As the news of the criminal investigation of former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian of Armenia broke out last week, a floodgate of news and analysis inundated the electronic and print media in Armenia and the Diaspora. Nearly ten days after the initial media frenzy, the widespread public and media interest in the issue is still gaining steam.
One may wonder, why this case triggered literally hundreds of news articles, commentaries, letters-to-the-editor, and blog entries?
Here are the key issues that may help explain the phenomena:
- Armenia continues to be the center of attention and the main focus of concern for millions of Armenians in the homeland and the Diaspora;
- What direction will this fledgling democratic state and society take?
- Will Armenia go through radical changes in terms of taming the issue of corruption on all levels, and is the criminal investigation case against Mr. Oskanian an integral part of the anti-corruption campaign?
- Is Armenia’s intent to crack down not just on Oskanian and his Civilitas Foundation, but also on a host of civic and political personalities, and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) that are suspected of engaging in questionable political and financial activities in service of foreign interests, to the detriment of Armenia’s national security?
- Whether Mr. Oskanian and his personal assistant Salpi Ghazarian, the current Director of Civilitas Foundation, be afforded due process and a fair trial.
The reasons for widespread and unquenched public interest may also lie in the track record of Mr. Oskanian from the early days in 1991 as a junior official at the Foreign Ministry of Raffi Hovannissyan, under Pres. Levon Ter-Petrosyan; as Deputy Foreign Minister in the last two years of Pres. Ter-Petrosyan’s administration (1996-1998); his overnight desertion of Pres. Ter-Petrosyan and submission to then newly elected Pres. Robert Kocharyan as Foreign Minister (1998-2008); then begging the newly elected Pres. Serge Sargsyan in 2008 to reappoint him as Foreign Minister. Upon Pres. Sargsyan’s adamant refusal, Mr. Oskanian established The Civilitas Foundation.
Many observers agree that subsequent to his dismissal or non-reappointment as Foreign Minister, Mr. Oskanian used Civilitas as a springboard to eventually stage a political come-back.
All along, Mr. Oskanian presented himself as a Foreign Minister who:
- Didn’t get involved in the internal affairs of Armenia, yet in the waning days of the Kocharyan administration, during a controversial press conference, he infamously justified and white-washed the March 1, 2008 post-presidential election killings of many innocent and peaceful Armenian citizens;
- Had nothing to do with shady business dealings;
- Abstained from getting involved in financial wheeling-and-dealings;
- Is a patriotic Foreign Minister and a ‘model’ Armenian politician, but made many anti-Armenian declarations, such as his willingness to ‘return’ the liberated Armenian Karvadjar region to Azerbaijan, and to hand the strategically indispensable region of Meghri in southern Armenia to Azerbaijan effectively cutting-off Armenia from the outside world via Iran, in return for the latter’s recognition of the already liberated territory of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabagh);
- Is a ‘role model’ for many aspiring young Armenians and portrayed himself as a ‘champion’ of democratic values, while associating himself with Armenia’s oligarchs and monopolists, and most recently – very openly with Mr. Gagik Tsarukyan, the leader of Prosperous Party of Armenia.
- Is a ‘model citizen’ of Armenia, yet, shockingly, accused of corruption. In an interview with Armenpress news agency, Gorik Hakobyan, the Head of the National Security Service pointed out the refusal of Mr. Oskanian and the foundation’s director Salpi Ghazarian to give testimony. Mr. Hakobyan said that instead of “promoting the revelation of the truth, they choose the behavior of a Mafiosi clan structure.”
News coverage of this scandalous affair emanated from all three segments of Armenia’s and Diasporan media: pro-government, opposition, and independent.
Contrary to Mr. Oskanian’s expectations, several opposition media outlets refused to embrace his ‘cause’ as a ‘victim of political persecution.’ They singled out Oskanian’s double-standards and condemned his political opportunism. They also accused him of having his hands soaked in the blood of March 1, 2008 innocent victims in Armenia.
As developments on this case unfolded, three major groups emerged among those following the Oskanian criminal investigation:
1) Oligarchs, Usurpers, Ego-centric Careerists and Opportunists
This group is mostly made-up of individuals who are egocentric and care less about the well-being of fellow Armenians. This group is composed of two camps: Those in power and those in opposition. Depending on which sub-group one belongs to, the members of both camps either conditionally approve the criminal investigation case against Mr. Oskanian or they blindly side with him.
2) Politically Illiterate, Naive and Gullible Patriotic Armenians
This group is mostly made-up of individuals who are patriotic and care about the well-being of fellow Armenians. Yet they are terribly misinformed about the inner workings of intra-national and international politics and what transpires in corridors of power. This group too is composed of two camps: Those who are sympathetic towards either the corrupt elements in power or towards Mr. Oskanian and his fellow camp members based on the limited information that they have or choose to have.
3) Politically Literate, Alert and Pragmatic Patriotic Armenians
This group is overwhelmingly made up of individuals who are patriotic, care about the well-being of fellow Armenians, and mostly tend to be well-informed about who’s who both on intra-national and international levels. Let’s focus on members of this group who are active in the Diaspora. These individuals make a distinction between the American humanitarian-patriotic forces and neo-conservative parasites of economy and politics. They are keenly aware of the fact that these so-called American neo-con circles actively finance hundreds of NGO’s that are directly or indirectly involved in political programs in various countries pushing forward their paymasters’ corrupt agendas. Members of the politically literate, alert and pragmatic patriotic Armenians have already identified several treacherous Armenians in U.S. and Armenia who have wittingly or unwittingly become cronies of the neo-cons. The politically savvy Armenians care less about the corrupt elements in power and Armenian neo-con elements in opposition. They firmly believe that Oskanian is a former member of the corrupt elements in power and a new member of the Armenian corrupt elements in opposition. The politically savvy patriotic Armenians actively seek the elimination of corruption, cronyism, monopolies, usurpers, impoverishment and treason that threaten the foundations of the Armenian statehood. They also tend to see the beginning of the process of mutual elimination for the ultimate benefit of Armenians and Armenia as a whole. They tend to ‘welcome’ the current process through which justice is being served in an ironic way.
What is one’s personal approach to the Oskanian case? It all depends on which group he feels he belongs to.
As for Oskanian, which group does he belong to? Does he fall in Group 1, 2, or 3?