Although the other day I was complaining about a dull spring, I am realizing that the days leading up to the National Assembly elections to be held on Saturday should be pretty exciting. Yesterday I attended a political rally hosted by Orinats Yerkir or otherwise known in English as Country of Law, although it is literally translated as Lawful Country. The party was part of the three member pro-government coalition alongside the ARF-Dashnaktsutiun and Republican Party of Armenia until it became opposition last year. The rally was held in front of the Matenadaran, which is the national archives containing Armenian documents dating from ancient times to the present. It is a fitting place to hold a rally and is where many have been held in the past; opposition protests against the 2003 presidential elections were made there. Orinats Yerkir, possibly the strongest opposition force that exists in Armenia today, used the primary location to its advantage. The building is situated at the top of Mashdots Avenue perched on a small hill. There are stone stairs leading up to the building, and once you are on the pavilion, two ramps lead up to what appears to be an upper pavilion and thus a perfect stage for addressing large crowds. I don’t know if the campus design was meant to serve a dual purpose, but I’ll have to admit that there is no other more impressive place for a rally than that area. You can have a huge impact on crowds there, much more so than in front of the Opera House, for example, where the Impeachment party had its rally last Thursday. Incidentally, that party’s sole ambition is to oust the current leadership of Armenia, and from what I understand its organizers are sympathizers of the Pan-Armenian party which led the country during the first seven years of its existence.
In any case, there must have been about 5,000 people present at the rally, and I would say between 40-50 percent of those in attendance were under the age of 25. While I was approaching a woman was speaking at the podium, who I am assuming was one of the leaders of the party and parliamentarian candidate Heghine Bisharyan, although I cannot be certain since I could not see her. But by the time I made my way to the top of the steps the charismatic former speaker of the National Assembly Arthur Baghdasarian had taken hold of the microphone, wearing his signature navy blue suit, white shirt, and red tie. He succeeded in revving up the crowd, and as he was talking about topics like the government stifling the voices of people who questioned the authority, and I heard people around me say to others around them that what he was saying was right. He also pointed out that citizens of Armenia should not have to leave the country for whatever reasons they have to live elsewhere, thereby building up their host countries—a valid point. Essentially the theme of their message was that every person, no matter their social status or occupation, has some meaningful role to play in society. On small handheld placards which were used as fans by most of the crowd the party’s slogan read, “We Are All Worthy of Living in a Lawful Country.” I think it’s the best slogan out there, much better than the Republican Party’s rip off title from Aznavour’s 1988 earthquake relief song “For You, Armenia!” and Prosperous Armenia’s message, “Let’s Together Build a Prosperous Country,” both of which really don’t say anything. Orinats Yerkir’s slogan actually makes a stand that calls for social justice and the effective rule of law, that we as people deserve better, which is not a message I have heard conveyed by other parties. And their campaign song, although a cover of a popular hit released a couple of years back with the lyrics changed, is pretty catchy. The other political organizations are counting on their respective images for their most part to carry them through to their own perceived victories, especially the pro-government parties. Each of the opposition parties revolve around a cult of personality, even Orinats Yerkir to an extent since Arthur Baghdasarian is the most visible figure being the organization’s leader.
Several years ago shortly after Orinats Yerkir was gaining notoriety and popularity throughout the nation I stated that it was the party to watch. In a short amount of time it accepted thousands of members, even surpassing the numbers of ARF-Dashnaktsutiun. I think the party will still be able to pull off something—it won’t win a majority but it will receive a percentage significant enough to enjoy representation in the National Assembly. The party fell out of favor with Robert Kocharian last year when Arthur Baghdasarian spoke out against the government and thereafter swiftly fell into opposition. During that time the true, dedicated members supported the party’s decision and resigned from their government posts, while those that were there to enjoy the riches of their positions broke away. Former Minster of Education Sergo Yeritsyan, who looked, spoke, and behaved like he should have been selling rusty bolts and dull circular saw blades at the Vernissage, was one of those who quit the Orinats Yerkir ranks but was replaced by an ARF member—he then had to settle for some menial position that I can’t recall.
Most recently Baghdasarian was caught up in a scandal whereby a conversation he had with the Deputy British Ambassador in a café was secretly tape recorded and leaked to the press. On the recording Baghdasarian was heard insisting that the elections should already be declared undemocratic. After the story was printed President Kocharian responded by effectively calling him a “traitor.”
In any case, loyalists to the party and to Baghdasarian can see though the games being played with the secret tape recording and President Kocharian’s scathing criticism. Baghdasarian was once thought to be the president’s successor. People still believe in Orinats Yerkir despite its fall from grace, and it clearly has a message of promise to convey. Only six days are left to sway undecided voters, the numbers of which are countless.