Moving Forward In Armenia

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By Serzh Sargsyan and Arthur Baghdasaryan
Monday, March 17, 2008

Armenia's reputation as a stable, democratic country in a troubled region has taken a battering recently. Although international observers gave an overall positive rating to the conduct of last month's presidential election, opposition forces took to the streets, seeking to overturn the people's will. Riots and armed demonstrations left more than 100 injured. Tragically, seven protesters and one police officer died.

Public faith in our economy and political institutions has been undermined. Simply put, we had a competitive election. Dragging this crisis on, literally through the streets, only hurts Armenia. For almost a decade -- since then-President Levon Ter-Petrosyan resigned -- our country has avoided civil uproars and armed violence, allowing for a period of internationally recognized democratic and socioeconomic progress.

But after he lost his bid to reclaim the presidency in February, Ter-Petrosyan resorted to a dangerous and profoundly undemocratic form of populism. He radicalized a part of the opposition and guided it into a standoff with the state, which led to the March 1 riots in which armed demonstrators confronted police. It was clear to all moderate political forces -- pro-government or supporters of the opposition -- that declaring a state of emergency was the only possible option to protect our citizens. We have until Thursday, when the state of emergency is lifted, to find political solutions and ensure that Armenia does not slide back into chaos.

The two of us were competitors in the presidential election. But we are united in our desire to end the current crisis and put Armenia back on track. Cooperation is the way forward.

The political alliance we have created, between the president-elect and the Rule of Law Party, is an effort to do things democratically and through compromise. Between us, we represent 70 percent of the votes of the Armenian people. This is a serious and solid mandate. On this basis, we will pursue ambitious but realistic reforms that will strengthen our democracy and our nation's socioeconomic progress. In this moment of crisis, we have agreed to assume responsibility for joint governance.

This form of government has not been imposed upon Armenia; we have chosen it as the best way forward. This new, grand coalition will guarantee that the people's will is reflected.

We insist, however, that continued progress is possible only through dialogue and reform. Violence has no place in democracy. Therefore, we ask those who are still promoting instability on the streets to join us in political dialogue and to help us guide our country toward prosperity.

Armenia faces a series of external challenges that we hope to address. First among them is the long-standing conflict over who should control the Nagorno-Karabakh region between our country and Azerbaijan; second is the normalization of relations with Turkey. Only a government with wide popular support, not one created through street violence, can successfully resolve these problems. We will also continue to ask the international community to recognize the Armenian genocide, though this issue should not prevent us from moving forward.

We do not assume that all of our country's ills will be solved through a coalition government. And we will certainly address the expectations of the several thousands of voters who are dissatisfied; we must do so to build consensus. But we must also recognize the expectations of the many more thousands of voters who chose the government that is in power. We will do our utmost to restore public trust in the electoral process and to unite the nation again.

Our priority is to run a transparent government and have a clear agenda, which we will announce. We will fight corruption head-on. We are confident that with the world's help, reason and responsibility will regain the upper hand in Armenia. We have no time to waste -- there is a lot of work to do. Despite recent events, our country is still moving forward. The international community has everything to gain through supporting a stable, transparent and elected government in Armenia.

Serzh Sargsyan, prime minister of Armenia, is chairman of the Republican Party. He is the country's president-elect. Arthur Baghdasaryan, a former speaker of Armenia's parliament, represented the opposition Orinats Yekir (Rule of Law) Party in the February election; he placed third.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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