Armenia has seen several important political developments over the last three months, one of which was the creation of a political party named Armenian National Congress (ANC). A body named ANC already existed in the country in the form of a coalition of 18 parties and organizations created in August 2008 by Ter-Petrosian, who was also an early candidate in the recent presidential elections. The ANC (often termed HAK, its Armenian abbreviation) won 13 seats in the Yerevan municipal elections in 2009, but then boycotted the municipal sessions. In the 2012 parliamentary elections, it won 7 seats in the National Assembly.
In early 2013, the bloc ANC contained 13 members only, including Ter-Petrosian’s party, the Armenian National Movement (HHSh). Among its goals, the ANC includes the immediate release of all political prisoners; attaining complete freedom of speech, media, and assembly; a truly independent investigation into the crimes of March 1 with significant participation of international experts; the initiation of a dialogue with the authorities about democratic reforms after at least the first condition is fulfilled; and holding pre-term presidential and parliamentary elections.
The bloc was the true leader of the opposition movement in Armenia in 2008-2012. Ter-Petrosian then made an unprecedented move to meet the new challenges as he saw them, and decided to rename his party. This decision, supported by the leadership of the party, was formally taken on February 23, confirmed by the Justice Ministry on March 13, and the founding Congress of the ANC party was held on April 13, where Ter-Petrosian was unanimously elected as its President.
The move received conflicting assessments with some reiterating Ter-Petrosian’s assurance never to leave HHSh, which was founded in 1988 on a platform based on the ideas of the historical Karabakh Committee, in close resemblance to the simultaneous development of “popular fronts” in other Soviet republics. With Ter-Petrosian as President, HHSh increasingly obtained the features of a liberal party, but this process was never completed as the party had to resolve all the tasks connected with gaining independence ranging from creating a Customs Service to war in Nagorno-Karabakh.
After Ter-Petrosian resigned in 1998, many supporters left the HHSh and it became a weak party, a “village club” as Ter-Petrosian once put it. At the same time, the ANC coalition failed to reach its most important goals and by changing the name of his party, Ter-Petrosian resolved the two tasks of rejuvenating the HHSh and dissolving the inefficient ANC coalition, which adopted decisions only by consensus. The coalition nevertheless continues to exist and its parliamentary faction still carries its name.
The organizers of the April 13 congress claimed that the ANC party is a reincarnation of HHSh, arguing that even most remaining members of the Karabakh committee support this change of name. It has been assessed that 35-40 percent of the members of the new party are non-partisan members of the ANC coalition, and the majority of which being younger than 35. On the other hand, many influential members of HHSh refused to join the new party, for example the former parliamentary speaker Babken Artarktsian.
Ter-Petrosian gave a characteristic speech at the Congress, saying that a “bourgeois-democratic revolution” should be performed in Armenia, to allow for a free market and free competition. He said that current market conditions in Armenia are feudal. In this regard, he did not exclude cooperation between ANC and the Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP), whose business-oriented leadership also believes such a revolution is needed. Before the 2012 parliamentary elections, PAP was part of the government coalition and its leader Gagik Tsarukian is one of the richest oligarchs in Armenia. It is hence of interest that a PAP MP, Stepan Margarian, attended the ANC party congress along with the opposition leaders and even delivered a speech.
Ter-Petrosian stated in an interview on February 7 to the newspaper Chorord Inqnishkhanutiun that ANC intends to become a centrist party. He expects the party to follow a social-liberal ideology that defends full freedom of the economy with a moderate participation of the state. He mentioned the U.S. Democratic Party as a role model for the ANC. The first political test of the new party will be the May 5 Yerevan municipal elections, in which the ANC has presented a list led by former Yerevan mayor Vahagn Khachatrian.