Neither historians nor archaeologists know who, when and where came up with an idea to skewer and grill meat on fire. But ethnographers and culinary experts believe that many countries and peoples have their own tradition of such meat processing, including Azerbaijani shish-kebab, Georgian mtsvadi, Japanese yakitori, South Asian satai, and European barbecue... Armenian version of grilled meat is called khorovats.
Initially, the revolution led by Nikol Pashinyan was officially called ‘a shashlik revolution’. Two years later, it is clear that Pashinyan and Co. failed to achieve anything similar to Azerbaijani ‘shish-kebab’ with a clear program of economic and social transformations or Georgian ‘mtsvadi’ with an impressive number of political reforms. Nor was it possible to cook a European ‘barbecue’. Two years ago, observers from third countries hoped for prompt democratisation of Armenia, which would put an end to the criminal dictatorship of the so called Karabakh Clan. But today experts anxiously note that Pashinyan, in fact, is building an authoritarian regime to remain in power in Armenia.
Draft of restrictions
On June 22, the National Assembly of Armenia (parliament) held an extraordinary meeting to adopt the draft of constitutional amendments, which seriously limit the powers of the Constitutional Court (CC) of Armenia. Three judges - by coincidence the opponents of Pashinyan - are dismissed, chairman of the Constitutional Court Hrayr Tovmasyan will continue to serve as a member. Moreover, experts called Tovmasyan the most dangerous opponent of Pashinyan in power structures.
In fact, Pashinyan has conceived the idea of introducing constitutional reforms a long time ago. On April 5, he was going to adopt the amendments through a referendum, despite the objections of local Armenian experts and the Venice Commission, which has reasonably viewed Pashinyan’s attempt as a violation of the principle of separation of powers and insisted on a transitional period.
But now, when the coronavirus pandemic still prevents the authorities from holding a referendum (more than 700 infected people are registered in Armenia every day), Pashinyan decided to go ahead. Rest assured, amendments will pass the parliament, where Pashinyan’s faction My Step has a stable majority. Moreover, they do not need president’s signature either.
The Constitutional Court and its chairman, of course, are outraged and urge everyone to follow the constitution. One of the opposition parties, Prosperous Armenia (PAP), promises to appeal to the Constitutional Court. However, the effectiveness of this counter-action is questionable, especially after Pashinyan destroyed the court.
From a democrat to a dictator?
PAP is in a very delicate situation. Back in June, its leader, the famous businessman Gagik Tsarukyan, told his supporters that the members of the Armenian government should be completely changed, since they did not keep promises and did not implement revolutionary changes. In response, Tsarukyan was immediately charged with criminal charges from bribing voters to tax fraud at his Shangri-La casino. This shows nothing but the use of law enforcement agencies for reprisals against political opponents and ‘orchestrated’ criminal cases.
In a word, all the above would be a classic prelude to a story about the transformation of the previous leader of ‘democratic impulse of the masses’ into a dictator except for one thing. Nikol Pashinyan has lost his image of a democrat, and he could not and can hardly ever build a dictatorial regime in Armenia, as his positions are too ambiguous.
Certainly, this was an expected move by Pashinyan. Armenia constantly fails on the diplomatic front. As to the settlement of the Karabakh conflict, Armenia has been repeatedly rebuked mainly by the leading European institutions. Relations with Moscow and the West are spoiled critically. There are neither real nor expected investments and economic transformations into the country. Nor is there a team capable of implementing economic reforms. The scandal involving the Amulsar mine had a tremendous effect... In other words, Gagik Tsarukyan decided to ‘swap horses’ just in time, when the things go wrong for the ‘People’s Prime Minister’.
Experts reminded that the situation similar to the one when Pashinyan became an opponent of Serzh Sargsyan in 2015, when the latter’s position began to shatter. Perhaps Pashinyan understands the aspirations of the PAP leader well. It would seem that it’s time for the prime minister to proceed with repressions. But the attack on Gagik Tsarukyan failed. His parliamentary immunity was stripped, but they could not ‘shut him up in a due manner’, or arrest him. It is unlikely that protesters played an instrumental role in this case. Pashinyan simply does not control the situation to the extent that would enable him to use repressive tools.
New old news
Tsarukyan is a very interesting character. The former ‘vodka oligarch’ came into politics back in the 1990s. He is scandalously known in Armenia for a private zoo in his villa, Brazilian dancers invited to the wedding of his son back in the ‘hungry nineties’, and other deeds à la New Russians. In fact, Tsarukyan can hardly become a leader of the popular protest and pogoses (rioters in Armenian, R+). And Tsarukyan is hardly the most dangerous figure for Pashinyan. Rather, he is sort of a political litmus test or a windsock showing the direction of political winds. The Armenian opposition has already started to bring together a united anti-Pashinyan front, including parties Prosperous Armenia, Motherland, and Dashnaktsutyun, which agreed to form a working group to develop a joint strategy. One should not underestimate the influence of the latter, as they are ready to use force and terror, if necessary. Pashinyan tried to address the opposition with retaliatory threats: “They talk about hunger, trying to scare us with civil unrest. They should fear civil unrest themselves. What do we have to become victims of civil unrest?! It is your Bentleys and illegally constructed palaces that will become the victims of civil unrest! You want a civil unrest? Come on, provoke one! We wonder where you find yourself after that and, most importantly, in what position!” Reference to Tsarukyan was very obvious. But this will not help to improve the fallen popularity of the prime minister anyway.
The Karabakh Clan poses a greater threat to the incumbent Armenian government. The situation has become more threatening for the prime minister after Robert Kocharian, the second president of Armenia and the most dangerous rival of Pashinyan, became out on bail. Back in 1997-1998, the members of the Karabakh Clan led by Robert Kocharian came to power as a result of a ‘creeping coup’ and forced the then President Levon Ter-Petrosyan to resign. In 2008, after the victory of Serzh Sargsyan, police was ordered to shoot to kill the participants of protests against the election fraud. Although Pashinyan’s ‘shashlik revolution’ was not suppressed by force, this does not guarantee a recurrence of the same revenge scenario by the Karabakh Clan. After all, both Kocharian and Sargsyan know someone they can rely on.
So, there is a risk that the ‘revolutionary khorovats’ may well taste lead and powder.