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David Petrosyan: Autumn Has Come

As it had been expected, the political autumn in Armenia began
with the introduction of the per minute billing system for telephone
calls on intra-urban lines. The fee for a minute of telephone
conversation above the monthly free limit of 120 minutes is set at 4
drams. If we consider the fact that the monthly fee for telephone is
set at 900 drams, the expected monthly per minute payment for a family may average 3,000-4,000 drams (about 8 dollars USD on aggregate, the monthly fee inclusive). Considering the average wages in the non-state sector, which according to official statistics, fluctuate around 45 dollars (the average wages of budget-paid organizations do not exceed 30 dollars), one can understand what a heavy burden this “measure” will prove for the budget of ordinary citizens. Naturally, the government and probably the parliament too will undertake a number of noisy and declarative steps to put pressure on ArmenTel, the monopolist in telephone communication in Armenia (OTE of Greece has controlled 90% of its shares since 1998). However, we assume that most of such steps and decisions will be of little effect not only because of the Armenian government’s controlling only 10% of the shares, but
also because of the “ArmenTel” purchase-sale agreement which was drawn up without talent three years ago so as to provide practically no guarantees to protect the interests of the consumer from the monopolist company. Drawing up such an agreement was a very short-sighted step taking into account the fact that there is no effective anti-monopoly legislation in Armenia.

However, briefly presenting the essence of what is happening, we should remind our readers that the above-mentioned agreement and all deals were concluded during Robert Kocharian’s first being the prime minister and then the president. It is quite obvious that his current opponents are sure to take advantage of this circumstance, which is quite unfavorable for him. It is not excluded that the rally scheduled for September 7 in Liberty Square, which will be led by MP Arshak Sadoyan, will create a background for many processes undesirable for President Robert Kocharian.

It should be noted in this connection that the last two weeks of
August were quite uneasy, and that despite the evident political lull
connected with the period of vacations. The public rally in the
provincial town of Talin should be mentioned in this regard. The
unexpectedly ordinary and poorly attended (with only 500 people)
anti-presidential rally of the radical opposition (Front of National
Accord, “Officer’s Honor”, etc.) drew close attention of the press
controlled by the president and his team. The nervousness splashed out on the pages of the “Hayots Ashkharh” and “Golos Armenii” newspapers and other mass media. Last week, following his visit to the St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in company with Catholicos Karekin II, the president himself organized a small press conference for journalists controlled by him. For nearly half an hour, he expressed his aversion towards the leader of the Front of National Accord Ashot Manoucharian. To recap, a few days before the press conference, the prosecutor’s office of the Shirak region started collecting materials on the speeches of the FNA leader during an anti-presidential rally in Gyumri held a month and a half ago in order to institute a criminal case against him.


The fact is that it was not the radical opposition parties that had sent an application for a rally in Talin (Aragatsotn region), but ARF-Dashnaktsutiun, whose leaders, together with opposition figures, were outspoken in criticizing Robert Kocharian and his team, as well as the government. Considering the fact that the party’s leaders still support the president and the party still has a ministerial portfolio (David Lokian), all that is happening now can be regarded as a “mutiny on a ship” inside ARF-Dashnaktsutiun (the number of such “mutinies” during over a century’s history of the party can be counted on one’s fingers). If we remember that the Talin Dashnaks attended that rally side by side with the same Manoucharian, and Aragatsotn’s governor is Hrair Karapetian, a prominent Dashnak figure, the reasons for the nervousness of the president’s team become clear. It is natural that after the incident the Dashnak leaders should be unable to conceal public manifestations of its rank and file members’ discontent with the Armenian president’s policies.

Another alarming signal for the president over last week was sounded after US Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones’ meeting with representatives of parliamentary and non-parliamentary parties. Interestingly, the meeting participants had been selected by the top US Embassy officials and among them was Armenia’s ex-premier Aram Sargssian. “National Unity” leader Artashes Geghamian’s making a lengthy speech against the president and his team at that meeting and accusing him of corruption and other sins is taken in its stride. Of interest is another thing: the leaders of ARF-Dashnaktsutiun (V. Hovhannissian), “Orinats Yerkir” (A. Baghdasarian), National-Democratic Union (V. Manoukian), who were attending the meeting, not only failed to make an attempt to “defend” R. Kocharian from attacks, but, in fact, they supported the viewpoint of A. Geghamian and A. Sargssian.

All the above makes the president and his surroundings feel nervous. In general, Kocharian’s relations with the opposition are not at all his strong point. His seeking to split and “suppress” the opposition is preponderant. Although this can be regarded as a tendency in all the CIS countries. Suffice it to remember all the clashes between presidents L. Kuchma, A. Lukashenko, E. Shevardnadze, H. Aliyev and their oppositions. R. Kocharian does not at all look a “saint” in that company. Furthermore, in the art of stirring up the mass media, parties and administrative resources under his control against his opponents R. Kocharian could well deliver a lecture to such veteran politicians as the presidents of Georgia and Azerbaijan. ARF-Dashnaktsutiun’s being set against A. Manoucharian can be cited as an example. But in doing so, the Kocharian administration fails to foresee possible consequences of their actions.

Also during last week the president asked for another trouble. The matter concerns the numerous protests against the organization of a bull fight in Yerevan on September 7-9. Among the protesters are not only nearly three dozen international public organizations but also the Armenian Apostolic Church. Many local observers believe that Kocharian demonstrated his true attitude towards the corrida on August 31 by opening a “Valencia” cottage-type hotel complex in Yerevan. It belongs to the “X-GROUP” company, which is the organizer of the corrida in the Armenian capital. Thus, indirectly, the president showed his attitude towards the bull fight. Hence is the absolute confidence of one of the organizers of the corrida, Kh. Khachatrian, that it will take place in any case and that he will not have any problems with the authorities that don’t care a bit about any moral problems nor the protests, including those made by the Armenian Apostolic Church. All the aforementioned facts, though, only confirm the presence of a systemic crisis in all spheres. As for the 1700th anniversary of the adoption of Christianity as Armenia’s state religion, it is taken by the country’s leadership as a regular show.

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