Will Levon’s (purportedly distancing) stance on Diaspora prevent him from winning over the Raffi Hovhanissian crumpet?
Posted by kronstadt on December 1, 2007
From the outset of the presidential campaigning rat-race it was obvious that Raffi Hovannisian will not be able to stand as a presidential candidate due to the 10-year citizenship and residency criterion. Yet Raffi Hovhanissian, apart from having the Heritage party behind him (which also has a parliamentary presence), is an important force for his party holds a significant electorate loyalty. What’s more is that Raffi Hovhanissian is well regarded in the non-Dashnak and non-partisan sections of very influential Diaspora, and that may be a barrier for Levon to overcome. It is now becoming obvious that Raffi Hovhanissian will be supporting one of the eligible candidates. But who will it be?
For Levon Ter-Petrosyan winning Raffi Hovhanissian over is crucial: it’s a matter of securing a victory, or running the danger of not even getting into the second round. If Levon does not win over Raffi, the negative effects would be double if not triple: he will not only loose the Herritage Party’s electorate votes, but also loose it to another contender (HHD or Manukyan)… and that kind of formation could have a spiralling negative effect of disintegrating confidence in Levon camp. Ultimately, Raffi’s choice might be the deciding factor in determining who will be Serj Sarkisyan’s challenger in the second round.
That Raffi won’t be supporting Geghamian is very clear. He is not very likely to support Artur Baghdasaryan either. Raffi could support is Vazgen Manukyan, but only if the latter manages to amalgamate a significant camp around his candidacy, while Manukyan is relatively inactive and is making some strange (and some would say, irrational) moves like liaising with Dashnaks.
Raffi & Dashnaks
Now, some might argue that Raffi’s stance on Artsakh is generally close (at least in spirit) to that of HHD (ARF-Dashnaks), but Raffi Hovhanissian might be well reluctant to support Vahan Hovhanissian (the Dashnak candidate). After all, there is a whole history of much more complex Diasporic politics as well as HHD’s open support and cooperation with Serj Sarkisyan (which the Diaspora overall is not particularly excited about, with the exception of few organizations). If, however, Levon does not manage to win Raffi over and see his support go for Dashnaks, that would be very damaging for Levon’s campaign, as well as for the country as a whole, since they would then be presented with a near-monolithic ruling ultra-conservative and ultra-nationalist HHK+HHD… and it won’t be 10 more years of the same… it will be 10 more years of the much worse…
Raffi & Levon
Levon Ter-Petrosyan has already had a meeting with Raffi Hovhanissian. Raffi didn’t say “Yes” to Levon’s call, but he didn’t say “No” either. Of course, it would be premature of Raffi jumping on Levon’s bandwagon without even seeing the content of his 3-year plan. The two might have some clear differences of Artsakh issue, but one area where Raffi Hovhanissian’s stance is very constructive, and Levon’s is less so, is the issue of Diaspora. Let’s look at this issue in more detail.
The Diaspora: during Levon and Robert
Before the divisions of opinion about Levon started occurring in Armenia, those disagreements were already widespread within the Diaspora in mid 1990s over the Dashnak incident. Almost immediately Dashnaks of Diaspora started quickly spreading all kinds of roomers about Levon, while the non-partisan intelligentsia and intellectuals remained pro-Levon for a while longer. The perception that has been concocted by the Dashnaks (who are very organised and active within the Diasporan everyday lives) is that Levon is against the Diaspora as a whole (as if whole of Diaspora is Dashnak) and that Levon wishes to seal the Republic off from any Diasporan influence. The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of the Diaspora, though quite politically conscious, does not belong to any party. It’s internal affairs and perceptions are mediated by a very complex web of non-partisan institutions, newspapers, educational institutions, activists, the Church and NGOs, while all of these are headed by the intelligentsia and intellectuals of the Diaspora. So, the texture of Diasporan politics is radically different from that of the Republic. From day one in presidential office Levon Ter-Petrosyan started a very intensive dialogue with these Diasporic structures of non-partisan intelligentsia and intellectuals. He brought in many well-educated people from the Diaspora, one of whom was Raffi Hovhanissyan. Ter-Petrosyan’s wife, the First Lady, was particularly instrumental in the continuous development of this dialogue between Armenia and Diaspora. And the simple fact is that the current leaders of the Diasporic communities, as well as the new generation of intelligentsia and intellectuals do in fact remember all that.
Now let’s fast-forward to Kocharian years. It was during these years that we saw the series of Armenia-Diaspora conferences as well as numerous other initiatives, which were more of a spectacular show than a matter of substance and practical achievements of really integrating the Diaspora (rather than a select of particular wealthy individuals within it) in Armenia and vice-versa. Those conferences were like a colourful platform for lucrative business deals between the Regime and the Foreign investors. Furthermore, it was during Kocharian’s years that we saw the passing of that controversial and laughable constitution where the question of Dual-Citizenship is riddled with more mysteries than clear answers. In effect, it seems like there following false imagery has been concocted: Levon was a staunchest opponent of all of the Diaspora as he wanted to seal Armenia off from it’s people living abroad, while Kocharian and his followers are the flag-bearers of eternal friendship and openness toward the Diasporan Armenians. Yet the Diaspora has it’s own challenges and struggles, and whenever Kocharian & Co were kindly asked to offer the political, moral, diplomatic and symbolic support in those issues, Kocharian & Co’s response would be that of pure cost/benefit analysis. In fact, when one looks at specific cases, one may notice that Kocharian’s greed and desire for petty profiteering has resulted not just in a simple refusal for assistance, but has done more damage to Diaspora and it’s relationship with the Republic. As a result, Diaspora has been loosing a lot of ground abroad, while it’s structures are disintegrating.
Now, how does all this relate back to the current situation with Raffi Hovhanissian? For anybody who has half a brain in Diaspora (and there are quite a few of those), they can see through this false imagery generated by Kocharian & Co. At the same time the effects of Dashnak ill-mouthing of Levon Ter-Petrosyan, and his resolutely anti-Dual-Citizenship don’t really improve his position in Diasporan view. Yet, Raffi Hovhanissian is not just another politician in the Republic – for the non-partisan Diaspora he is more of a “symbol” (a symbol of a return and a symbol of well-educated Western-Armenian who has a significant and independent say in Armenian political life) and that’s yet another source of his strength and significance.
What can Levon do at this stage?
So what can Levon do to win Raffi over? It’s the same question as “what can Levon do win back the non-partisan Diaspora’s sympathy?” And the simple answer is
(A) to highlight the corrupt nature of Kocharian & Co’s dealings with particular wealthy individuals and corrupt institutions of the Diaspora; to highlight Kocharian’s cold-shoulder for the burning issues in Diaspora’s struggles, and
(B) to include in his 3-year plan a clear policy that would offer a resolute support and assistance for the burning issues that the Diasporan Intelligentsia is confronted with – something that was ignored.
If Levon Ter-Petrosyan could deliver something along these lines in his December 8th outline of his 3-year plan, it could really turn fortunes and contribute positively to Raffi Hovhanissian’s final decision of whom to support in these elections.