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