March 1 2013

Rock Star Confronts Armenian Leader as Rally Marks Deaths

By Sara Khojoyan on March 01, 2013

As Armenians mark the deaths that tarnished President Serzh Sargsyan's
2008 rise, anger at his re- election has stirred diaspora in the world
of U.S. heavy metal.

Serj Tankian, lead singer of Grammy award-winning Armenian- American
rock band System of a Down, has written to Sargsyan saying `it's time
for change' after non-government organizations reported widespread
voting fraud. The president, who beat his nearest rival by more than
20 percentage points at last month's ballot, says he's comfortable
with his victory.

Thousands of Armenians have followed runner-up Raffi Hovhannisyan's
call to challenge the official election results as opposition groups
seek to gain traction against Sargsyan's rule. Ten people died after
the president's success five years ago triggered clashes between
protesters and police on March 1, 2008. Hovhannisyan laid flowers at
the scene today.

`The day isn't only about the current wave of discontent and new-found
civic activism behind opposition leader Raffi Hovhannisyan,' Richard
Giragosian, director of the Regional Studies Center in the capital,
Yerevan, said Feb 27 by phone. `The larger challenge for the
government is to regain trust, and clearly the opposition now holds
the upper hand in terms of momentum and initiative.'

Armenia's currency, the dram, has lost 1.4 percent against the dollar
in 2013, data compiled by Bloomberg show. It's fallen 0.8 percent
since the Feb. 18 elections, compared with no change for the lari or
manat in neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan.

`Falsified Elections'
Sargsyan won 59 percent of the vote to Hovhannisyan's 37 percent,
according to official results that Tankian called flawed in an open
letter to the president published this week by local media.

While Sargsyan wrote back asking for Tankian's help to fight
`impudence and hostility' in Armenia, the response didn't satisfy the
45-year-old singer, who demanded the president listen to the
complaints of the country's citizens.

`Corruption, injustice, emigration, lawlessness and falsified
elections' are prompting Armenians to emigrate, Tankian wrote.
`Citizens across Armenia are protesting the outcome of the elections
and the injustice inherent in the political establishment.'

The South Caucasus country, whose exports include zinc, copper and
semi-precious stones, relies on its far-flung diaspora to support the
economy, with remittances accounting for about 20 percent of its
economic output, according to Commerzbank AG.

Kim Kardashian
Aside from Tankian and his band, which won a Grammy award in 2006,
other famous members of Armenia's overseas community include U.S.
celebrity Kim Kardashian, singer and actress Cher, tennis player Andre
Agassi and Tracinda Corp.'s Kirk Kerkorian.

After plunging 14 percent in 2009 following Lehman Brothers Holding
Inc.'s collapse, gross domestic product will advance 4.3 percent this
year, the World Bank predicts. More than a third of the landlocked
nation's 3 million people live in poverty, while unemployment was 5.9
percent at end-2012, official data show.

February's election was dominated by the attempted assassination of
one candidate, a hunger strike by another and the decision of three
hopefuls including businessman Gagik Tsarukyan not to stand at all.

Local observers and NGOs registered more than 400 violations during
the elections, with infringements including ballot stuffing and
attempts to vote more than once.

`Steal' Victory
The vote `demonstrated improvements over previous presidential
elections but the limited field of candidates meant the elections
weren't genuinely competitive,' according to Tonino Picula, head of
the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's observer

Hovhannisyan, a former foreign minister, has sought to tap into
concern at the vote's validity, touring the country to mobilize

`I won't allow anybody to steal your victory from you,' Hovhannisyan
told to more than 1,000 people in the southern city of Kapan Feb. 27.
Addressing a crowd 10 times that size in Yerevan's Liberty Square
yesterday, he said there's `no way back' and pledged to bring victory.

While today's protest is being held in Myasnikyan Square in Yerevan,
where the deaths occurred in 2008, Hovhannisyan `is reasonable enough
to avoid confrontation and act within the law,' according to Hovik
Abrahamyan, head of Armenia's parliament. Sargsyan's party won 68 of
the legislature's 131 seats at elections last May.

Pressure Tools
`Violence won't honor our state and political parties,' Abrahamyan
told the National Assembly on Feb. 27. The government won't contravene
the law in dealing with the protest, he said.

For the time being, the demonstrators' aim is to keep filling the
square, according to Tatul Hakobyan, political expert at Civilitas
Foundation in Yerevan.

`The levers of power -- the security service, the army and the police
-- are in Sargsyan's hands and, if necessary, pressure can be
exerted,' he said yesterday by phone. `Maybe there won't be dangerous
developments in the coming days but if Hovhannisyan succeeds in
bringing thousands of people to the square, which is his goal, the
authorities will apply harsh methods.'

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress