YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–"1997 has not been a remarkable year for Armenia." These words of Vazgen Manoukian–the leader of the opposition National Democratic Union–reflect an overall assessment of the past year by Armenia’s four leading political parties.
In their yearend interviews with RFE/RL–the leaders of the ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement–the Armenian Revolutionary Federation–Self-Determination Union and the National Determination Union–have been unanimous in that the year 1997 has seen no significant internal political developmen’s in Armenia–with no progress in the strained relationship between the authorities and opposition.
Vano Siradeghian–the controversial ANM figure and Yerevan mayor–said the relationship has "remained unchanged" while the most important events have taken place in the government camp. He singled out sweeping changes in the government and within his own party.
As far as the reasons for that are concerned–the main opposition parties come up with a different explanation.
According to them–the ruling regime has not delivered on its promises made in the wake of the September 1996 troubled presidential elections to democratize the country. They agreed that the promised "dialogue and national accord" has not materialized–blaming it on the authorities–that have regained their pre-election self-confidence. Manoukian said the syndrome of the "September 25 1997 (the day of the government’s crackdown on the opposition) continued to work" throughout the year–and according to a senior ARF representative–apart from some "cosmetic changes," nothing essential has occurred in internal political life. While sharing this view–the SDU leader Paruir Hayrikian believes that 1997 has laid grounds for political reform–which is inevitable in the near future.
The ruling and the opposition party leaders disagreed in their evaluation of Armenia’s economic performance. The former said a slight progress has been registered with a number of new manufacturing enterprises set up and operating successfully. Siradeghian admitted–however that the pace of economic development is slow. By contrast–the opposition leaders noted no substantive achievemen’s in the field. They all took the position that the Armenian economy is still controlled by a few pro-government "clans," which stifle free enterprise and fair competition.
"The honest entrepreneur has felt as unprotected as before," Manoukian said. Hence–as Hayrikian put it–an "incredible [economic] polarization" of the society has occurred.
Despite praising the government’s improved tax collection record–the three opposition leaders expressed their disillusionment with Prime Minister Robert Kocharian. The opposition parties–specially the ARF initially expected that Kocharian would institute substantial economic and political reforms. Manoukian said tax collection "at any cost" only fosters the shadow economy.
But perhaps nowhere else is the difference between the authorities and opposition as evident as in their assessment of the 1997 developmen’s over the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. This largely concerns Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s conciliatory remarks on the conflict’s settlement made last fall.
Siradeghian is convinced that Ter-Petrosyan thereby has removed a "taboo" in Armenian society–which has always refused to consider any settlement other than Nagorno-Karabakh’s outright independence from Azerbaijan or its unification with Armenia. Ter-Petrosyan–as is known–argued that both options are unrealistic and won’t be tolerated by the international community. Siradeghian believes the Ter-Petrosyan paved the way for the country to come to terms with a third option: Karabakh’s "de-facto independence."
The opposition leaders reiterated their condemnations of Ter-Petrosyan’s remarks. In particular–Manoukian described them as the worst event of the year–arguing that Ter-Petrosyan in fact has weakened Armenia’s international position. He said the international community will now demand more concessions from the Armenian side. He rejected Siradeghian’s view that Ter-Petrosyan has made the people "overcome a psychological barrier."
Manoukian said "our society is not so stupid to believe in a complete victory" over Azerbaijan.