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.
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:
- Right off the bat: Blaming Turkey and Azerbaijan for impeding the development of a modern, prosperous nation in Armenia
- Trying to paint some of Armenia’s progresses in terms of freedom of the press, speech and assembly as part of his own reforms
- 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
- 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)
- 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)
- 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.
- 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.