An Interview with Lilit Galstian
Armenian Weekly editor Khatchig Mouradian sat down in Yerevan today (Feb. 19) with political commentator, former parliamentarian, and Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) member Lilit Galstian, to discuss the presidential election held yesterday. Excerpts.
Armenian Weekly—Talk about your impressions from yesterday’s election.
Lilit Galstian—I woke up today in a new Armenia. I woke up full of hope that despite the stale political environment and fruitless political culture that engendered negative prognoses and pessimistic appraisals about the future of Armenia, we are today turning a new page in Armenia. If we look at the election result, with President Serge Sarkisian receiving 59 percent and Raffi Hovannisian 37 percent, and we take into account the enormous administrative resources that for objective and subjective reasons were employed in support of the incumbent, the support he received from the country’s oligarchs, and the distribution of election bribes, we are filled with hope for a new Armenia. Moreover, only 60 percent of the electorate went to the polls. This, in itself, is a statement, an indictment of the ruling elite.
For months, I have repeated that the prospect for a new Armenia was ripening, and that the political environment was untenable. Yesterday inspires hope that we have taken a significant step toward a new Armenia. Kudos to those who did believe that this was possible, because many didn’t and they did not take part in the election out of hopelessness and resignation. Hovannisian woke them up.
Of course, we have to be honest and acknowledge that when three leading political parties, Prosperous Armenia, the Armenian National Congress, and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, decided to sit out the election, many among their supporters saw in Raffi the daring political figure running against all odds, and voted for him. I am therefore happy for Raffi, but first and foremost I am happy for Armenia.
A.W.—And when you say “new Armenia,” what do you envision?
L.G.—For me, a new Armenia is a democratic Armenia where the human being has worth, human rights are defended, there is a clearly defined national agenda. In the 22 years since independence, we have lived in an Armenia where rights are trampled upon, the criminal oligarchic elements have taken hold of power, and the central tenet of democracy, elections, has never served the purpose of shaping the branches of government.
We should love our country. I might not be talking right now in political terms and categories, but for me, it’s as simple as that: It is imperative to love the homeland, the state. The person who loves his country doesn’t bribe its citizens, doesn’t destroy its forests, and doesn’t disrespect its architecture and cultural heritage. I am talking about ethical categories, ones that have been alien to our political life over the past 22 years, but the right decisions are invariably the ethical ones.
We need a revolution in values. The commercialization being injected into society through its corrupt leadership is one where the child grows up not wanting to become a good scientist or a good writer, but to drive a Jeep, have bodyguards, eat out at fancy restaurants, and be above the law.
We are living in an environment now where one cannot remain silent. Silence is now synonymous to betrayal.
A.W.—Sarkisian still has the votes to stay in power…
L.G.—True, Sarkisian has won the elections if we look at the numbers, of course. But this is a broken victory. In his camp, it’s Zeitnot [time trouble]. And that’s because there still are citizens who, despite being in abject poverty, told the authorities, “To hell with your 5,000 dram [$12] election bribe.” In Armenia we now have a significant number of citizens who are willing and ready to fight for their rights. It is now up to the political forces to step up.
A.W.—How do you see that happening?
L.G.—The people have spoken. First, I assume the current leadership will think about reforms, if they want to maintain stability in the country.
Second, Raffi Hovannisian’s role will be crucial in the context of figuring out the best way to invest this capital. After all, Raffi himself underscored the fact that this was, first and foremost, the people’s victory. Will Raffi and the people launch a concerted effort to create a participatory democratic agenda that can be pursued relentlessly?
Third, the political forces that sat out during the election have to take on the challenge and revise their conduct. Only time will show how they will behave, but I doubt that they will not have the wisdom and judiciousness to take part in propagating this positive energy for the betterment of Armenia. The victory is Raffi’s, to be sure, but those political parties will have to invest in this movement in the name and for the sake of Armenia.
I personally wasn’t expecting this success. At best, I thought Raffi would receive around 12 percent of the vote. I am disappointed that my estimate was off! [Laughs] I am glad I was wrong! After all, we do not have the right to not believe in the future of Armenia.