24 Feb

He’s different, but how? Raffi and the #barevolution

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#barevolution is sweeping Armenia. I posted my thoughts here.

But while Raffi Hovannisian is different from those in power now, what does he actually stand for? What are his ideas for Armenia?

First, his background – mostly drawn from his Wikipedia page with some contextualization by me.
* As I mentioned in my earlier post, Raffi Hovannisian is an Armenian-American and his father is famous historian at UCLA.
* He was born in 1959, so he’s 54 years old.
* He grew up Dashnak and was active in AYF in California. (For those unaware – in the U.S. there are basically 2 factions of Armenians – Dashnaks and non-Dashnaks (this is simplifying) — they have separate churches, youth groups, political aims, and lobbying groups. Also, broadly speaking, Dashnaks are more nationalistic than non-Dashnaks. They also tend to be more tied to their Armenian roots – for example, their kids have Armenian names, they tend to speak Armenian, send their kids to Armenian schools, etc.)
* He has a PhD in international law and diplomacy as well as a doctorate in law. (This is really impressive to me. :))
* In the 1980s he worked as a lawyer.

* He happened to be in Armenia (as head of the Armenian Bar Association) during the Spitak earthquake in December 1988 and after that event he left his career to work on disaster relief.

* He (and his family – 5 kids (Karin, Taron, Van Shusha, Armen, Richard – the younger 2 were born after he moved)) moved to Armenia in 1990 to be the office director of the Armenian Assembly – which is the non-Dashnak lobbying group. (I need to figure out what happened here — did he have a falling out with the Dashnaks (which was not that unusual at this period of time for people)? Or maybe did he just happen to take this job?)

— For context, not a lot of diasporan Armenians moved to Armenia at this time! There are a number of cultural (and linguistic) differences between diasporan Armenians and Armenians in the Republic of Armenia. I am under the impression that his wife is a repatriated Armenian though (her diaspora family moved to Soviet Armenia in the mid-20th century and was allowed to leave in the early 1980s. ( Hovannisian’s wife Armine is quite accomplished as well. She is an attorney and founded one of my favorite Armenian charities, Orran.). She would have a better sense of how things were in Armenia than the average diasporan. But this sets Hovannisian apart from most diasporans. This man has lived in Armenia for nearly 25 years. He has an understanding of how things work that is unlike what a random Armenian-American would. I hope that this fact is emphasized when people discuss his diasporan status. He is unusual. (Although there are certainly other diasporans that have moved to Armenia that are excellent as well!)

* In 1991 he was named the first Foreign Minister of Armenia, but had to resign a year later because he and Levon Ter-Petrosyan (a repatriated Armenian like Hovannisian’s wife) didn’t agree. Hovannisian was sort of going in his own direction and not listening to the president that appointed him.

* In 1993 he formed an organization called the Armenian Center for National and International Studies.

* In 2001, Hovannisian gave up his American citizenship to become a citizen of Armenia.

* In 2005, Hovannisian founded the Heritage Party and was elected to parliament in 2007.

* In 2007 he tried to register to run for the 2008 presidential election but was denied on grounds of citizenship. Despite this, Hovannisian was quite popular. He supported Levon Ter-Petrossian in that election, but at the last minute.

* In 2009, Hovannisian said he was going to quit his parliament position because of a scandal within the party, but he didn’t quit. Also it was speculated at the time that he was going to begin to campaign for the 2013 presidential elections.

* In 2011 he started a hunger strike. At the time, the Internet community sort of sweetly giggled about his efforts and sort of thought it was cute that he was doing this. (Here’s an interview with him at the time.) He also at this time really distanced himself from LTP.
He had 15 demands during his hunger strike as well as snap elections. (See policies section below.)

* Then in 2012 he resigned from Parliament for real and announced that he was running for president.

* In the 2013 election campaign, Hovanissian campaigned like an American, shaking hands.

Second, his policies:

Here is his platform in Armenian and with Google translate.

But here are some key areas that I’ve summarized.


In an undated interview Hovanissian said that Armenia  “First, it needs to establish a rule of law. Unequal access to resources, voting day irregularities, and political partiality in Armenia’s courts not only foster political and economic inequities at the domestic level but injure Armenia’s standing and confidence among international diplomats and potential investors.”

More recently during his 2011 hunger strike, he had a list of 15 demands.

1. Power to the people
2. No to a party state
3. The people are the country’s owner
4. Vox populi, vox Dei (the voice of the people is the voice of God)
5. A free square, free citizen, free country
6. A free citizen, a safe state
7. A dignified future for Armenian youth
8. Employment for the people
9. SOS Armenia is being emptied of Armenians
10. No to injustice, poverty and emigration
11. An end to ruling corruption
12. Strength also lies in morality

In a 2005 address (text here) Hovannisian outlined his positions. I strongly recommend reading the entire speech:

“I see my role first in returning to the people the sense of higher values–Motherland, nation, statehood, and the human citizen. Accordingly, Armenia’s domestic and foreign policy must be anchored in the Armenian Republic’s sovereignty, the nation’s unity, the citizen’s liberty, and the rule of his rights.”

Nationwide, we transform our Homeland from being an instrument for personal use to a dynamic force on the path of faith, hope, commitment, and truth. Its boundless essence is empowering, and our reverence toward it sacred and unconditional. This is the criterion for all spheres of life–spiritual, national, societal, family, and individual.

Liberty, both personal and collective, for all elements of society, is the value supreme. Without liberty there can be no real development or security, knowledge or creativity, tiller or intellectual, village or town, dignity or future.”

“The president is the carrier of trust of the body politic, the pointer of the way, shareholder in the common destiny. The president does not bear false witness to the people, who are the source of his authority. He contemplates no interest other than that of the nation. He is accountable to the public and in communication with it. He is answerable with his honor, his name, his life, before the law. The office of the President is not a gift to one’s own self.”

“All branches of power must be distinctly separated yet united in the duty to guarantee freedom for the country and its citizens. The citizen, individually and as a controlling concept, deserves full respect and, together with the president, is subject to the rule of law alone. The executive, legislative, judicial, and unfettered informational estates are, in check and in balance, guided by this principle.”

“The government, in coordinating the domains that touch upon the national interest and that require federal concern, is the foremost facilitator of civil liberties. It is streamlined, flexible, rapidly responsive, and free of extraneous, burdensome bureaucracy. The provincial governors, the mayors of Yerevan and other cities, and local self-governance structures must be elected and subjected to compulsory electoral recall. In each and every field of public service, the official treats the citizen with due regard, applying rules and regulations equally to friends and strangers. The official is professional and courteous, conscientious and adequately paid. Diligent performance of his or her authorized duties is an essential part of the normal daily work. Any violation of ethics or any conflict of interest, whether derived from good or from selfish intention, is subject to the highest measure of liability provided by law. In terms of surmounting corruption, what is needed are personal example; political will; amendment of legislation to enable the formation of an independent investigative and prosecutorial body that starts with the presidency and moves down through every nook and cranny of the administration and society; application of mechanisms for citizen empowerment and public oversight; and finally, broad popular support to stand together against the inevitable reactions of violence from affected quarters both in and out of government.”

(From 2005 speech (text here).) “The economy is a country’s unique equation of national and free-market relations. Self-serving or rhetorical attempts to bring these two components into conflict are artificial and lacking in integrity. A strong, developing, competitive economy correlates inherently with global systems, at once maintaining its own profile and dynamic. In this arena as well, liberty is key, and the government endeavors at capacity to guarantee the right of free economic activity under the law. Tax rates reflect the most modest necessities of national and local budgets, not the immodest appetites of individual officials. Every one pays taxes pursuant to law, and rates decrease as collection becomes universal. Corruption, in all forms and manifestations, is prosecuted with the ultimate legal gravity. All this assumes a new system of democratic governance, which also facilitates the entrance of newcomers into the market, protects all legal investments and enterprises, and establishes a reliable infrastructure of guarantees for Armenian and other investors.”

He wants diplomatic relations between Armenia and Turkey. (Here‘s more on his thoughts on this.) This is a 2009 piece he wrote on this.

More recently during his 2011 hunger strike, he had a list of 15 demands including No to [the Armenian-Turkish] Protocols, yes to Homeland
So, assuming that this is still how he feels, this is now that he is against the Armenian-Turkish protocols.

However, he has said some pretty radical stuff with regard to Turkey. For example, in this 2012 piece he wrote:
“Reconciliation between the Turkish and Armenian nation-states must, and will, take place based on the triumph of truth, however terrible, and the delivery of justice anchored in earnest remorse, meaningful restitution, and a guaranteed reconnection between the Armenian people and their patrimony. To this end, we remember our martyrs, salute all who prevent and punish crimes against humanity, and await Turkey’s true redemption.”

And this in 2013:
“By 2015, either the border between Armenia and Turkey will be opened without preconditions, or on April 24 in Tsitsernakaberd we will sound our preconditions to Turkey. A major priority of our political agenda will be genocide recognition, compensation to relatives of victims, the guaranteed return of descents of the Armenians affected by the genocide to their land, and a new agreement on the delimitation of the Armenian-Turkish border, based not on the Bolshevik-Turkish acts of 1921 but on the modern international law”.” (The author of this article calls Hovannisian irresponsible for saying this.)

He wants NK to be independent – although he has occasionally wavered on this.
More recently during his 2011 hunger strike, he had a list of 15 demands including Recognition of Artsakh [the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh]

And in 2012 he went to Baku and gave a talk (text here) and made these points about NK – this is pretty important, I think:

“1) Azerbaijan launches a failed war of aggression against Mountainous Karabagh and its freedom-loving people, as well as against its own minorities living in its midst, and then blames the self-defenders for that failure;
2) Azerbaijan pursues an official policy of intentional destruction of cultural heritage, and most particularly the daylit destruction in December 2005 of thousands of hand-crafted khatchkars (cross-stones) at the medieval Armenian cemetery at Jugha, Nakhichevan-not as collateral damage of war, but 11 years after the ceasefire and hundreds of miles away from the conflict zone-and ever since has blocked all international missions to the site of this shameful desecration;
3) Azerbaijan continues to release and glorify convicted axe-murderers for the sole reason that the victim is Armenian, without even one voice of condemnation of this cowardly act of hatred in what the founder of ICAPP has referred to as “this inclusive democracy”; and
4) Azerbaijan, in a redundant war of words and terminologies, throws about at meetings such as this the loaded language of “occupation,” when in reality it was liberation, decolonization and everybody’s right to self-determination, and when “occupation” in fact applies most appropriately to Azerbaijani and Turkish control-through genocide, ethnic cleansing, and then the shame of official denialism-of large swathes of the Armenian patrimony from Shahumian and Nakhichevan to the western reaches of the Armenian Plateau.
Peace, security, and reconciliation are possible, however, when we all live by the same standards:
1) achievement of good, self-critical governance, public accountability, and the assumption of responsibility for safeguarding the equal civil rights and human dignity of our own constituents, opposition parties, non-governmental organizations, and minorities;
2) empowerment of the average citizen, civil society, and true democracy, not rule by dynasty or dictatorship;
3) recognition of the liberty, sovereignty, and integrity of all states, old and new, including the Republic of Mountainous Karabagh, whose return to the status quo ante is impossible, but rather whose recognition within its constitutional frontiers will enable a simultaneous, multilateral, and reciprocal right of return for all refugees of all nationalities-not only the displaced Azerbaijanis, but also the more than half million Armenian deportees from Shahumian, Nakhichevan, Artsvashen, and Azerbaijan proper, together with the descendants of the victims and survivors of the great genocide and national dispossession of the Armenian people; [ed: WOAH]
4) protection of all cultural heritage and condemnation of all desecration of that heritage, whether Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, or other;
5) prevention and punishment of all genocides and crimes against humanity; and
6) the exercise of humanity and upholding of the common understanding that pain and suffering are universal and, in this connection, due remembrance of the thousands of righteous Turkish neighbors who demonstrated these virtues in saving Armenian lives, including my grandmother’s, during the Genocide of 1915, as well as the hundreds of Azerbaijanis of good conscience who attempted to do the same during the anti-Armenian pogroms in Sumgait and Baku decades later.

(I have to say that this is where I tend to disagree with Hovannisian… this is pretty strong.)

In an undated interview Hovanissian said that Armenia has 3 challenges including “The second challenge relates to solidifying Armenia’s sovereignty. Sovereignty generally refers to the extent that a nation can determine its own diplomatic and economic paths. While acknowledging the realities of Russia’s historical and modern influence in the Caucasus region, Hovannisian remarked that undue focus on a single world power compromises Armenia’s ability to decide its own future.” i.e. get the hell away from Russia.

I’m open to comments on this!