What Zaruhi Postandjyan SHOULD have asked…

photocredit: www.pastinfo.am

Zaruhi Postandjyan

Though we have already commented on the absurdity of the Postandjyan-Sargsyan exchange which took place on the floor of PACE earlier this week, the event, and the ensuing scandal continues to divide Armenian society.

Many in the opposition Heritage Party, as well as various people on social networks have praised her actions as a brave challenge to President Sargsyan, while representatives of the ruling Republican Party have slammed her comments as treason, going so far as to call her a Turk or an Azeri. With member of the HHK faction in the National Assembly, Arakel Movsisian (apparently unaware that his own expression of disgust at an inappropriate comment was way more offensive on its own) said: “She went to bed with a Turk,”.

The question at hand was the following: “Have you been to a European casino lately, and — since you are known to the public as a gambler — did you lose 70 million euros ($95 million) there and who paid for your loss?” – Many defended the question as they say it unveiled the president as a target of ridicule, while Postandjyan herself commented to RFE/RL that she tried to ask as many questions as possible in 30 seconds that the Armenian people wanted to ask, but when asked about the origin of the question relating to Sargsyan’s alleged gambling debts, she admitted that it was based on rumours that everyone knew about (in other words, there is no substance).

Assuming, of course, that Postandjyan should have asked any question at all, here is a list of questions we suggest which would have been more effective to her cause, while preserving her diplomatic credibility:

  1. “Mr President, in your speech, you mentioned that under your presidency, civil society in Armenia has become vibrant, where citizens are well aware of their rights. However, over the last month 9 peaceful civil rights activists have been viciously attacked by government-connected thugs, and, despite promises by the Police, no serious investigation has taken place. Can you comment on the development of the Human Rights situation in Armenia?”
  2. “Mr President, you mentioned in your speech that your decision to join the Customs Union was not one forced by Moscow, but a sovereign decision on your part. Since you also mentioned that you proudly believe that you represent the voice of the Armenian people, can you comment on your decision to act unilaterally in that regard (despite constitutional restraints), without consulting the National Assembly or the Armenian People?”
  3. “Mr President, you mentioned that over 4 years of negotiations with the European Union under the framework of the Eastern Partnership Programme, that the government of Armenia has made great strides in modernising the Armenian state to European Standards; a belief that is shared by virtually no one else. Can you please explain to the European Delegates and the Armenian people why Armenia’s fight against corruption, Transparent modernisation and economic liberalisation has been a resounding failure?”
  4. “Mr President, most economic indicators suggest that your financial policies, as well as the grasp of the Oligarchy on the economy are taking Armenia’s already stagnant economy towards another recession, can you explain your rationale for deciding to throw away 4 years of negotiations which would have allowed us to join the World’s largest free-trade zone, and n1 economy, in order for joining the already backward Customs Union?”
  5. “Mr President, despite the fact that you have been warned several times by our European partners that the custom rates of the Moscow-led Customs Union were not compatible with those of the European Free Trade Area, you have insisted on going on the road to Moscow, and yet you still claim that membership in both organisations is possible (despite the contrary) Can you please dispense with the vague statements, and explain to the European Deputies how you see this cooperation with two mutually exclusive organisations possible?”
  6. (assuming she wants to go for a shocking, yet diplomatic statement) “Mr President, You mentioned, on September 21st, that Armenia’s independence is an intrinsic value, yet only two weeks before, you completed a series of actions started by your predecessor, Robert Kocharyan, to sell Armenia’s independence to the Russians. Your party claims to be based on the ideology of “Tseghakron”,  what would you think reaction of the Armenian Freedom FIghter, Garegin Njdeh (the founder of the ideology who fought Russian occupation as much as Ottoman occupation) would be to your actions?”

All of these questions could have been posed in less than 30 seconds, in an eloquent, and intelligible way which would have had the same desired effect of embarrassing Sargsyan, yet with the bonus effect of showing the world that Armenia’s opposition politicians DO possess the qualities to run the country in a more effective manner. Furthermore, by asking pertinent questions related to the pressing topic at hand would demonstrate to the European Partners, that not everyone in the Armenian political community accepts the president’s decision, and that cooperation would be more desirable with the opposition.

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Why Zaruhi Postandjyan’s comments were dumb, (and potentially hurtful to the Opposition)

Sargsyan addresses PACE

On the relatively sunny Strasbourgian day of October 2nd, Serj Sargsyan was scheduled for a speech at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE – an intergovernmental legislative body consisting of 45 European nations + Turkey and Azerbaijan). Although he was several minutes late, he decided to start the Azerbaijan-bashing early, barely 1:35 minutes into his speech. He went on to totally ridicule himself over the course of roughly an hour (which will be discussed below), including a particularly grilling Question-and-Answer session, where a number of confused European deputies inquired about the real state of democratisation in Armenia, as well as the actual position of the Armenian government on Sargsyan’s controversial September 3r decision to reverse three and a half years of negotiation with the European Union (for a deal which would have allowed Armenia privileged access to the world’s largest single trade-zone, in favour of joining a Moscow-led club of dictatorships with stagnant economies, including such illustrious nations as Lukashenko’s Belarus (affectionately known as ‘Europe’s Last Dictatorship’), President Nazerbayev’s Kazakhstan and of course, Putin’s Russia).

During his 60 minutes of fame, apart from unveiling his new “We admit that there are some problems to deal with, but we are still doing a good job” strategy of self-delusion, the President went on to make a number of incoherent, vague often contradictory statements, a historical revisionisms, and gross exagerations and sometimes bordering on the realm of outright lies.

However, on the morning of October the 3rd, it wasn’t President Sargsyan’s inability to convince his interlocutors that the September 3rd decision was made alone that made headlines, nor was it the multitude of vague, and incoherent statements he made on the Karabakh conflict, and the continuation of EU-Armenia relations (despite the fact that he has been told that Armenia will no longer be offered anything at Vilnius; Instead, it was the idiotic and wholly embarassing exchange between Heritage Member of Armenian National Assembly (and representative of Armenia to PACE) Zaruhi Postandjian and the president, in which, Postandjian, ignoring all diplomatic portocol, claimed that since the president wasn’t truly elected, she will not ask him anything about that, but instead ask about his alleged gambling debts of 70 million euros to a European casino. In a boorish yet sadly typically Armenian way,  Sargsyan responded that the other candidate did not have the respect of the people, or the right characteristics to be leader of the Armenians (despite the fact that the president had to resort to intimidation, ballot stuffing, bribes and carousel voting to win), that he wasn’t a gambler, and and that if he had access to such funds, he would donate it to Postandjian to help ‘cleanse her of her evil’. Yes… such an exchange actually took place in front of representatives of 47 countries… The exchange can be viewed here.

Heritage Party MP Zaruhi Postandyan (photo credit: Lragir.am)

This caused a furor in Armenia, with intense debates being waged on social networks, as well as in Parliament, where the Republican Speaker of the House, Hovik Aprahamyan announced plans to remove her from her position within Armenia’s delegation to PACE, over her ‘slanderous’ comments. Many (including herself) defended her actions, saying that she had been very brave in asking the questions that needed to be asked, but is that necessarily true?

Other than the fact that it isn’t usually correct protocol to try and shame your own country’s representative in an international arena, one can understand the idea that a political oppositionist would see the opportunity to shed light on a whole plethora of real problems in Armenia (including the lack of progress on the fight against corruption, poverty, and the slow pace of democratisation), Why she decided to use the time allocated to her to blab about an obscure  gambling debts claim when there literally ANY question would have been more pertinent is anyone’s guess.  It is also understandable that loyal opposition must be there to call the government on its missteps, but there is a difference between a brave opposition strategically and intelligently checking the government, and a hysterical woman (Zaruhi has built herself a reputation for hysteric outbursts as parliamentarian) throwing nebulous accusations across the floor of PACE, in front of dozens of confused delegates.

Her question provoked a number of disproportionally contemptible retorts from Republican Party government officials, who called her a traitor. Parliament Speaker Hovik Aprahamyan, apparently forgetting his government’s stated commitment to freedom of speech, claimed that “Expressing a political opinion, isn’t by nature, an absolute right”.  RPA MNA Karen Avagyan, amongst others uttered: “Today Zaruhi Postanjian was more of a Turk than any Turk, more of an Azerbaijani than any Azerbaijani,” (putting aside the blatant racism).

Furthermore, this only helps to discredit the Opposition, by showing that by their rash, emotionally charged actions, their eternal obsession with unconstructive criticism and lack of alternative suggestions fails to distinguish them from the ‘corrupt, and incompetent’ government officials as a credible force.

Arguably, had she simply remained silent, it would have been quite possible that the media would have focused on any one of these following statements which Sargsyan muttered over a half hour, proving that he is personally capable of embarrassing himself without outside help:

  1. Right off the bat: Blaming Turkey and Azerbaijan for impeding the development of a modern, prosperous nation in Armenia
  2. Trying to paint some of Armenia’s progresses in terms of freedom of the press, speech and assembly as part of his own reforms
  3. Claiming that the last three Armenian elections of the past year and a half (Parliamentary, Presidential and Mayoral) were a resounding success of democratic maturity, despite evidence of the countrary
  4. Insisting that the September 3rd decision was not made with pressure from Moscow (while of course failing to explain why, if this was truly an indeginous decision, they wasted three and a half years, and resources of the European Union, only to find out at the last minute that they wanted to be part of a Customs Union that they had consistently voiced opposition to previously)
  5. Contradicted Statement 4 by saying that they had ‘always’ warned their European partners that they are ready to move forward in negotiations as long as they do not jeopardise relations with their ‘strategic partner’ (this is confusing because there was never any evidence that Armenia’s wish to sign the DCFTA would somehow weaken the stranglehold Russia already has on Armenia; and thus, the only way the ‘strategic relationship’ would have been jeopardised by further EU accession by Armenia, would have been if the ‘partner’ in question had changed the rules of the partnership, implying direct pressure from Moscow)
  6. In a hilarious feat of historical revisionism, Sargsyan actually claimed that Armenia had ALWAYS said that it was not yet ready to take on the country on the path of more intense democratic reform, and it was the Europeans who were pushing for it.
  7. Praised the controversial ‘Giligia School’ (Where the ethnic Armenian pupils are forced to sing the Syrian National anthem every day and learn Syrian history, in Armenia…) for its actions in helping Syrian-Armenian students prepare themselves for their eventual return to Syria.

Yet instead of any of those topics being picked up and discussed by the media, now we are dealing with the backlash of an absurd event, which once more serves to ridicule Armenia in front of the world, in which both political figures have succeeded only in embarrassing themselves, each other, and their nation. They have only helped cement the post-September 3rd the view that Armenia is whimsical, peripheral, and an unreliable partner for international organisations.

When bloggers debate the winners and losers of that exchange, the answer is: Armenia lost…yet again.