- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 February 7, 2003 

Outside Eye: A non-Armenian's view of life in his adopted home

Coming from a country where political campaigning never stops, it struck me as odd (and fairly refreshing) that in Armenia the season of propagandizing lasts less than a month.

Officially, candidates for President took to their stumps January 21 and are required to end their campaigning February 17, two days before the election.

How is it possible that a country can choose a leader for a five-year term based on less than five weeks to learn who he is?

It's a small country you answer. Yes, running for President here is akin to running for county commissioner - territorially speaking - in a place the size of California or Texas.

Add to that the distinctly Armenian characteristic that everybody here knows everybody, who his grandmother was and which days she hung out the laundry and, well, there's not much left to tell about a person and a month of blabbering through a bullhorn won't change what everybody already knows.

The very entertaining (in a car wreck sort of way) fact about the above two conditions here is that this tiny place where everybody knows everybody has a field of 10 to choose from for its President.

(Remember talk of "coalition" among oppositional candidates? When was it, three months ago, that 16 parties pledged to put up a single candidate? The "coalition" fractured nine ways, proof perhaps that the opposition could only agree to be opposite - like a dog with a full belly growling when another dog approaches his food, he doesn't want to eat but doesn't want anyone else to either.)

Anyway. It has now become clear why the campaign season has such a short term: There'd be no survivors if it lasted much longer.

In the weeks leading up to the "official" season, one journalist was injured by a bomb thrown in his path. Another had his entire newspaper press run confiscated by an official who didn't like a story in the daily. And, most tragically, a television journalist was shot to death and the unsolved crime has overtones of political motivation.

And now that the campaigning is two weeks old we have had:

  1. A candidate kicked out of the race because it was judged his citizenship didn't meet lawful requirements - and this in a country where the incumbent is from a self-declared autonomous republic still known by most of the world as Azerbaijan.
  2. A television station was vandalized, its cables cut and its staff evicted because it aired video of an oppositional candidate.
  3. An oppositional candidate's billboard was set afire on the edge of Yerevan.
  4. A village leader ordered residents of his village to stay inside their homes and not attend an opposition rally. Questioned by journalists about the incident the leader replied that he supports the President and no other candidate is allowed "in his territory".
  5. In separate incidents, one oppositional rally turned into a brawl and another a row of stick wielding mobs, believed to have been organized by leaders who support the President.
  6. In the brawl a Parliament Member was nearly killed in a knife attack, after he'd fired his handgun into the air to try to quiet the crowd. (Nobody is even asking why an MP was packing heat; seems to just go with the territory.)
  7. The head of the Ararat region was quoted in newspapers as saying that if candidate Aram Sargsyan (brother of Vazgen) went campaigning in Ararat "there will be a murder". Sargsyan was scheduled to go there today along with 150 police.

Given the climate here some 17 days into a campaign in which the outcome has long been a foregone conclusion, maybe just a month of campaigning Armenian-style isn't such a short time after all.


Decision 2003: Meet the candidates

Full story


Decision 2003: Guns, knives, fighting in Artashat. Politics as usual?

Full story


Change of Change: New dram coins being circulated into currency current

Full story


  Photos of the week
  Photo of the week: Talk Time
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Photo of the week: Talk Time
Click on the photo above to enlarge

Ups and Downs of Campaign 2003

In the second week of campaigning, crowds turned out to cheer President Robert Kocharyan. And a crowd turned riotous at a rally for Aram Karapetyan, leaving MP Hayk Babukhanyan recovering from a stabbing.



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