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Marina Brutyan

“As My Granny Used to Say”: Armeniaian President’s Press Conference

Before his trip to Vatican for the inaugurational ceremony of Pope Francis, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan met with journalists. This, however, was not an ordinary press conference. On YouTube you can find the most ridiculous statements of the president, including the famous quoting of his grandmother.

Serz Sarkisjan na konferencji prasowej, źródło: YouTube

Serzh Sargsyan at the press conference, the source: YouTube

Meeting with the selected few

First of all, the Armenian President rarely convenes press conferences. Usually he meets with reporters just before his foregn visits and all the questions should be previously checked by the administration of the President. For the five years of his tenure, President Sargsyan has convened a press conference twice, in 2008 and 2009. In both cases, the scenario of the meeting – the questions and their order – was prepared in advance. But a three-ring circus with unexpected questions also took place there.

Secondly, no journalists from online media were invited to the meeting, the reporters present at the conference were representing four newspapers, seven TV stations and one radio station.

After the meeting, TV channels mentioned the conference, but did not show any videos. As it turned out, no TV station had received the rights to record the meeting – the material was later edited by the presidential press service and released on the following day.

Nothing to talk about with a hungry man

Serzh Sargsyan’s dialogue with the opposition also deserves attention. Since 20 February, at Liberty Square in Yerevan, the former presidential candidate Raffi Hovannisian has been protesting against the presidential election results. He is convinced that the official winner Serzh Sargsyan should leave and “hand over power to the people”. Hovannisian repeatedly invited Sargsyan to discuss numerous issues concerning the situation in the country, but there was no answer. Then the opposition leader decided to go for a hunger strike to draw attention to himself and to the opposition.

At the press conference on 18 February, Sargsyan said that he saw no point in opening a dialogue with the opposition: “What shall I talk about with a hungry man having a grudge aginst the whole world?” such an attitude to the opposition politician met a negative response from the media.

President violates the Constitution

The president surprised everybody by presenting his position in relation to the presence of businessmen in the Armenian parliament. First, he said that there are no oligarchs in the Parliament, and then elaborated, saying that according to the documents, none of the oligarchs performs the functions of a deputy. And why is it so? In Armenia entrepreneurs register firms and re-register their property to any of their family members. It is worth mentioning that the Armenian Constitution does not allow entrepreneurs to sit in the Parliament. That’s how the President, who is supposed to be a guarantor of the Constitution, supports its violation. Sargsyan also said that he was against using force to resolve the issue – “such measures will not close the doors of the Parliament” – so he prefers peaceful methods. Regarding the comment that most of the MPs businessmen do not even have the appropriate education, Sargsyan said, “[just let] these deputies talk to experienced journalists, and not to the young, who do not know how to hold a conversation”.

Fight for recognition and consider it a betrayal at the same time…

Another interesting statement of Sargsyan concerned the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. We should recall that Armenia guarantees its safety, but does not intend to recognize the independence of the quasi-state, even if it constantly talks about its efforts to recognize it on the international scene. Yerevan’s official position is as follows: if Armenia recognizes Karabakh, Azerbaijan will start a war. At the same time, the Armenian authorities claim that recognition can be the final step in response to the declared war (assuming it would be started by Azerbaijan). According to Sargsyan, Karabakh and its supporters in the world do what Armenia considers “unreasonable” and “treacherous”. It is interesting that Sargsyan did not confirm whether Armenia would follow any country who recognized Karabakh. In my opinion, it is unrealistic. The problem remains: the threat from Azerbaijan will not disappear.

Media are responsible for migration

Perhaps the most interesting statements related to the migration. The Armenian authorities have a very negative view on the departure of their citizens, mostly to Russia. It has come to halting the program for voluntary resettlement of compatriots living abroad to the Russian Federation. The authorities blame Russia for the Armenian migration wave, forgetting, however, that many banks in the country are living off the interest in remittances, the lion’s share of which is the money transferred by family members who live – and earn – mainly in the northern neighboring country.

Talking to journalists, Serzh Sargsyan said that he did not believe that the mass departure of Armenians from the country was caused by the lack of justice or unemployment. If that were the reason, then, he said, Armenians would not have gone to Russia, where justice is absent as well. The President also noted that if those who worked 16 hours in Russia, would work so much in Armenia, they would also be able to support themselves and their families at home. In addition, Sargsyan said that the migration is caused by the bad atmosphere created by the media. According to him, at least two TV stations and online media report only negatively about the situation in the country, and people are leaving because they have no hope for a better tomorrow.

But this is a blatant lie! If we compare the life and salaries in the two capitals (and often people who migrate come from small Armenian towns, due to the total lack of jobs at home), you can see that work in a foreign country is much better paid, and the living costs in Moscow are the same or even less (not including vegetables) than in Yerevan. Is it possible for a street cleaner in Yerevan to earn $500? Or for anyone at a construction in the Armenian capital to earn more than $2 000?

In conclusion, it should be noted that during his first term, Serge Sargsyan was more cautious and almost did not make any mistakes. However, at the end of his term and in the course of the election campaign, the situation changed. The most egregious incident occurred when Sargsyan said to the weeping woman who came up to him: “You have come to us here and you are crying, ruining the holiday, and what for?” And when an old man was complaining about his hard life, the President answered: “When you think like this, even cucumbers grow crooked”. At a meeting with journalists, Serge Sargsyan quoted his grandmother: “As my grandmother used to say… Is this really the purpose for our gathering here?” The sentence caused many ironic comments in newspapers and on the Internet.

On YouTube you can find the most ridiculous statements of the President, including the quote from his grandmother, accompanied by music.

And the picture shows a portrait of the young Serge Sargsyan.

Translated by MA

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