Shamiram’s sensation, Zurabyan vs. Pashinyan, first serious clash

On July 5, 1995, the elections of the Armenian National Assembly of the first convocation were held. 190 MPs were elected – 150 majoritarian and 40 proportional electoral systems. On the same day the Constitutional referendum was held significantly strengthening the presidential power.

About 1000 candidates and 13 parties participated in elections: the ruling Pan-Armenian National Movement headed the Republic bloc which was joined by Ramkavar-Azatakan (Liberal Democratic) Party, Social-Democratic Hnchakyan Party, Christian-Democratic Union of Armenia, Intellectual Armenia and Republican Party of Armenia.

Five political forces overcame the barrier of 5% in proportional electoral system: Republic bloc – 42,66%, Shamiram – 16.88%, the Communist Party of Armenia – 12.10%, the National-Democratic Union 7,51%, the National Self-Determination Union -5.57%.



Republic became the biggest faction with 117 MPs.

“Amendments” parliamentary group was also set up in the parliament (31 MPs), and 21 MPs were not included in any faction or parliamentary group.

Later Yerkrapah deputy group was established (17 deputies).

Babken Ararktsyan was elected the Chairman of the Armenian National Assembly.

Ter-Petrosyan vs. Dashnaktsutiun

Upon the December 28, 1994 decree of Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosyan, the activity of Dashnaktsutiun party was banned 6 months before elections. The party was accused of the murder of former Yerevan Mayor Hambardzum Galstyan (December 17, 1994), as well as of having a terrorist organization “Dro” within the party.

In his May18, 1995 address to the parliament, Levon Ter-Petrosyan accused Dashnaktsutiun of terrorism attempts and political murders in Armenia, stating that Dashnaktsutiun “is not a political party but a terrorist and fascist organization.” In that same address, the president said that he would not allow “Armenia to become a country like Lebanon” and “terrorism will be eliminated in Armenia.” Dashnaktsutiun turned down the accusations, stating that Ter-Petrosyan was simply trying to eliminate a rival ahead of the election.

A number of international organizations and states negatively reacted to the ban of Dashnaktsutiun’s activity. In particular, the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan issued a statement, expressing concern over the future of democratic reforms in Armenia and noting that the suspension of the activity of country’s largest opposition party “runs counter to established principles of democracy and freedom of speech.” The USA urged the authorities and Dashnaktsutiun to engage in a dialogue.



“If looked at from the outside, seems very antidemocratic: to ban a party, to close party newspapers - and all that done by a person who has a democratic image - it is inexplicable. But believe it or not, by this very step I am saving democracy in Armenia from terrorism.
Dashnaktsutiun is not a party. It’s a terrorist organization,” Levon Ter-Petrosyan said in an interview to The Christian Science Monitor in May 1995.

Levon Zurabyan vs Nikol Pashinyan

Moskovskiye Novosti [Moscow News] paper wrote on July 5, 1995:

“Women’s public-political organization Shamiram was established on the eve of parliamentary elections in Armenia. Armenian women do not traditionally get engaged in politics and it was decided to put an end to this practice. However, members of Shamiram were not ordinary women, they were chosen. Among the leaders of the organization were Anahit Torosyan - the spouse of Armenian Foreign Minister Vahan Papazyan, singer Nadezhda Sargsyan, Shogher Matevosyan - the spouse of Armenian President’s spokesperson Levon Zurabyan. Minister of Internal Affairs Vano Siradeghyan headed the extremely active election campaign of Shamiram. Even a summer café Shamiram opened in Yerevan.

However, an incident occurred during Shamiram’s election campaign. Nikol Pashinyan, a reporter of Lragir paper published an ironical interview with Shogher Matevosyan the introduction to which ended in the following way: “At the appointed time we found a room to stay alone with Shogher Matevosyan. For an interview”.



An uninvited guest visited the editorial office of Lragir the next day. It was Armenian president’s spokesperson Levon Zurabyan. In the office of the chief editor the jealous man repeatedly struck Nikol Pashinyan in the face. Well, such things also happen during the election campaign.

The first pre-election clash

About two weeks before the elections, ten opposition parties formed Cooperation for Justice unofficial alliance and submitted an ultimatum to the authorities, demanding fulfillment of the following requirements within five days: register unregistered opposition parties and candidates, move the date of the elections, ensure equal starting opportunities for all parties, ensure access to official media for the opposition.

The authorities did not respond to these demands in any way. On June 20, 1995, after another rally, the opposition leaders led the protesters to the presidential residence, where they organized a night sit-in and burned the scarecrow depicting Levon Ter-Petrosyan. The sit-in continued the next day, during which the leader of the NDU alliance, Vazgen Manukyan, announced the decision on creating “an alternative, people’s government.”



During that time, the participants of the opposition rally were informed that several hundred members of the Yerkrapah volunteer union had gathered in Liberty Square. Ashot Manucharyan, one of the leaders of the opposition, headed to the square with a group of demonstrators, where clashes began with the members of Yerkrapah which ended only after shots were fired into the air.

Journalist Anna Israelyan once expressed an opinion in an interview with Mediamax that this incident was the first to show that the presence of the power solutions and power factor in the Armenian politics became so obvious. And it just got stronger and stronger. “Yerkrapah, the people who participated in war, became a political factor which the authorities and opposition tried to use with varied success,” she said.

Shamiram’s sensation

The biggest sensation of 1995 elections was the impressive results Shamiram has recorded.

Former member of Shamiram faction, singer Nadezhda Sargsyan then told Mediamax:

“I was not too enthusiastic about becoming a party member when they suggested it to me, as I understood that it was a big responsibility which will take much effort and energy and I’ll have little time left for my creative work.

Of course, we all knew about problems but didn’t even imagine that there were so many of them. At first, I should have dealt only with culture, but later on I was forced to deal with issues related to health, education and issues of soldiers. We often visited various military units and performed concerts to bring some joy to soldiers and get familiarized with the issued they faced.”



Of course, it was a surprise for us to gain the second place at parliamentary elections. But, on the other hand, it was the natural result of our activity - we were working day and night. Many people called us “feminists”, but we always backed strong men.

The papers wrote various things about me, they even called me “immoral”. One of the papers “presented” me with Nairi cinema twice. The first time it wrote that Vano Siradeghyan presented me with Nairi cinema on March 8, and several months later one media outlet wrote that Vano Siradeghyan gave the cinema to me as a birthday present.

Many people backed Shamiram, including Vazgen Sargsyan. But Vano Siradeghyan helped us more than anybody else. He helped us solve a lot of problems.

The reality is that Shamiram was fully Vano Siradeghyan’s “project”. Having disagreements with some members of the Pan-Armenian National Movement’s elite, he decided to create a counterweight to the ruling party.



“Of course it was obvious that Shamiram was Vano Siradeghyan’s project carried out with significant use of administrative resource and power levers. However, I would like to note the positive thing in Shamiram - their presence in the parliament was often a constraining factor. For instance, on September 26, 1996, when the MPs from the ruling party attacked their colleagues from the opposition it was Shamiram women deputies who stood between them trying to stop the fight. There are many other examples how they tried to temper the boiling passions of the men,” Anna Israyelyan recalled.

Foreign press about elections

Russian Kommersant newspaper wrote in “Republic among Semiramis” article on July 8, 1995:

“Preliminary results of the elections in Armenia denied the forecasts made a day before: Republic bloc headed by the ruling Pan-Armenian National Movement which was forecasted to get less than 30% votes considerably exceeded the rate. And “the silver medal winner” of the elections, Shamiram (“Semiramis”) women party amazed not only the Central Electoral Committee but also foreign observers. Communist Party of Armenia was the third. The opposition which failed the election campaign closes the list”.



A number of Western papers critically assessed the elections. In particular, Los Angeles Times entitled its article “Armenia’s Rulers Winning Disputed Vote” and the British Daily Telegraph – “Elections Pave the Way for Armenian Dictatorship”.

“Free but not fair”

185 foreign observers from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe, European Parliament, CIS and OSCE and EU joint mission monitored the elections.

According to the OSCE report, the Armenian parliamentary elections showed some reassuring signs in terms of democratic development. “However, there is a whole set of negative points. One political party was eliminated before the elections and the composition of electoral commissions was unbalanced. The law on elections was applied selectively and inconsistently. The provision of the secrecy of voting has not always been strictly adhered to. However, the voting process itself went off smoothly,” the conclusion read.



The international observers assessed the 1995 parliamentary elections as “free but not fair” giving room for different comments. Many were convinced that in this way the Western observers had tried to play a double game.

Ara Tadevosyan, Aram Araratyan


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