The majority of protesters on Baghramyan Avenue and Freedom Square are young people aged 20-25. Obviously, they cannot recall the events developing in Armenia 20 years ago, more precisely in summer 1995.
On the eve of the National Assembly elections and constitutional referendum in 1995, 10 opposition political parties set up “Cooperation for Justice” alliance and delivered an ultimatum to the authorities demanding that the rejected parties and candidates be registered within five days, the elections be postponed to a later date, and the opposition be given the chance to take advantage of state run media.
The authorities defied the ultimatum and the opposition took to the streets. The protesters burned the scarecrow of Levon Ter-Petrosyan in front of the residence of the President. Alliance leader Vazgen Manukyan said “the residence can be conquered easily but it’s senseless as the President is not there.” Afterwards, led by Ashot Manucharyan the protesters went to the Freedom Square where the Erkrapah [Land-defenders volunteer Union] had gathered. It resulted in clashes during which Vahan Hovhannisyan and other opposition leaders received minor injuries. The situation calmed down only after the land-defenders started firing in the air.
The National Assembly elections as well as the constitutional referendum, which the opposition claimed to be falsified, were held on July 5, 1995. The international observers introduced into practice the previously unheard of assessment - “the elections were free but not fair.” More serious clashes followed the 1996 presidential elections and the opposition “took over” the National Assembly for a few hours.
Exactly 20 years have passed since July 5, 1995 elections. This number inscribes the terrible reality that during 20 out of our 25 years of Independence we have not had elections which have not raised the doubt of the majority of voters and the external world. Perhaps the 1999 National Assembly elections were the only exception accounted by the great authority of the winning tandem of Vazgen Sargsyan and Karen Demirchyan. The results of the rest of the elections are known to a group of people, which will never reveal them. Ridiculously, on the whole, the members of this group have not significantly changed over these 20 years.
We reside in a country where the first and last undisputed elections were held in 1991 - 24 years ago. Thus, we have lived 20 years in this country without being sure that the people who rule us are the ones we have entrusted that right to. This is where the root of all our issues lies and we won’t be able to attain radical changes without addressing it. Beyond a doubt, the opposition tried to struggle over these years and to restore its rights, but the authorities have always achieved the desired be it through force, slyness or money.
Is there a way out? Revolution seems to be the only way out as the authorities clearly show they are not going to “give in”. Nevertheless, who can guarantee that the revolutionists (if they emerge) will really hold free elections? The “culture” and technologies of falsifying the elections or buying the votes have developed to such an extent that they are perceived as a normal and inseparable part of the political process.
It is not ruled out that some people might view terror as a way out and resort to it explaining their actions by seeing no other way to change the authorities. Apparently, if the events proceed this way, this will mean the end of our statehood.
Thus, an extensive public consensus should be shaped around fair elections. All the “oases” established around charity, education and certain business projects in Armenia should start promoting the idea of fair elections in the country. The youth protesting on Baghramyan Avenue should spare no effort to transmit the idea of fair elections to their friends, have membership in parties or create their own political initiatives.
Without fair elections we will never have just courts that will shield the honest businessmen from the oligarchs and ordinary citizens from criminals that have people in high places.
Sometimes, as a result of elections, controversial forces, to put it mildly, come to power at times. For example, Hamas movement won the elections in Gaza Strip. If this example appears too radical, let’s take Hungary the PM of which is often called a “dictator”. But we need to have fair elections in Armenia at least once, and if a conventional “Hamas” is elected, let it come to power.
Next year marks the 25th anniversary of Armenia’s Independence. We often speak about the strategic plans and Armenia’s development concepts. I believe the society can shape the main motto of the anniversary around the fair elections. It’s a pity that we are approaching the 25th anniversary with the desire to attain what we achieved in the first year of Independence but there’s nothing to be done. Most of us have our share of guilt for this rupture of 20 years, at least because of the silence we kept 15, 10 or five years ago.
Ara Tadevosyan is the Director of Mediamax.