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ARMENIANS AND THE 2000 PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS IN LEBANON

By Ara Sanjian


A few months ago, Ara Krikorian, an Armenian activist campaigning for
the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by the French Senate was
invited to speak at the hall of the Catholicosate of the Great House of
Cilicia in Antelias. When he stated that he expected some progress in
the following few months, for French politicians usually take positions
favorable to the Armenian voters when the election-day approaches, the
largely Armenian audience greeted this remark with a loud laughter of
approval. Actually, many in the audience had already explained the
presence of a number of Lebanese politicians at the lecture by the fact
that parliamentary elections in Lebanon were fast approaching, too.

Pre-election periods in Lebanon, particularly since the end of the
Civil War in 1990, have proved a mixed blessing for the country's
Armenian minority. Armenians (Apostolics, Catholics and Evangelicals)
form about 4 percent of the country's electorate and their votes are
of great significance especially in the constituencies of the capital,
Beirut, and the district of Metn (north of the capital), which includes
the famous, largely Armenian populated suburb of Bourj Hammoud. The
few weeks preceeding polling day, therefore, are a period, when
Armenians have come to expect some favors from the government of the
day, which seeks Armenian support for the candidates it prefers. In a
country, where there is no internal political discourse to speak of on
issues like minority and cultural rights, this period presents a rare
opportunity for the community to push forward with its own particular,
largely culture-oriented agenda. Many Armenians argue that voting as a
bloc, in large numbers (see below), is the only way to attract the
attention of the country's power-hungry politicians, especially those
who happen to be in government during the period of the elections. This
time round, the Lebanese Parliament passed a strong resolution
condemning the Armenian Genocide of 1915 (being the first Arab country
to do so) to supersede a milder version passed earlier in 1997.
Moreover, the Lebanese government approved a plan whereby the Armenian
language was to be considered from now on as one of the few 'second
foreign languages' that students can take as part of the official
Lebanese secondary school certificate (Baccalaureate) exams.

However, Armenians, as the country's largest and most visible
linguistic minority, also resent the simultaneous intrusion of the
country's non-Armenian media outlets into the inner details of what
they consider as their largely tranquil, everyday life, away from
non-Armenian eyes.  The emergence of the candidate Raffi Madeyan in
Metn and the inability of Armenian political parties to forge a united
electoral bloc resulted in non-Armenian journalists becoming more
interested in Armenian affairs. For the same reasons, Armenian
candidates of different political viewpoints received more airtime
than usual to present their views to the Lebanese public.

Growing activism in the political processes of host societies is a
relatively novel feature in the history of the post-Genocide Armenian
Diaspora. Any new deputy of Armenian origin elected in recent years to
any respectable parliament around the world has always been considered
as a noteworthy news item by all Armenian media outlets both in the
homeland and in the Diaspora. Armenians have realized that their
existence in diasporic conditions now seems to be more permanent than
they ever thought before. This has automatically led into more active
involvement by the Armenians in the local politics of host societies.
They now hope that such involvement will help them become better
integrated with and better understood by the hosts and also help them
pursue local and international causes close to Armenians hearts through
the legislatures of their host countries.


THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM

Lebanon, the host country of one of the most vibrant Armenian Diasporan
communities, is an exception in this regard. Because of the country's
peculiar confessional make-up, Armenian refugees, who settled in Lebanon
in the early 1920s and became Lebanese citizens according to the
provisions of the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), did not need to fight to
establish their place in the country's political landscape. This right
was simply given to them by Lebanon's political system, which is based
on confessional representation.

Lebanon has a parliamentary system of government. In order to preserve
the delicate balance among the country's 18 religious and confessional
communities, seats in the country's legislature have traditionally been
pre-allocated to specified numbers of deputies from each community. The
existing law - adopted after the end of the Civil War - prescribes that
seats in the country's 128-member legislature should be divided evenly
between Christian and Muslim deputies. Moreover, the same law also
pre-allocates the 64 Christian seats to pre-specified numbers of
Maronites, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholics, Armenians (called 'Orthodox'
in official Lebanese documents), Armenian Catholics and Evangelicals
(Protestants). The remaining small, Christian communities are together
allocated a single parliamentary seat under the title of 'minorities.'

Church and state are not separate in Lebanon, and the government has to
abide by the decisions of the religious courts of the different
communities in matters of personal status. Based on a model inherited
from Ottoman times, the members of the Armenian 'Orthodox' and Catholic
churches are recognized as separate communities (millets) by the
Lebanese government. Correspondingly, the law prescribes that of the 64
Christian deputies mentioned, five should necessarily be of Armenian
'Orthodox,' and one of Armenian Catholic faith. All Evangelicals (both
Armenian and non-Armenian), on the other hand, are considered - again
following Ottoman practice - as members of one, common millet. Armenian
Evangelicals, therefore, do not have a pre-allocated seat in the
Lebanese Parliament. Armenian and non-Armenian Evangelicals have to
compete for a single seat, which is thought to represent the whole
Evangelical community in the legislature.

Moreover, parliamentary elections have traditionally been conducted in
Lebanon through multi-member constituencies. The law adopted prior to
this election was no exception. The country was divided into 13
electoral constituencies, with voters having the right to vote for from
a minimum of six and up to a maximum of 23 candidates, according to the
number of seats pre-allocated by law for the specific constituency that
they were registered to vote in. Each multi-member constituency has, as
a rule, seats for more than one confession. Voters in Beirut's First
Electoral District, for example, could, irrespective of their own
confessional affiliation, vote for two Sunni Muslim candidates, as well
as for one candidate each from the Christian Maronite, Greek Orthodox,
Greek Catholic and Evangelical communities. The purpose of these
relatively large electoral districts has been to force candidates in
each district to appeal to a broader multi-sectarian constituency of
voters in order to win. It is believed that such an approach will
encourage the growth of moderation in politics and eventually help
develop a single, 'Lebanese' political discourse. Holding elections on
this basis is thus deemed vital to preserve national unity against
sectarian extremism. All candidates are obliged, under these rules, to
forge electoral or longer-term, political and ideological alliances with
candidates from other communities as well as seek votes from outside
their own religious group. Individual candidates running in the same
constituency usually form joint lists prior to the elections, so that
the voters who support them, can simply choose a pre-designated slate
of candidates. The candidates receiving the highest number of votes from
each community (according to the number of seats that community has in
that district) are elected to the Chamber. Being a member of a strong
list (usually led by a charismatic politician or an influential
political party) is therefore an advantage for any candidate. Voters are
permitted, however, to cross off the names of candidates from any
particular list and add others, which makes it possible for candidates
from opposing slates to get elected.

The population of Lebanon is currently estimated at about 4 million.
According to statistics published by the Lebanese Ministry of the
Interior 2.75 million citizens above the age of 21 were eligible to
vote. Of these, 88,601 were Armenian 'Orthodox'; 20,259, Armenian
Catholics; and 7,354, Armenian Evangelicals.

According to this principle, the six seats pre-allocated to the Armenian
'Orthodox' and Catholic communities were distributed in four different
constituencies, where Armenians are registered in significant numbers:

    -- one 'Orthodox' seat in the District of Metn in Mount Lebanon
    (together with four Maronite, two Greek Orthodox and one Greek
    Catholic seats);

    -- one 'Orthodox' seat in Beirut's Second Electoral District
    (together with two Sunni, one Shi'i, one Greek Orthodox and the
    'minorities' seats);

    -- two 'Orthodox' and one Catholic seats in Beirut's Third
    Electoral District (together two Sunni, one Shi'i and one Druze
    seats); and

    -- one 'Orthodox' seat in the District of Zahle in the Bekaa
    Valley (together with two Greek Catholic, one Maronite, one Greek
    Orthodox one Sunni and one Shi'i seats).

The Evangelical seat (with one Armenian candidate running) was, as
mentioned above, in Beirut's First Electoral District.

In the absence of strong, countrywide political parties, with ideologies
appealing across confessional lines, Lebanese parliamentary elections
have always presented a complex picture of petty regional and
confessional rivalries. Most successful candidates either come from
influential land-owning, quasi-feudal families or are rich merchants,
businessmen and industrialists. Deputies representing political parties
are always a minority in the Chamber. Voters expect these candidates and
their supporters to spend a lot of money or render some sort of 'service'
to win their favor. The political alliances that these notables forge
before and even after the elections are usually ephemeral and driven,
to a large extent, by personal interests. This prevents the emergence
of a largely uniform, countrywide picture, with which reporters can
summarize developments to the outside world. 'There are actually 13
different elections going on in the country,' noted one analyst a few
days prior to the polls, 'each with its own peculiarities.' This essay
will focus on five of these 'elections,' where 'Armenian' seats were
at stake.

The Armenians in Lebanon present a slightly different picture, however.
The three Armenian political parties (the Dashnaktsutiun, the
Hunchakians and the Ramkavars) function de facto in the country.
Together with the Armenian section of the Communist Party of Lebanon,
they undoubtedly exercise more control over the Lebanese Armenian
community than the other political parties (like the Phalangists, the
Progressive Socialists, Hezbollah, etc.) either inside the communities
they have emerged from or in the country at large. This can be partly
explained by the fact that Armenians are relative newcomers in Lebanon,
with no landed aristocracy to challenge the political parties that
accompanied the refugees into their new, host societies after the
Genocide. Moreover, the Genocide had acted as an equalizer by
abolishing the privileges some families had enjoyed in the homeland.
Lebanon is a country where the role of the government has
traditionally been minimal in the social sphere. Here, the different
communities through their churches and affiliated social organizations
provide many of the social services, which Western citizens expect
from their government. In the Armenian case, the Church itself has
unfortunately been a playground for politics and not all Armenians
living in the country today feel themselves to be at an equal distance
from its institutions. This reality has caused Armenians of different
political convictions to stick to the political organization closest
to their beliefs as well as to the cultural and athletic organizations
affiliated to each particular party. These allegiances were forced at
a time when the legitimacy of the Soviet regime in Armenia was
disputed among different sections of the Diasporan community. They
have not changed much since the collapse of Communism. Each party and
its set of affiliated non-political organizations have gradually come
to play the role of some sort of mini-government by providing the
social services needed to its followers. Armenians are undoubtedly one
of the best-organized communities in the country in this regard. This
organization, however, has somewhat distanced the Armenian citizen of
Lebanon from the rest of the state institutions. It has also given the
elite that controls the Armenian organizations the leverage to
mobilize the community to vote for their own candidates. This is why
the Lebanese government and/or influential politicians in
Armenian-populated areas target these organizations to forge alliances
with them to reach the Chamber together. Moreover, since intra-Armenian
political differences have focused largely on pan-Armenian issues, it
has been possible for different Armenian parties and their supporters
to agree on Lebanese issues and sometimes forge ad-hoc, united
Armenian lists to wage the parliamentary elections together. The three
Armenian parties, after all, do still consider their joint decision
not to take part in the Lebanese Civil War as a great achievement.


THE POLITICAL BACKGROUND

This was the third time parliamentary elections held in Lebanon in the
post-Civil War era. Since the Ta'if Accord of 1989, which put a formal
end to the Civil War, however, the Lebanese political system has been
thoroughly subservient to the neighboring Syrian regime. The Syrian
authorities still keep around 30,000 troops in the country. Moreover,
they have, over the past decade, adopted a variety of sophisticated
techniques to prevent their opponents within Lebanese society from
being represented in the Chamber. These 'interventions' take different
shapes and take place at various stages of the electoral process. In
that sense, the parliaments elected in 1992 and 1996 were both broadly
of a single political (i.e. pro-Syrian) color. Differences among the
parties and deputies represented in those Chambers never affected any
individual's or faction's readiness to cooperate with the government
of Damascus.

The voters were on this occasion going to the polls soon after two
momentous events, which can have a great impact on Lebanon's future. The
month of May saw the unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops from South
Lebanon after 22 years of occupation. This was followed in June by the
passing away of President Hafiz al-Asad after about thirty years of
iron-fisted rule over Syria, during which Lebanon was gradually brought
into the Syrian fold. It soon became evident, however, that Asad's death
had come too late to change anything substantial in time for these
elections either on the local, Lebanese political scene or in Lebanon's
state-to-state relations with her larger and more powerful neighbor.
This feeling of dij` vu strengthened after the transition in Syria
appeared to proceed smoothly.

The main electoral issue, therefore, turned out to be the desire of
former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri to return to power. Arguably the
richest man in Lebanon, Hariri stormed into the political center-stage
in 1992 when he was appointed Prime Minister from outside the country's
professional political class as a last hope to stop the downward trend
in the country's economy and the consistent devaluation of its national
currency. He stayed as the country's Prime Minister for six years,
overseeing a huge rebuilding project in anticipation of peace in the
Middle East, which might give Lebanon back its pre-Civil War status as a
major financial and business center. However, the failure of Israel,
Syria and the Palestinians to reach a full and fair peace accord delayed
the expected economic upturn and plunged the country into massive
foreign debt. When Gen. Emile Lahoud was elected as Lebanon's President
in late 1998, Hariri refused to serve under him and became the chief
opposition figure inside the country. Relations between Hariri and the
government led by Lahoud's Prime Minister, Selim al-Hoss, were always
tense and the former used the media outlets he owned, the private Future
TV station and the daily newspaper, al-Mustaqbal, to criticize the
government's performance. He also started spending the equivalent of
tens of millions of US dollars in philanthropic projects, in order to
gain the sympathy of different organizations and individual citizens in
time for these parliamentary elections. His opponents used this fact
during the pre-election campaign. They openly called on voters not to be
bought by tycoons and to vote only according to their conscience. The
results in Beirut show that this campaign strategy failed.


THE PRE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN AND THE ARMENIANS IN BEIRUT

Hariri's quest for power had important implications on the Armenian
political scene.

Four years ago, the three Armenian political parties (with a little bit
of outside pressure) joined forces with Hariri. The 14,000 Armenian
votes helped Hariri to ensure the election of most of his allies on the
same slate, including deputies representing the Dashnak and Hunchakian
parties, as well as the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) with
the backing of the Ramkavars (who were not represented themselves).

Relations between Hariri and the Dashnaks did not go smoothly after the
election, however. The Prime Minister was unhappy that many Armenians
had still voted for the populist politician, Najah Wakim, Hariri's arch
critic. Two years later, when President Lahoud appointed Hoss as his
first Prime Minister, the pro-Dashnak deputies deserted Hariri and gave
the new premier a vote of confidence. Only MPs Yeghig Jerejian of the
Hunchakian party and Hagop Demirjian of the AGBU remained loyal to
Hariri.

The former Premier thereafter tried to establish his own personal base
within the Armenian community, independently of the politically
dominant Dashnak party. After all, the latter usually sided with
pro-government elements during previous parliamentary elections, and
Hariri was going to fight the 2000 elections from the opposition. This
was part of an overall project he had prepared to sweep back to power
by having as many supporters in the Chamber, and thus overcome
President Lahoud's resistance to have him as premier. Hariri
established a number of offices in various Armenian neighborhoods,
which offered a number of social services, including a sum of 200 US
Dollars for every poor family, which registered its children at school
at the start of the 1999/2000 academic year. His private television
station, Future TV, introduced a nightly 15-minute Armenian language
news bulletin, repeated the next morning. Despite public remarks of
appreciation at the time, many Armenians privately received this
novelty with a lot of skepticism.  They understood that the bulletin
would be used to propagate Hariri's platform come election time and
argued that his commitment to having news in the Armenian language on
his private TV channel should be judged only if this bulletin stayed
AFTER the elections and IRRESPECTIVE of the ways most Armenians vote.

It seems that at the same time Hariri had privately agreed to include
both Hagop Kassarjian, the leader of the Ramkavar party, and Yeghig
Jerejian, the Hunchakian candidate, on his electoral slate, and he stuck
to his candidates to the end. The Ramkavar party had never had a deputy
in the Lebanese Parliament and had in 1996 backed the AGBU
representative on the united Armenian slate. Jerejian had been a loyal
Hariri ally since 1996 and refused to compromise with his opponents
inside the Hunchakian party on this issue.

The Dashnak party, however, could not reach a compromise with Hariri.
The Dashnak leadership would later claim that two points had remained
unabridgeable during the negotiations. First, the Dashnaks had insisted
that Hariri choose an Armenian (most probably, Apraham Dedeyan, the
present deputy) for the Evangelical seat on his list. Hariri wanted that
seat to be filled by Basil Fulayhan, a close associate. Hariri argued
that now that Beirut had been divided into three constituencies, he felt
most secure in the First District (where the Evangelical seat is
allocated) and he wanted to have a secure ally running in that district.
Based on the experience of 1998, Hariri probably feared that any
successful Armenian candidate would always feel closer to the other
Armenian ('Orthodox' and Catholic) deputies and might desert him again
under certain political circumstances. Second, the Dashnaks explained
that they had insisted that all Armenian deputies elected on Hariri's
list should later establish - according to a decades-old tradition - a
separate Armenian bloc of deputies that would decide on each political
issue on its own merits. Hariri, however, insisted that all candidates
(including Armenians) running on his list should pledge to stick
together as one bloc in the next parliament and vote as a group on all
issues. This would make the Armenian vote in the Chamber subservient to
Hariri's wishes. The former Prime Minister also pointed out that no
other bloc of deputies in the Parliament was named after a confessional
group, but the Dashnaks refused to budge. They allegedly refused a
suggestion to rename their bloc as the Dashnak Bloc, claiming that it
included more than Dashnaks in its ranks.

Negotiations between the Armenian parties were also proceeding
simultaneously until the Ramkavar party made public its intention to
push forward with the candidacy of Kassarjian on Hariri's list. The
Dashnaks immediately accused the Ramkavars of breaking ranks. They
continued negotiating with Hariri till the eleventh hour, but no
breakthrough was possible. Hariri allegedly insisted on keeping
Jerejian and Kassarjian on his list and offered the Dashnaks the two
other places under the conditions expounded above. Unlike the
Dashnaks, Jerejian and Kassarjian did not insist on naming an Armenian
as a candidate for the Evangelical seat.

Finally, Hariri publicized the names of candidates who would run in
the three electoral districts in Beirut as members of a joint list,
named 'Dignity,' under his own uncontested leadership. Jerejian would
run for the only Armenian 'Orthodox' seat in District II, while the
two Armenian 'Orthodox' and the Armenian Catholic seats in District
III went respectively to Kassarjian, Jean Oghassapian (Hovassapian)
and Serge Toursarkissian. Oghassapian was a retired army officer,
previously largely unknown to the Armenian community, except for his
involvement in matters of security during President Robert Kocharian's
visit to Lebanon in February. Toursarkissian was also a relatively
unknown 37-year-old lawyer from a prominent Armenian Catholic family.

The Dashnak party now had no choice but to ally itself with
politicians opposed to Hariri. Since it was evident that President
Lahoud wanted to keep Hariri out of the Prime Minister's office, this
immediately brought back the old charges that the Dashnaks run, as a
rule, with any government in power. After a somewhat long delay, which
allowed the Ramkavars to claim that there were serious problems within
their opponents' camp, the Dashnaks managed to come to an agreement
with those Hunchakians who were opposed to Jerejian. This anti-Jerejian
faction had the support of the party's central leadership, which later
expelled Jerejian and his ally, Sebouh Kalpakian, the leader of the
party's executive committee in Lebanon, from the party ranks. Minister
Arthur Nazarian, a senior official in the AGBU Lebanon chapter (though
the organization officially kept a neutral stance), also joined them
and the formation of the 'National Unity Front' was announced. Sebouh
Hovnanian, the current Dashnak MP from the Metn would seek to retain
his seat. MP Apraham Dedeyan would also attempt to retain his
Evangelical seat in Beirut I. Hunchakian candidate Mihran Seferian
would oppose his partisan Jerejian in Beirut II. Finally, this list's
candidates for District III would be Hagop Pakradouni (Dashnak) and
Nazarian -for the Armenian 'Orthodox' seats, - together with a
relatively unknown businessman, Stepan Abajian - for the Armenian
Catholic seat. George Kassarji the incumbent Armenian MP from the town
of Zahle also joined this list during his own bid to retain his seat.

The greatest surprise in this announcement was the absence of Armenian
Catholic MP, Jacques (Hagop) Chukhadarian, who had been elected both in
1992 and 1996. Tchoukhadarian accepted his deselection with grace,
though there were rumors that he had been dropped under pressure from
various influential circles in government who did not wish to see him in
the next Chamber.

The naming of two Dashnak politicians to run for the elections was a
striking departure from previous practice. The Dashnaks had always named
one party-member on their lists. He would be the so-called
'representative' of the Armenian Bloc and would make sure that the Bloc
would not stray from the party's political line. Other candidates on the
Dashnak list were previously mostly rich Armenian businessmen, who
sought the party's favor by making donations either to the party, its
affiliated non-political organizations or to the institutions of the
Catholicosate of Cilicia and the Armenian Prelacy, both long controlled
by the Dashnaks. The party did not explain publicly why it had departed
from its traditional formula, paving the way for speculation. Some
argued that the introduction of a second Dashnak party-member on the
list was necessitated by the party's increasing willingness (some may
say acquiescence) in recent years to accept members of other political
parties in the so-called Armenian Bloc. Others saw simply as a way out
of the intense conflict the party has seen in recent years between the
two named candidates, Hovnanian and Pakradouni, to lead its organization
in Lebanon. The Armenian language newspapers in Lebanon, controlled by
the political parties, are notoriously secretive. Rival newspapers
usually prefer not to write about the internal problems of opposing
parties, all in the name of keeping harmony within the community.
Readers in future will, as usual, look in vain into Beirut's Armenian
newspapers to find what was at stake during this inner party struggle,
but speculation was rife about this issue in many of the country's
non-Armenian newspapers throughout the previous couple of years.

The two other political parties also experienced inner problems prior to
the publication of the opposing lists.

The problem within the Hunchakian party goes back to even before the
previous elections in 1996. During the last round four years ago, the
two Hunchakian candidates were again running against one another.
Jerejian was then allied with the Dashnaks and Hariri. Seferian was left
to find a slot on Hoss's list and was then expelled from the party.
Jerejian won in 1996 as part of Hariri's list. There were many attempts
following this election to find some sort of compromise within the
party. Seferian was re-admitted to the party. However, the pre-election
period showed once again that these attempts had not been successful.
Jerejian and Seferian were again at loggerheads. Jerejian remained
allied with Hariri and hence deserted the Dashnaks. He had already
stopped attending the meetings of the Armenian Parliamentary Bloc some
time ago. His opponents within the party, on the other hand, now forged
an alliance with the Dashnaks. The party's daily newspaper, Ararat, even
stopped publication for a few days because of the intensity on the
internal conflict, and then was taken over by the supporters of
Seferian.

The disagreements within the Ramkavar party were more muted. A few
members of the party's steering committee in Lebanon were reported to
have resigned in disagreement with the candidacy of Kassarjian and
particularly of the alliance with Hariri. These disagreements largely
remained behind closed doors, however, and Kassarjian could claim in his
many interviews during the pre-election period that the party was united
behind him and Hariri.

The Armenian Communists were not openly part of the early pre-election
bargaining. As the campaign progressed, however, it became evident
that there was an informal alliance between the pro-Communist Armenian
candidate in the Metn, Hariri and the Ramkavars against the Dashnaks.
Hariri reportedly richly rewarded his Armenian allies, a tradition all
too common in the history of Lebanese elections. It became evident
that he had made five to six figure donations (in US Dollars) to
Homenmen (the athletic organization affiliated with the Hunchakian
party, the leadership of which had backed Jerejian) and the Ararat
sporting organization (affiliated with the Communists). The latter
would use the sum to buy the rented accommodation, where their club is
situated. Other donations, if any, were kept secret, for the time
being at least. The fact of Armenian Communists seeking donations from
Lebanon's most famous capitalist shows the death of political
ideologies among the Armenians of Lebanon and mirrors what is going on
the Lebanese scene in general.

The pre-election campaign between the two Armenian blocs was the most
vicious, again mirroring the situation in the country at large. The
Dashnak party and its allies insisted on the necessity to keep the
Armenian voice united and to keep it independent. They reminded their
supporters of the difficult days of the Civil War when united Armenian
action turned out to be the best guarantee to keep the whole community
as much away as possible from unnecessary trouble and destruction.
They called on the Armenian voters not to get carried away by Hariri's
short-term philanthropy and questioned if he would as generous the
next year as well. They also accused the Ramkavars of breaking
Armenian unity.

The Ramkavars, on the other hand, downplayed the importance of the
Evangelical seat for the Armenian community. Their ally on Hariri's
list, after all, was not an Armenian. They pointed out that the
Dashnak-dominated Armenian Bloc had itself voted for this particular
electoral law that left the Evangelical seat isolated from the other
Armenian seats in a divided capital city. The Ramkavar press was full of
praise for Hariri, depicting him as a great friend of the Armenian
people, who had helped Armenia after the earthquake of 1988 and during
whose tenure as Prime Minister (1992-98) relations between Lebanon and
newly independent Armenia had blossomed. The Dashnak counter-attack in
this regard that Hariri had also visited Azerbaijan and had sung the
praise of Turco-Lebanese friendship during his tenure as Premier was not
very effective, as these visits had taken place BEFORE the 1996
elections, when all Armenian parties had gone along with Hariri. The
Ramkavar argument was that Hariri had offered the Dashnaks what they
thought had been a fair deal to join his bandwagon, but the latter had
refused because they had wanted to continue to impose their own will
over the Armenian Bloc as a whole. Jerejian, an ally of the Ramkavars,
said in an interview with the Ramkavar daily, Zartonk, that he had left
the Armenian Bloc because he had felt that he was unwelcome there. Many
announcements had been made to the press in the name of the Bloc without
him and other non-partisan members of the Bloc being previously
acquainted with their contents. An important theme during the Ramkavar
campaign was thus the necessity to fight Dashnak hegemony, which the
party deemed had been harmful to long-term Armenian national interests.
'It's now or never!' told me a close personal friend, who also happens
to be a Ramkavar activist.

The campaign was carried out with both sides preferring to preach to
their own tested followers rather than try to take their message to the
'floating' voter or to the other camp. Ramkavar and pro-Hariri rallies
were held in Beirut proper, while the Dashnaks remained steadfast within
their 'fiefdom' in Bourj Hammoud. Pictures of anti-Dashnak candidates
were repeatedly torn down in Bourj Hammoud, and there were no
face-to-face debates between any of the rival candidates. Future TV and
especially its Armenian news program gave wide coverage to the
pro-Hariri candidates and repeatedly attacked the record of Minister
Arthur Nazarian, especially in matters of the environment. The Lebanese
state-run TV, Tele Liban, also introduced in the last couple of weeks a
five-minute slot of Armenian language news. This was a first in the
history of state television and was devoted fully to propagate the views
of the Dashnaks and their allies.

Interestingly, the campaign seemed to concentrate more on past
achievement (or faults) and did not touch at all on promises about what
the opposing candidates would try to do for their Armenian constituents
in the future. On polling day, therefore, most Armenian voters followed
their traditional allegiances when choosing the side to vote for.

The case of the Armenian Evangelical candidate, Dedeyan, was slightly
different. Except for die-hard Ramkavars and Jerejian supporters (who
had made an electoral pact with Hariri), most Armenians in Beirut's
First Electoral District took it as a national obligation to vote for
Dedeyan against non-Armenian Evangelical candidates. Dedeyan had joined
ranks with Fouad Makhzoumi, another rich Sunni businessman opposing
Hariri, and the Armenian Unity Front had called on voters to support the
former. However, there were many instances when Armenian voters chose
Dedeyan, but voted for pro-Hariri and other candidates for the other
positions on the electoral ticket.


HOVNANIAN SCORES A MODEST VICTORY IN THE DISTRICT OF METN

The elections were held over two successive Sundays in the North and
Mount Lebanon on 27 August and in Beirut, the Bekaa and the South on 3
September.

During the first weekend, Armenian interest centered on the elections
in the District of Metn, which includes the neighborhood of Bourj
Hammoud.  24,312 Armenian 'Orthodox', 6,578 Armenian Catholic and
2,022 Armenian Evangelical voters were registered in this
constituency, out of a total of 152,557. The Armenian 'Orthodox'
formed the second largest confessional bloc of voters in the district
after the Maronite Christians. Since the electoral law in Lebanon
denies citizens outside the country the chance to vote on polling day,
the turnout is usually low. In recent years, the percentage of
Armenian participation has lagged behind the average in the country
because of mass Armenian migration from Lebanon during the years of
the Civil War. In 1996, for example, only 24 percent of the Armenian
'Orthodox' and Catholic registered voters actually participated on
polling day, when the average across the country was 43.8 percent. It
was still expected, however, that some 10,000 Armenians would go to
the polls in this district. Most would vote, according to the
instructions of the Dashnak party, the strongest Armenian political
organization in the area, for the list of the party's long time ally,
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Michel
al-Murr. There were few explanations accompanying this instruction why
Murr had been and continued to be preferable for the Armenians
compared to his erstwhile opponents, Nassib Lahoud and Michel Samaha.

Murr, a Greek Orthodox, has been in recent years one of Lebanon's
strongest political figures. His pro-Syrian political line has been very
unpopular, however, with large sections of the Maronite Christian
community, especially in this district. Murr's 'the Metn Accord' list,
which was widely accepted as the list of the authorities, also included
the 25-year-old son of President Lahoud, who also comes from the Metn.
Moreover, Murr is related to the president through the marriage of their
children. The Dashnak MP in the outgoing parliament, Sebouh Hovnanian,
again contested the elections on Murr's list and was returned. The over
6,000 votes that this list got from Bourj Hammoud proved crucial not
only for the election of Hovnanian, but also for other candidates on the
list. Lahoud openly attributed the failure of Samaha to the bloc vote
Murr's list had received from Bourj Hammoud and called on the government
to intervene and put an end to the "ghetto" atmosphere in Bourj Hammoud.
This was one indication of widespread anti-Syrian, Maronite sentiment in
the area, who feel that they are being robbed of what they consider to
be as their 'true representatives' because of the Dashnak party's
unconditional support for the pro-Syrian and Greek Orthodox Murr.

Nassib Lahoud, a distant relative of the president, a former Lebanese
ambassador to Washington and a highly respected politician headed the
main opposition, 'Freedom' list in the district. In 1996, there had been
no Armenian candidate on Lahoud's list and the Armenian votes had almost
all gone against him and his allies to consolidate Murr's victory. This
time, however, Lahoud included an independent (pro-Communist) Armenian
candidate, 35-year-old Raffi Madeyan, on his own list.

Madeyan ran a very high-profile campaign and captured the imagination of
many non-Armenian voters. The grandson of the famous Lebanese-Armenian
Communist leader, Harutiun (Artin) Madeyan, and the adopted son of
George Hawi, the Greek Orthodox former leader of the Communist Party of
Lebanon, Raffi has a master's degree in political science from the
American University of Beirut and is reportedly working on his Ph.D. at
the Sorbonne. His discourse was very appealing to the average
Arabic-speaking Christian Lebanese voter, criticizing Murr's record in
government and accusing the Dashnaks of imposing their will through
undemocratic means on the average Armenian voter. He pointed at his
large picture being torn down in Bourj Hammoud and, on polling day, had
a skirmish with Dashnak activists in the area. He made a successful TV
appearance and proudly claimed that he had accomplished what no Armenian
candidate had done before by visiting all villages in the district
(where practically no Armenians live) and establishing direct contact
for the first time with the non-Armenian voters. The latter saw in
Madeyan an Armenian candidate, who could speak Arabic almost perfectly
(something few third- or fourth-generation Armenians, including
Hovnanian, the Dashnak candidate, can proudly claim to do), and who was
opposed to the Dashnak party's pro-Murr line.

Madeyan's appeal inside the Armenian community remained limited,
however, to Communists and the Ramkavars, both emanating from
anti-Dashnak motives. To start with, his command of the Armenian
language was very poor. So was his knowledge of the Armenian community's
own problems. He used a very confrontational discourse with his Armenian
opponents, reminiscent of the Armenian 'Cold War' days of the 1950s. His
style sometimes appeared to touch on the arrogant and was certainly
sensationalist. The Dashnaks tried to discredit him by always insisting
on referring to him as Raffi Hawi, a surname he had used in the past to
write articles on various issues. In one such article (signed Raffi
Madeyan) in the aftermath of the 27 October 1999 parliamentary shootings
in Yerevan, he had openly accused President Kocharian of being behind
the murders, necessitating a written intervention by the Armenian
ambassador in Lebanon.

In the end, it was the Armenian vote in Bourj Hammoud that swayed the
result in Hovnanian's favor. Madeyan had run as an independent in 1996
and had received just over 5,000 votes (less than 100 of which from
Bourj Hammoud). On this occasion, his alliance with Nassib Lahoud and
support from the Ramkavars raised his tally to over 27,000 (but only
just over 400 from Bourj Hammoud) against some 32,000 votes for
Hovnanian.

The Dashnak newspaper described Hovnanian's victory as "brilliant."
Never before had the Dashnak dominance in the Metn had been challenged
this closely, however. Madeyan's popularity among non-Armenian voters
puts the Dashnaks and the other Armenian political parties in Lebanon
under the imperative of taking the nominations of their candidates more
seriously in future elections. Any successful candidate should be not
only close to Armenian concerns but should also appeal to the
non-Armenian voter because of his or her fluency in Arabic, discourse
and overall style in politics. Most importantly, he or she should be
ready to carry the Armenian message in person to the various
non-Armenian villages in the area.


ELECTIONS IN BEIRUT

Elections in Beirut and the Bekaa took place on the second weekend.

The result in Beirut's three districts was a sweeping victory for the
'Dignity' lists sponsored by Rafiq Hariri, which eliminated all his
opponents, including the incumbent Prime Minister, Selim al-Hoss. Beirut
had been divided apparently to break up Hariri's power by reducing the
number of seats he might win. The first district had been thought to go
to Hariri, while districts 2 and 3 were carved to be the power bases
of MP Tammam Salam (son a famous former Premier) and Hoss respectively.
The latter two would later attribute their defeat to the heavy
spending by Hariri and his campaign among the numerically dominant
Sunni community in Beirut, claiming that he alone, with his strong
financial base and international connections, could restore the Sunni
community to its former, pre-Civil War prestigious position in the
country. Hariri also benefited from the failure of the Hoss government
to tackle the continuing downward swing in the Lebanese economy.

According to the lists of registered voters, there were 12,208 Armenian
voters (from all three denominations) in District I (out of a total
127,604); 12,998 in District II (out of 128,744); and 37,100 in District
III (out of 140,813). The actual number of those who received their
voting cards and voted on polling day was understandably much less for
the same reasons explained above.

Since most Armenians voted predictably according to their party or
organizational allegiances inherited from the Cold War, the Dashnak-led
coalition, the Armenian Unity Front, received more of the Armenian
votes. Aztak, the Dashnak newspaper claimed that the party's candidates
had received 'Armenian' votes, while only 1,700 'Armenian' votes had
gone to Hariri's list. The votes that Hariri's Armenian candidates
received from voters from the other communities, however, made sure that
they were elected. This was implicitly acknowledged the Ramkavar daily,
Zartonk, who said that the election results proved that the Armenian
candidates on the 'Dignity' list 'enjoyed the sympathy and confidence of
Armenian and especially Arab voters.' Election Day was again tarnished
by a knife attack by three Arab youth (wearing Kassarjian t-shirts) on a
young Armenian Dashnak activist in the neighborhood of Ashrafiyyah. The
end-result was a new type of Armenian representation in the Chamber,
where the Dashnak party would not hold most, if not all, of the strings
for the first time in the history of Lebanon's Armenian community.
Hariri's clean sweep also made sure that Dedeyan lost the Evangelical
seat to Basil Fulayhan, thus reducing the number of deputies of Armenian
extraction into six instead of the present seven.


ELECTIONS IN ZAHLE AND ANJAR

In the Bekaa Valley, there was an Armenian 'Orthodox' seat in District
2, which includes the Armenian village of Anjar. George Kassarji had
filled this seat since it was created in 1992. His election that year
had been against the wishes of the Dashnak party, the only political
force in Anjar. Since then, however, relations between Kassarji (who
enjoys an apparently secure electoral base among the town's non-Armenian
voters) and the Dashnaks have improved significantly. Kassarji has
joined the Armenian Bloc and agreed this time to be part of the united
Armenian list. He and his allies on the 'Popular Bloc' list scored an
easy victory. Two other independent candidates - Vartkes Chaparian from
Anjar and Garbis Buchakjian from Zahle - running for the same seat
failed to get any significant amount of votes. Still Buchakjian's
candidacy was interesting in the sense that he tried to represent the
interests of Armenians living actually in Zahle, the center of this
district, who think that Kassarji is not a full-blooded Armenian and
that he has not shown enough concern for the Armenians living in the
town.


WHAT NEXT?

The 2000 parliamentary elections will be long remembered by the
Armenians in Lebanon for the simple fact that they appeared to break the
Dashnak monopoly on parliamentary representation. This fact will
undoubtedly be interpreted differently by various factions and groupings
within the community.

There should be no argument, however, that the community will move in
the next four years into uncharted waters. Most of its deputies actually
received less than half of the Armenian votes cast on polling day and
will always be held suspect (by some at least) for representing their
political patron's rather than their own community's interests. Will
such accusations lead them to adopt novel ways to serve their community
better than Dashnak-supported deputies had done so far and hence justify
their initial decision to go with Hariri against the wishes of the
Dashnak party? How will these deputies, especially those from the
Armenian 'Orthodox' faith, deal with their own communal, religious
authorities that have been under total Dashnak domination since 1956?

Soon the month of October will knock at our doors and Armenian parents
just like any other in Lebanon will think first and foremost about
paying the tuition for their children's next academic year. The
elections, the pre-election smears, the tearing down of pictures of
candidates from the opposing camp, the dynamite thrown in front of the
Ararat club on the day of Hariri's visit, the skirmish in Bourj Hammoud,
and the knife attack in Ashrafiyyah will hopefully recede in people's
memories. Then, it will be the month of December and Christmas gifts, at
a time of deep economic recession...

It is hoped that once passions cool down, influential people from all
sides will find the courage necessary to sit together and start devising
ways so that Armenian deputies in the Chamber of 2005 will be more
representative of the community's actual political landscape. Moreover,
innovative approaches may be needed so that Armenian community interests
remain in the forefront of the political agenda, hopefully through
joint, coordinated efforts and courageous, but honorable compromises.
Unmistakably, voices will rise on all sides for Armenians to learn
lessons from this most recent experience and adopt a workable, common
platform with which to overcome future obstacles. But will these, say,
voices of reason be strong enough to replace decades of mutual distrust
and (by now largely de-ideologozed) factional rivalries?


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Ara Sanjian is an Assistant Professor in History at Haigazian University
in Beirut, Lebanon.

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