the Ter-Petrossian headquarters when the decision to rig the ballot was taken. Senior officials in Siradeghian's Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) earlier said that Vazgen Sarkisian was the most vigorous opponent of a run-off in 1996.

"After those events, the president [Ter-Petrossian] fell into a three-month depression. He wanted both Vazgen Sarkisian and myself to resign our posts ... The whole state apparatus was demoralized, paralyzed and no government was formed during [the ensuing] three months," the HHSh chairman went on. "Throughout the whole of1997, Ter-Petrossian was preparing his resignation," while then Prime Minister "Kocharian was strengthening his power," Siradeghian said.

Appointing Robert Kocharian to head the Armenian government was another fatal mistake of Ter-Petrossian, Siradeghian claimed. It doomed to failure Ter-Petrossian's calls for more concessions to Azerbaijan to settle the Karabakh conflict, he said. "Bringing Kocharian meant that Armenia's political elite could no longer dictate [the terms of a settlement]. The military part of the authorities was thus reinforced," he said.

Siradeghian then indicated that the March 1998 presidential election in March 1998 was no better than the previous one. "It would be very surprising if after dethroning the [previous] authorities they held elections that would lead to a victory of a third, unrelated individual," he explained. The new leadership, he alleged, got "carte blanche from the superpowers" to handle the vote the way they wanted, he said.

The revelations of the flawed1996 election will upset those Ter-Petrossian supporters who believed he was indeed re-elected, and tarnish the once charismatic image of the first president of independent Armenia. And they may signal the final rupture between Siradeghian and Ter-Petrossian, both members of the 1988 Karabakh committee and until recently close friends. Ter-Petrossian is unlikely to forgive his former comrade-in-arms even after Siradeghian's mitigating conclusion: "Levon Ter-Petrossian will remain in Armenian history as a unique leader who conquered rather than surrendered lands. The most unfortunate is the plight of Robert Kocharian who will most probably surrender those lands." (Emil Danielyan)

New Political Forces Emerge In Georgia. Over the past two weeks, two new political movements have been created in Georgia, either of which could pose a challenge to the weakened and discredited majority Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK).

On 17 December, three Georgian politicians announced the creation of the Christian Democratic Union For Georgian Statehood. The trio in question are at first glance strange bedfellows: Temur Basilia is economic advisor to Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Irakli Batiashvili, philologist, parliament deputy and a former head of the Georgian national security service, began his political career in the late 1980s as a comrade-in-arms of the late Zviad Gamsakhurdia; and Giorgi Baramidze is a respected philosopher.

Describing the new Union to journalists, Batiashvili stressed that it is intended as a social movement rather than a political force, and declined to outline its program in detail. But he did list as its basic tenets "patriotism, religious faith and the principles of democracy and a free economy," adding that "I doubt that the idea and principles of Georgian statehood are a top priority for those who are actually governing the country," RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau reported.

Both Batiashvili and Basilia made it clear, however, that their new movement is intended to counter the resurgent left-wing forces whose surprisingly strong showing in the 15 November local elections compounded the disarray of the embattled SMK (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol.1, No. 39, 24 November 1998). Batiashvili characterized the "new left" as "demagogic, armed with socialist slogans, and constantly looking towards Mother Russia."

Basilia for his part warned that if left-wing forces come to power in Georgia, they will find it impossible to revert to socialism, and will concentrate on regulating the state with the professed noble aim of improving living standards. But, Basilia continued, it is impossible to improve living standards by state regulation. Instead, such efforts will result in an emission, hyper-inflation, the impoverishment of the population and the enrichment of bureaucrats aligned with the ruling leftist forces. Moreover, Basilia predicted, the advent to power of leftist forces will inevitably delay the democratic reform process, as is currently the case in Ukraine, and as happened in Bulgaria two years ago.

Many Georgian political observers have interpreted the founding of the CDU as an attempt by Shevardnadze to create an alternative power base to the compromised and corrupt SMK, especially given that Basilia is not a member of that or any other existing party. But Revaz Adamia, chairman of the parliament committee on security and defence, rejected that hypothesis, pointing out that the SMK did win more seats than any other party in the local elections, and that Shevardnadze's disapproval of some statements made by prominent SMK members should not be equated with his rejection of the party as a whole.

In an interview broadcast by RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau on 29 December, Republican Party leader and political commentator Ivliane Khaindrava said he thinks the new Union may try to carve out a niche for itself among the weakened parties to the right of the political spectrum in the runup to the 1999 parliamentary elections. Alternatively, Khaindrava said, it could evolve into a supra-party structure.

While it is unclear precisely which segment of the electorate the CDU intends to target, there is no doubt where the second new Georgian party will garner support, nor whose power base it represents. On 29 December, some 400 people attended the founding conference of the Party for the Liberation of Abkhazia and elected Tamaz Nadareishvili, chairman of the so-called Abkhaz parliament in exile, as its chairman. According to Caucasus Press, 2,000 people have already expressed an interest in joining that party, the primary objectives of which are to restore Georgian jurisdiction over Abkhazia and to expedite the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons forced to flee during the 1992-1993 war or the renewed fighting in May, 1998. Nadareishvili is presumably counting on the votes of the majority of those 200,000 fugitives, who no longer believe that the present Georgian leadership is capable of negotiating with Sukhumi terms for their repatriation and future security.

It is also not yet clear whether Nadareishvili will align his party with the SMK in next year's parliamentary election campaign, or whether the creation of his new party signals his intent to break with Shevardnadze, whom he has hitherto supported. Meanwhile, the Georgian Prosecutor-General's office is preparing criminal proceedings against Boris Kakubava, Nadareishvili's main challenger for the role of leader of the displaced persons, in connection with the 1 November occupation of a Tbilisi children's hospital ward by homeless DPs (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 37, 10 November 1998). (Liz Fuller)

Quotations Of The Week. "The Abkhaz conflict is a military and political conflict started in order to preserve the Soviet Union, and it is the Russian government that is responsible for it." -- Georgian Minister of State Vazha Lortkipanidze, quoted by Caucasus Press, 25 December 1998.

"The Azerbaijani people have fallen victim to the Russian national idea of world domination. Armenian aggression is just one instrument of implementing it." -- Azerbaijani Presidential Advisor Vafa Gulu-zade, quoted by Interfax, 28 December 1998.

"Chechnya is an independent state, whose status is not up for discussion. The only possible point at issue are strong and good- neighborly relations between what are sovereign states." President Aslan Maskhadov, quoted by Interfax, 29 December 1998.