Airing Armenia’s Dirty Laundry in Public

Harut Sassounian

BY HARUT SASSOUNIAN

President Serzh Sarkisian made an important appearance at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg last week. In a whirlwind 30-minute speech, he covered Armenia’s internal and foreign affairs, presenting his country in the best possible light before a distinguished foreign audience.

On the domestic front, Pres. Sarkisian spoke about fighting corruption, holding “fair and transparent elections,” and overcoming “the consequences of the tragic events of March 2008.”

The President then reminded the European Parliamentarians about Armenia’s “shared historical and cultural legacy” with Europe and discussed the ongoing negotiations to resolve the Artsakh (Karabakh) conflict. He condemned “the extreme level of Armenophobia and racism” in Azerbaijan, and spoke of the difficulty of making “a concession to the side that is looking for a convenient excuse to shoot at us.”

Sarkisian went on to accuse the Turkish government of undermining the “normalizaton” of Armenia-Turkey relations “by setting preconditions and failing to honor its commitments, which rendered the ratification of the signed Protocols impossible.” He called on Turkey and Azerbaijan to end the “unlawful blockade imposed on Armenia” and accused Turkey of “not only failing to recognize, but also engaging in a policy of blunt denial of the Genocide of Armenians committed in the Ottoman Empire in 1915.” He pledged that Armenians and all those concerned with crimes against humanity “will henceforth remain focused on the international recognition of the Armenian Genocide.”

After his speech, Pres. Sarkisian spent another 30 minutes answering questions from PACE delegates representing Lithuania, France, Switzerland, Russia, Moldova, Holland, Armenia, and Ireland. Five Azerbaijanis had placed their names on the list of Parliamentarians to ask questions, but none of them did so. The delegates from Turkey had also made a unanimous decision not to question the Armenian President, as reported by Hurriyet Turkish newspaper.

The question that attracted most attention was the one asked by Parliamentarian Zaruhi Postanjyan from Armenia, a member of the opposition Heritage Party. She told Pres. Sarkisian: “Since an authoritarian regime has been established in Armenia and all elections from 1995 on have been rigged,” wouldn’t it be preferable if he organized special and fair elections and then “resigned”?

As the Turkish President of PACE, Mevlut Cavusoglu snickered at the question, Pres. Sarkisian calmly responded that he was well aware of Ms. Postanjyan’s views which she had freely expressed in the Armenian Parliament, on the street and in the media. He added that he was not prepared to hold special elections because it is neither necessary nor constitutionally feasible to organize such elections. He urged Ms. Postanjyan to participate in the next regularly-scheduled parliamentary elections.

Not surprisingly, Pres. Sarkisian’s PACE speech was welcomed by his supporters and criticized by his opponents at home. The most important issue for all concerned should have been whether the President’s impressive words would translate into action in the near future. However, the immediate controversy revolved around the appropriateness of Ms. Postanjyan’s criticism of the President, while on foreign soil.

Some Armenian politicians were of the opinion that it was improper for Ms. Postanjyan “to attack” Pres. Sarkisian in the chambers of the European Council. Others felt that her “harsh words” inadvertently made the President look good, because in a truly “authoritarian regime,” she would have been excluded from Armenia’s delegation, stripped of her parliamentary immunity and prosecuted. In fact, some European Parliamentarians wondered whether Turkish or Azeri delegates would dare to criticize their President at PACE?

American politicians use the expression “politics stops at the water’s edge” to indicate their willingness to set aside internal disputes for the sake of presenting a united front to outsiders. Applying that adage to Armenia, one could question the wisdom of making such disparaging comments before the Council of Europe, regardless of whether one agrees with the President or his policies. Since Armenia is routinely attacked by Turkish and Azerbaijani delegates in international forums, it is unwise to add one’s voice to those tarnishing Armenia’s reputation.

This issue also comes up when some Armenians try to pressure their authorities by taking their internal disputes to foreign governments and international courts. While their frustration is understandable, dragging a foreign entity into an internal dispute detracts from Armenia’s image overseas. In such cases, however, the blame must be shared by the Armenian government for failing to ensure the integrity of domestic courts, thereby forcing citizens to turn elsewhere for justice.

Before making critical comments about Armenia’s leadership outside the country, especially by Parliament members who have ample opportunity to express their views at home, one must weigh the benefits of pressuring the authorities to respect the people’s rights with the damage caused to the country’s international reputation.

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20 Comments

  1. Satenik said:

    Dear Mr. Sassounian I am so glad that you have addressed this issue. My sentiments exactly!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Seervart said:

    You are very right Mr. Sassounian. Ms. Postasanjyan was in-fact out of line to put down her president in-front of European Parliament’s the PACE that way. She was very harsh to tell her president to resign also in-front of both Turkish and Azeri delegates. If the same happened to a Turkish or an Azeri delegate, they would have at best jailed her for life back home in Turkey or Azerbaijan. It was the unpolitical thing to do outside one’s country and to the head of the country. No matter what, when will our people will learn to behave better, especially outisde the boarders of one’s country?

  3. border said:

    Very poor comments and article. I wish he could think differently.

  4. Seervart said:

    Border, I am in agreement with you that both Der Bedrossian and Sarkissian are not good for the country. Thanks to Der Bedrossian our 1 Million Armenians went to exodus and will be assymilated in 300 years. Plus there are more than 3 Million Armenians that are in Russia and they are being assymilated day by day. The locals “the general” population in Armenia can hardly put bead on the table. Sarkissian and his clans, the oligarchs are ruling the country with an iron fist and they seem to act like devil may care about the peoples’ hardships. Furthermore, I think if the ARF doesn’t get hold of our Motherland very soon, we may lost

  5. Samuel said:

    Mr Sasounian article is apropriate, but too mild & late, Mis Postanjyan behaivior without calculating that Armenias pres. trip to Europe intended to participate very imporant negotiation to introduce an honorable
    solution tobring peace for Artsakhi people & entire region,so her wrong question, wrong place& wrongtime
    cannot be helpful, it was insulting amember of armenian parlament instead of supporting pres. pushing
    him to the corner, inpresence of forign dignitaries & turks.Maybe she inspired her political career from dear
    leader LTP, which is acting like second pres. needs forign countries help him to be reelected.& serve
    armenian nation?

  6. Վազգէն said:

    Զարուհի Փոսթանճեան, որպէս Ազգային Ժողովի անդամ՝ իր պորթկումը Եվրոպայի Խորհրդարանին մէջ անվայել էր՝ ու համազոր է Դաւաճանութեան. «Ժարանգութիւն» կուսակցութիւնը պէտք է վտարէ այդպիսիները, եթէ ոչ՛ ապա Ազգային Ժողովին կողմէ սաստուի…։
    Այս պատահարը, նաև արդիւնքն էր Հայաստանի կարավարութիւնը՝ պատասխանատուութեան չ՛կանջելուն համար Լեւոն Տեր-պետրոսեանին, երեք տարի առաջ մարտ-ի խնդրին առնչութեան։

    • Tsayt said:

      The word «Դաւաճանութիւն» is used gratuitously way too often. It is dangerous, and stifles debate. The use of it in this context is unnecessary and nonsensical.

  7. Tsayt said:

    I’m in two conflicting opinions in this issue.

    A) “Dirty laundry” argument is valid because Azerbaijan (and its friends) in PACE will have more reasons to Europe to exert pressure against what Postanjian called “authoritare” regime. Argument can be made that no Azeri representative in PACE would dare to say the equivalent comments to Aliyev and be able to go home. That is not the case with Ms. Postanjian.

    B) Why not call a spade a spade? and make sure that no leader of a country who comes to power in fraudulent means and stays in power by quashing the opposition will not get away scot-free and will have to answer to pertinent questions.

    For how long will we tolerate thieves and fraudsters ruling Armenia because hurting them might hurt the Karabakh cause? In the meantime Armenians are leaving Armenia in droves…mainly because there is no social justice in Armenia today.

  8. Kevork Oskanian said:

    While Mr. Sassounian does make a few valid points, his contention that the Council of Europe is a ‘foreign entity’ is not entirely correct. The human rights regime in Europe is organised differently from the US, and rather than a Bill of Rights and Supreme Court, the ultimate authority on citizens’ and human rights are the European Covenant on Human Rights and the European Court for Human Rights at Strasbourg, affiliated with the Council of Europe. Armenia agreed to subordinating it’s domestic political structures to this framework when it joined the CoE, and raising the issue of a fundamentally authoritarian and corrupt political system in its fora, including PACE, is more than appropriate. They were designed precisely to deal with such matters. If you don’t want your dirty linen aired in public, keep it clean in the first place.

  9. sako said:

    The Heritage party has been involved in subversive actions in the Republic of Armenia for a long time. Raffi Hovanissian and and Zaruhi Postanjyan stood by the Turkish and Azeri delegates in PACE calling for a suspension of Armenia’s voting rights as “punishment” for March 2, 2008 riots, which they themselves had been instrumental in instigating. Heritage threw its full weight behind the candidacy of the failed ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosian. On another occasion, Raffi Hovanissian authored a letter to Turkish officials wherein he solely employed the euphemism “Great Armenian Dispossession” in place of the legally significant term “Armenian Genocide”.

    What i completely fail to understand is why the ARF seems so determined in forming an alliance with this anti-national, anti-Armenia foreign entity, particularly in light of the fact that all ARF appeals have been met with deafening silence and reciprocal motions by Heritage to try to reforge links with Ter-Petrosian. The ARF is correct in calling out ter-petrosian a failure and dangerous sellout; it finally took the right step regarding the governing party when it called out Serj Sarkisyan’s reckless foreign policy initiatives: Now it’s time to put Heritage on blast for being a subversive force working from within Armenia as a fifth column laying the red carpet for foreign interests.

    I really hope asbarez doesn’t block or remove this post, as it has become infamous for doing.

    • Satenik said:

      It’s always from “within” .Unfortunately this fifth column is also a rot from within, doing its horrid “best” to undermine Armenia in every possible way, both inside and outside Armenia. Yes, what she did was treacherous, highly treacherous too. The least of her punishment should be, getting kicked of the party and having her head shaved in public! Yes, an unglorious exit fit for a pathetic nationat traitor! I won’t mince my words nor poosyfoot for this woman. There is a time and a place for everything and she broke all the rules. This is a time for unity and nothing else!

      • Tsayt said:

        my Lord!!!! Satenik, I thought the days of Soviet-style mentality, where being against the regime was considered same as being against the nation, were gone. Obviously I’m wrong. “having her head shaved in public” ? really, and for what? for stating the truth? Look at the pathetic state Armenia is in today, economically, demographically and state-connected criminal behaviour of officials and their lackeys. Look who is elected in the so-called Armenian parliament: worthless, uneducated, sometimes even street-corner thugs, who’s main requirement in being a Parliamentary member is to propagate the criminal system of all-you-can-steal “privileged” governance.

        This sad reality has the real potential to threaten Armenia’s national security and yell “traitor” against those who are desperately trying to change a morally, and legally, “sick” government. Realize that it is this (and previous) corrupt Armenian government that harms Armenian interests internationally, and not those who call on this reality. Calling for unity is a bogus premiss, a nonsense with a regime that has caused so much social injustice.

        Wake up, before there are more people left in Artsakh than Armenia proper.

        • Satenik said:

          Since when punishing traitors has become a “soviet mentality”? Maybe you should wake up and see what happens to those who disagree with their government policies in one way or another?( no, they are not traitors, but perhaps mildly threatening the “ideal concept”) I am not talking about the ex Soviet states either…no I am talking about the so called “free democratic” countries right at the heart of Europe. They do meet their “accidental deaths” one way or another, the verdict of “suicide” usually is close at hand. If you read my comments carefully, I did emphasis that “there is a time and place for everything” I do not condemn anyone who fights for democracy but the timing and the place was wrong. Unlike some, I am in favour of punishing the traitors, whoever they may be. After all if you look closely at our history, it is exactly this kind of treachury that has cost us an empire, that Armenia has become the tinest republic as it is, that even now, unfortunately people are still fighting for their own greed. I’m old enough to realise that nothing is going to improve if LTP comes to the scene. You must also read some Turkish newspapers to realise the praise that Levon and e tal receive by Azeri political “experts” and so on. Finally, just to illuminate you, I am not an “ex Soviet” as you wrongly assume, nor I suffer from that mentality as you again wrongly assume and perhaps that’s the reason why I view things a bit differently as a “diaspora” Armenian living in Europe.I am as concerned about Armenians leaving Armenia as anyone, but you must also read the article from the Armenian experts themselves on this and look at the several reasons for leaving, one of them being the “readiness to leave” mentality and sometimes at a drop of a hat without having properly studied what awaits them in other shores ( thousands who leave for Russia are still without work and live in deplorable conditions). Of course the current government has a lot to answer for but it’s been our mentality that we firmly believe that we are better off somewhere else, which may not be necessarily true.

          • Tsayt said:

            I also am from diaspora, I gave the soviet example because we are talking about Armenia. I am also old enough to recall that there was a time in diaspora when the list of so-called traitors included those who did not agree with ARF. So this “kill all traitors” mentality is not new, and reading your commentary convinces me that unfortunately this will continue, this is an Armenian decease that we have to put up with periodically.

            If you read my comments of July 1st above, you’ll see that I do admit Mrs. Postanjian’s comments were not proper, as it will give fuel to Azeri propaganda. In that sense I think she made a judgement error, it does not mean she should be called a traitor. A true traitor is he who praises the “normalcy” of the criminal governing system established in Armenia today. There are many today who think such governing is “normal” why? because we are at war, comes the answer.

            If her action at PACE is deemed wrong enough to be “punished” then let her constituency elect someone else in the next parliamentary elections. Although this might not satisfy those who are looking for blood.

          • Satenik said:

            If punishing traitors is looked upon you as an”Armenian desease” then I’m more than happy to be suffering from it.!
            It appears that you are quite selective in your judgement of who is or isn’t considered a traitor. I consider anyone who by his/her action jeopardises the Armenian cause to be a traitor. I don’t believe that she said what she did as a result of bad judjement , I think she did that because she belongs to those group of people who under different pretext want to sell Artsakh and Armenia to Turkey.We are not in a position to excuse these actions, and I never asked for blood a shaven head will do! If you find that offensive think about the “satisfaction” and wet dreams that she has given to Turks and Azeris with her “error of judgement”.

          • sako said:

            With all do respect Tsayt, she is clearly a traitor. She and her colleagues in Heritage, as well as in the ANC put have their own interests, not Armenia’s, at heart. That’s not to try and justify members of the Republican Party, where membership seems to only requisite owning a business and having an interest in keeping the status quo.

            Sad as it may sound, I do not see any serious alternatives to the authorities at the moment. The ARF seems to be lacking in substantial Armenia-wide support, while the ANC and Heritage represent a threat to Armenia’s continued existence. Change and improvements have to come gradually to Armenia and from top down. An internal coup d’état weakens Armenia at a time when the turkish and azeri hyenas and “grey wolves” are salivating for a death blow, while opening the door for foreign “intervention” is just plain suicidal for Armenia as a sovereign state.

  10. Chris said:

    International pressure is needed to help democratise Armenia further.
    Sometimes that may make us cringe: so be it.

  11. Avetis said:

    Our problems are our internal matters that we need to work out amongst ourselves in an objective, rational, constructive and patient manner. Armenia’s one thousand year old damage will not be fixed in a single lifetime. Constantly harping about our problems (which are natural growing pains), and blowing things out of proportion has in fact a counter-productive effect. Moreover, it gives our enemies, Turks and Western intelligence services alike, the opportunity the co-opt our organizations and subvert our statehood.

    Armenia needs sociopolitical evolution not a Western funded revolution.

    News organization such as Armenian Weekly and Asbarez should report news and not stories about legal matters Armenians in Armenia get tangled in. On the other hand, organizations like Radio Liberty, Hetq, ArmeniaNow and Lragir need to be shutdown because they are propaganda outlets indirectly funded by the CIA.

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