Rotating Around Presidents: Kocharyan’s “shadow” a curse or a blessing for Armenia?

Armenia’s domestic political life that reminds a poor “family tree” with interwoven branches of the three presidents’ offspring, will not be free of the “circulation” of the presidents for many more years ahead. The most influential among them, nonetheless, is the second president’s “shadow” periodically emerging behind one political force or individual or another and stirring up the logic of the “genealogical” development.

Despite the fact that Armenia’s second president Robert Kocharyan has been out of political processes for at least the past five years, his “shadow” and “omnipresence” do not leave alone either the opposition, or the authorities, or the society.

At least twice a year since the end of Kocharyan’s decade-long presidency in 2008, news have been circulated on Kocharyan’s return; with the same frequency the second president shows up to give an interview or make a statement reminding the society about his existence and denying the opposition’s claims of his “political demise”.

Kocharyan’s possible return is among the most discussed subjects and the most often condemned political prospects.

The answers to why the potential revival of “kocharyanism” – a term introduced by oppositionist David Shahnazaryan – bothers the society and the political forces so much can be found not only in the realm of politics but also social psychology.
The period of Kocharyan’s presidency was rather controversial.

The bloodiest events in the two decades of independent Armenia’s history happened during his rule – October 27 [1999 parliamentary shootout] and March 1 [2008 deadly post-election clashes], on the other hand those were years of the construction boom and “tiger leap” of economy.

From the psychological viewpoint Kocharyan’s periodical response to political events and issues creates subjective and objective situations prompting people to discuss him and keep him in the focus of attention.

“Since his responses are rare and become an event in our political life, appearing in the focus of attention, the ideas and thoughts he voices become messages with subtext, which further get interpreted by various forces however they want,” psychologist Armine Ghazaryan, an expert at the Armenian Center for National and International Studies, told ArmeniaNow.

The expert, nonetheless, stressed an important circumstance of collective public memory – to the society Kocharyan’s “tenure isn’t over, he carries a burden of liability remembered by the society which is waiting for answers”.

“Kocharyan’s figure cannot leave the field for as long as people half “a sense of incompleteness”. In order for us to be able to move on to the next, more democratic stage of civil society development, we have to be able to free ourselves of the three presidents’ whirlpool. But the society, maybe subconsciously, is unable to turn the “Kocharyan page” because of the resentment it holds against him,” she says, and adds:

“The “Kocharyan complex” has another facet to it – he is remembered among people as the “punishing” president. Let’s take his university mate’s murder (in a café Kocharyan’s bodyguards beat Poghos Poghosyan to death because of approaching the president and addressing him “Rob”). From this perspective there is an element of gloomy anticipation of his return.”

Nevertheless, the most recent history tells a different story: Armenia’s first president’s tenure was also quite turbulent and controversial, but the challenging years of energy crisis, the gratification from the hard-won war, the accusations of him founding the vicious circle of corrupt regime and setting the tradition of fraudulent elections, his unexpected resignation – it all fell into oblivion with time.

Ghazaryan believes that first president Levon Ter-Petrosyan took advantage of his decade-long silence.

“First of all, the attitude to Ter-Petrosyan was different – regardless of the fact that in 1996 he took the presidential chair by force, he is still perceived among the society as a symbol, because of being the first president. His silence helped him to simply become part of independent Armenia’s history. The criticism of his presidency is not personified, and is more against the system on the whole than against Ter-Petrosyan personally,” says the psychologist.

At the same time Ghazaryan stresses that when the first president re-entered the big politics, people put aside their still living memories of the hardship they saw during his tenure because “the purpose and the need for his return were correctly formulated and presented”; people joined him not because it was Ter-Petrosyan, but because they saw him as a candidate or as he called himself “a tool” to achieve change of power.

Whereas in Kocharyan’s case the development of the information field has been working against him – if in five years after his resignation Ter-Petrosyan was hardly remembered and only a limited group of people had access to any information about him, today’s level of development of information technologies makes “forgetting” Kocharyan almost an impossible task.

Although political analysts stress that the news about the presence of Kocharyan’s “shadow” is circulated on purpose to let him be left out of the political field, from the psychological perspective it is the ever-presence of that very “shadow” that keeps people from forgetting him and, by doing so, forgiving him.