Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Help Wanted for Armenia

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Help Wanted for Armenia

Article excerpt

President Levon Ter-Petrossian's resignation this month marks the lowest point of a steady decline in the health of the Armenian republic. The most progressive of Soviet republics under Mikhail Gorbachev, Armenia's post-Soviet record has been marred by widespread poverty, state-sector corruption, a casebook of human rights violations, and a presidential election that was neither free nor fair.

Military victories over Nagorno-Karabagh, a contested enclave of Armenians in neighboring Azerbaijan, have further resulted in Armenia's occupation of that region and its environs, leaving Azerbaijan with hundreds of thousands of refugees.

The roots of the problem can be found in Mr. Ter-Petrossian's 1996 reelection. Corruption and poverty kept him unelectable. But he also couldn't lose. With no regional politics and virtually no resources, Armenia was controlled by its powerful ministry officials, who had no intention of stepping down. Ter-Petrossian stole the race, using force to quell popular demonstrations and arrest the opposition. Observers maintained that in the absence of widespread violations, opposition leader Vazgen Manukyan would have won. Stripped of electoral legitimacy, the president sought to bolster his authority in other ways. Ter-Petrossian appointed Karabagh President Robert Kocharyan as prime minister, ensuring support of the military, a worrisome prospect after pitched battles between the Ministries of Defense and Interior and rumors of an attempted coup. It was a bizarre appointment, as if a Quebecois separatist suddenly had been appointed French premier. It also was a mistake. The Armenian government had claimed for years that it had nothing to do with the Karabagh war; Kocharyan's appointment revealed the full extent of this fiction. Negotiations became untenable. Ter-Petrossian's unwillingness to give up on Karabagh proved his downfall. He supported the OSCE proposal for phased settlement of the dispute, withdrawing Armenian forces from occupied Azeri territory and negotiating Karabagh's status. …

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