Torn Armenia goes to the polls



A hammer decorated with ribbons in the colors of Armenia, accompanied by a promise to kill it “On empty heads” of his opponents: it is the accessory – and the rhetoric – that the interim Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pachinian, decided to brandish during the last political meetings of the campaign for the legislative elections of June 20. The symbol of a vitriolic campaign both in the government camp and in that of the opposition, marked by the crushing military defeat suffered by the country against Azerbaijan in November 2020, and the inextricable political crisis that followed.

Bitterness, bitterness and settling of scores

Called by Nikol Pachinian, the early elections are a direct result of the loss of Azeri territory last year, especially in a mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh populated by Armenians, which Armenia had controlled since the 1990s. “Any ballot that follows a military defeat brings out what is worst in society, violence, intolerance, bitterness, bitterness, settling of scores”, observes Gaïdz Minassian, professor at Sciences-Po Paris and specialist in Armenia and international issues. Charges of treason and promises of retribution against those responsible thus formed the common thread of an unprecedented campaign. “The slogans are extreme, some will say that if you do not vote for such and such a party, Armenia will disappear completely”, notes Olesya Vartanyan, South Caucasus specialist at the International Crisis Group.

And if more than 20 parties have embarked on the race, including the participation in the campaign of all the former presidents of post-Soviet Armenia, two heavyweights of Armenian politics dominated the debates: on the one hand, the current Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, a former journalist who came to power as a result of the Pacific “Velvet revolution” of 2018, champion of the fight against corruption who became an unhappy warlord last year. On the other, Robert Kotcharian, president from 1998 to 2008, representative of an elite formed under the USSR that Armenian civil society has regularly described as corrupt and close to the oligarchs.

The former president is also known for his closeness to Vladimir Putin. “But everyone is pro Russian in Armenia today, the difference is only a question of degrees”, nuance since Yerevan, Richard Giragosian, director of the think tank “Regional Studies Center”. In November 2020, Moscow’s intervention in the conflict prevented the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh from losing control of the entire region.

A country in denial

With the rest of the opposition, Robert Kotcharian has been calling for the departure of Nikol Pashinian for several months. After refusing a debate with the prime minister, the former president said he was ready in early June for a duel “With any weapon”. “The opposition says ‘this is where the Velvet Revolution has led you, to the loss of part of Karabakh and to a threatened national ideal’. Pashinian wants him to continue to embody the revolution “, explains Gaïdz Minassian.

“I have never seen Armenia like this in terms of tensions, emotions, irresponsible statements, and also in terms of completely separating the political process from the concerns of ordinary people”, worries Olesya Vartanyan. The fear today is to see the “Civil Contract” party of Nikol Pashinian and the “Alliance Armenia” bloc of Robert Kotcharian neck and neck, and results contested on the basis of hard-hitting rhetoric.

Between a Nikol Pashinian whose popularity shattered by military defeat and a divided opposition, few believe in the possibility of reconciliation following the elections. “A big problem is that Armenia has not changed enough since the defeat”, explains Richard Giragosian. “The country is still in a state of denial, as if it had not lost the war, and this is preventing it from adjusting to the new reality. ”

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Between Azerbaijan and Armenia, a ceasefire but no peace

September 27, 2020. Azerbaijan launches its offensive against Armenian forces around Nagorno-Karabakh.

November 9, 2020. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin sign a ceasefire agreement marking Armenian defeat and the arrival of Russian troops on the demarcation line.

May 27, 2021. The Armenian Ministry of Defense announces the capture of six of its soldiers by Azerbaijan, in a border region theater at the same time of clashes between the two countries.

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