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Review & Outlook - 06/29/2009

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Armenian News Network / Groong
June 29, 2009

By Ara Sanjian


I will start with a story which I have heard a number of times over the 
years from some of the people directly involved in it. It reportedly 
occurred in Lebanon in the late 1950s. A young Armenian female 
schoolteacher had a suitor, the elder brother of one of her students. 
Encouraged by the favorable comments the younger sister had repeatedly 
made at home about her schoolteacher, the family had concluded that she 
might end up being a suitable mate for their elder son. The latter, in 
turn, had very good credentials as a prospective bridegroom - based on 
social expectations prevalent among Lebanese Armenians at the time. 
However, the reply from the schoolteacher's family was a categorical 
"No!" Thereafter, an intermediary was dispatched to find out from the 
schoolteacher's father what the real cause behind this rejection was. 
"We find nothing wrong in either the young man or his family," was the 
explanation given. "The problem is that they are followers of one 
political party, while we support one of their rivals; every four years, 
there will be a period of strain in our relations as in-laws."

For a historian, the shortcomings of this story as a primary source are 
more than evident. That is why this author followed the anthropological 
approach - including, the withholding of the names of the people 
involved - and will analyze it solely from an anthropological viewpoint. 
The schoolteacher's father was a devout Hunchagian, sympathetic to the 
Soviet regime in Armenia. The rejected suitor's only "fault" - in the 
father's eyes - was being a young Tashnag activist. As a Hunchagian, the 
father disliked the broad lines of Tashnag policy toward Soviet Armenia. 
However, the contrasting Tashnag and Hunchagian attitudes remained 
largely unchanged throughout the seven decades of Communist rule in 
Armenia. Why, then, did the father underline the four-year cycle as the 
expected timing for at least a temporary straining of relations between 
the two would-be in-laws from "rival" political camps? That is where the 
Lebanese component of the equation comes in and makes this story 
relevant as an introduction to this analysis of the Armenian dimension 
of the recent parliamentary elections in Lebanon. Political differences 
among the supporters of the different Armenian political parties in the 
Diaspora (Lebanon included) are largely static. However, they return to 
the fore in Lebanon (and may even occasionally damage personal and 
family ties) at times of elections. There are not many elections of 
interest to Lebanese Armenians. Elections for Armenian Church and 
communal bodies have been non-events from around the 1940s and '50s and 
they have long ceased to arouse any real interest among the eligible 
voters. Secondly, Lebanon does not directly elect its president, while 
municipal elections have been held only on a few occasions in its modern 
history. That leaves the parliamentary elections as the main forum for 
the expression of popular preferences. The elections of Sunday, June 7, 
2009 were the 19th general legislative elections held in Lebanon since 
1922, and the pattern of holding such polls once very four years has 
largely been observed - except for the Civil War years between 1975 and 
1990. Armenians found refuge in Lebanon in large numbers from late 1921. 
They were granted Lebanese citizenship in 1924 and have regularly 
participated in all parliamentary elections since 1925.

This author did not hear of any 'Armenian' marriages breaking up or 
matchmaking efforts failing for political reasons in the run up to the 
recent elections. Hopefully, there were none. However, some twenty years 
following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the worries expressed by the 
schoolteacher's father about half a century ago remain surprisingly 
relevant. Five legislative elections have been held in Lebanon since the 
end of the Civil War. After two not very successful attempts - in 1992 
and 1996 - to forge a common front prior to the elections, old rivalries 
have resurfaced within the Lebanese Armenian political spectrum. These 
were the third consecutive legislative elections, which pitted a 
coalition encompassing the Hunchagians and Ramgavars against the 
Tashnags for the parliamentary seats allocated to Armenians. The old 
Soviet Union is no longer in existence. Armenia has long bid goodbye to 
the Communist-dominated one-party system. "Fighting for Armenia's 
independence and against Communism" versus "Supporting the fatherland 
irrespective of its political regime" may no longer be convincing 
slogans to mobilize the rank-and-file in the Armenian Diaspora. 
Moreover, shifting political alliances by the respective branches of 
these three parties with other (often more influential) political 
factions in Armenia no longer sustain the traditional "Tashnag versus 
the others" divide. Nevertheless, entrenched suspicions and lack of 
mutual trust among the supporters of rival Armenian parties in Lebanon 
(and possibly elsewhere in the Diaspora) refuse to fade away. Indeed, 
Armenian party leaders on both sides of the political divide in Lebanon 
have found in the past decade new slogans to justify the persistence of 
their old, and by now largely quasi-tribal, rivalries.

Lebanon is not the only country where the Armenian minority enjoys a
constitutional right to be represented permanently in the host
nation's legislature. However, the country's peculiar political
system, based on ethno-confessional representation, the prominence its
Armenians enjoyed across the Diaspora from the mid-1950s to the
mid-1970s, and the large scale Armenian emigration from Lebanon to the
United States, Canada, and to a lesser extent France and Australia
during the last three decades make elections in Lebanon of greater
interest for the rest of the Diaspora, compared to similar occurrences
in, say, Iran or Cyprus. For this particular election, the vast
amounts of money spent to lure emigrants from Lebanon (including
Armenians) to fly in and vote added another incentive to this already
prevailing interest.


Unlike the given examples of Cyprus and Iran, where Armenians choose 
their parliamentary representatives without any interaction with voters 
from the ethnic majority of the host-state or other ethnic and/or 
religious groups, Lebanon's complicated electoral system makes the 
success of Armenian candidates dependent on forging timely alliances 
with political forces influential among the other communities also 
voting in the same constituency. At the same time, the chances of 
success among non-Armenian candidates are also at times conditional on 
getting a large number of votes from Armenians, particularly in a few 
constituencies where the latter are registered in large numbers.

Lebanon is a country with 18 officially recognized ethno-religious
communities. Since the inception of the Lebanese parliament in 1922,
its seats have been regularly pre-allocated to specified numbers of
deputies for each of the numerically larger communities, usually in
proportion to their overall size and geographical distribution. These
quotas have been adjusted from time to time to partly reflect the
demographic changes that have occurred since 1922. The existing
distribution has been in force from 1992. It prescribes that there
should be 64 Christians and 64 Muslims in a parliament of 128
members. Among the 64 Christians, there should be five Armenian
Apostolic (called "Orthodox" in official Lebanese documents) and one
Armenian Catholic deputies. Armenian Evangelicals are not recognized
as a distinct ethno-confessional group in Lebanon. However, ethnic
Armenians of Evangelical faith have the right to contest the single
seat allocated to the Evangelical community as a whole, on a par with
the other, Arabic-speaking members of the same religious community.

Parliamentary elections are conducted in Lebanon through multi-member 
constituencies, although the number of deputies returned from each of 
the different constituencies varies greatly because of regional and 
ethno-confessional considerations. For these elections, the number of 
seats in the 26 constituencies varied from two to ten. The sizes of 
these constituencies were also uneven; the smallest had some 45,000 
eligible voters, while the largest ones had close to 250,000. Within 
each constituency, seats are pre-allocated again according to the 
relative size of the various communities registered to vote inside its 
boundaries. For example, in the First Constituency of Beirut (hereafter, 
Beirut I), five seats were allocated on this occasion to represent its 
95,200 eligible voters - 25,100 Greek Orthodox, 16,600 Maronites, 16,380 
Armenian Orthodox, 12,590 Greek Catholics, 4,790 Armenian Catholics, 
10,150 from the smaller Christian communities, 5,800 Sunnis and 1,820 
Shi'is. Roughly mirroring this ethno-confessional composition, voters in 
this constituency were asked to choose one deputy each from the Greek 
Orthodox, Maronite, Armenian Orthodox, Greek Catholic and Armenian 
Catholic communities.

Every deputy within this and other constituencies is elected not only by 
members of his/her own community, but by the whole electorate. In turn, 
voters can, irrespective of their own ethno-confessional affiliation, 
cast ballots listing names from their own and other communities, as long 
as they respect the pre-allocated quota for each community within their 
constituency. The candidates with the highest number of votes among each 
of the communities represented would be declared winners. Hence, in 
reality, in every constituency, candidates from a particular community 
run against other candidates from their other own community, although 
the votes each of them gets from the other communities may at times tip 
the balance. Under these provisions, cooperation among the various 
Armenian political factions to increase the total Armenian 
representation in parliament is not an option. Instead, they have to 
struggle amongst themselves in order to decide who will represent the 
Armenian community in parliament. Hence, pre-election campaign periods 
regularly witness intense inter-party rivalry and uncover internal 
divisions within the community.

Although candidates have the right and sometimes choose to run on an 
individual basis, it is undoubtedly beneficial to candidates for 
different communal seats within a particular constituency to run 
together on a single list as long as they observe the requisite number 
of seats pre-allocated to each ethno-confessional group. This approach 
facilitates the exchange of votes among their immediate supporters and 
increases the overall tally of each candidate on the same list. 
Legislators and pundits have long argued that the purpose of these 
multi-member constituencies is to force candidates to cross confessional 
boundaries and appeal to a broader multi-sectarian group of voters in 
their constituency. It is thought that this approach encourages the 
growth of moderation in politics and will eventually help develop a 
single, "Lebanese" political discourse.

Immediately prior to the elections, followers of rival lists in each 
constituency usually print the names of their joint candidates on pieces 
of paper, which are usually difficult to modify due to their small size. 
They urge voters to simply insert one of these printed lists in the 
official envelope that each receives from the election officer in the 
polling booth and drop it unaltered in the box. However, voters are not 
required by law to vote for "full" lists suggested to them. They can 
cross out the names of one or more candidates from a list and thus vote 
for an "incomplete" list. They can also substitute a name on one list 
with the name of another candidate - from the same religious group of 
course, but running either on a rival list or as an independent. Other 
voters prepare at home their own - sometimes, simply handwritten - 
lists, either "full" or "incomplete," before going to the polling 
station. It is this freedom accorded to the voter that results in 
various candidates on the same lists getting scores different from one 

The Lebanese electoral system is far from ideal. Its shortcomings are 
well known, but amending or fundamentally altering it has so far proved 
impossible because of a curious mixture of vested interests, inertia, 
and the usual human reluctance to probe into uncharted waters.

Owing to the absence of strong nation-wide political parties 
crisscrossing ethno-confessional, regional and clan loyalties, the 
Lebanese electoral system results in the formation of lists centered on 
a political party with considerable following within the constituency 
or, more often, a charismatic politician with a strong local base. The 
latter is usually a member of the landed aristocracy, a clan leader or, 
more recently, a wealthy businessman, who has made most of his money 
abroad. In some cases, registered political parties are simple guises 
for the followers of a charismatic politician or a clan leader, and the 
position of party leader is more often than not hereditary.

These so-called "chiefs of the lists" aim at forming a broad enough 
alliance within their constituency to ensure majority support for their 
list and the success of all its members. The principal criterion these 
"chiefs of the lists" follow in choosing their running mates is how many 
votes the latter can each bring with them; issues of ideological 
affinity are often pushed to the back burner, and the heads of large 
families or established businessmen are usually preferred as candidates 
to young idealists. Because of this pattern, successive elections in 
Lebanon reinstate a high proportion of members from the same large 
and/or prominent families. This makes the Lebanese parliament something 
like a closed club, a microcosm of families or clans representing local 
or communal interests. Very few women make it onto these lists; on most 
of these infrequent occasions, they represent a prominent family where a 
suitable male candidate is temporarily missing, usually because of age 

The average Lebanese votes on the strength of personal or family loyalty 
to a political party, his/her clan leader, or a 
businessman-cum-politician, whichever has already bestowed his largesse 
upon the voter or one or more members of his/her extended family or 
promised them a favor upon his election. Such voters blindly cast the 
"complete" lists suggested to them by their so-called political idols, 
thus making the sweeping of all seats by a "strong" list in a given 
constituency a common phenomenon. If a political party, a charismatic 
leader, or any mixture of the two, have enough followers ready to vote 
for his/their "complete" list, a simple majority is enough to deprive 
his/their rivals of all parliamentary representation. This established 
trend brings the Lebanese electoral system close - in practice - to the 
phenomenon of the Electoral College in the United States presidential 
elections. In Lebanon, the metaphors of a "bus" (which makes you reach 
your destination if you manage to hop in) or a "steamroller" (which 
flattens every single obstacle facing it) are often used to underline 
the shortcomings of this system.

Under these conditions, becoming a member of a "strong" list, led by an 
influential party or an established political figure, is a cherished 
prize for any aspiring candidate; rarely can an aspiring, but relatively 
"weak" candidate run for office, let alone get elected, outside this 
established system of patronage and factionalism. Many aspiring 
candidates are therefore ready to obtain that privilege - and probable 
access to parliament - through paying considerable amounts of cash, 
adopting the political rhetoric of the "chief of the list," and/or 
making pledges of absolute loyalty to the political whim of the latter 
in the next parliament and hence increasing his bargaining power 
vis-`-vis political bosses from other Lebanese regions for the next four 

Political parties or individual bosses influential among the majority 
ethno-confessional group within a constituency consistently abuse their 
power by often deciding the fate of candidates from the smaller 
communities, who have pre-allocated seats within the same constituency. 
The candidates that they choose benefit from the large number of votes 
cast by the immediate followers of the "chief of the list" and often win 
a parliamentary mandate even if most members of their own (minority) 
community opt for a rival candidate from the same ethno-confessional group.

It should be noted, however, that there have been numerous instances in 
the past when two or more political parties and/or charismatic leaders 
have presented joint lists, but they have not honored their public 
pledges for cooperation on Election Day and have made side deals with 
individual candidates on the rival lists or others running individually. 
Such maneuvering has sometimes led to candidates failing to win, when 
other members of their list were successful. Armenian parties have also 
not been immune from such charges of collusion.

Another factor, which obstructs the necessary dynamism within the 
Lebanese electoral system, is the requirement for each person to vote 
where his family or clan was first registered, often decades ago. For 
most Lebanese, it is their ancestral village. Transferring the place of 
registration to a new location - say, the place of actual residence - is 
permitted under certain conditions. However, it is a bureaucratically 
cumbersome process, and few people - except newly-married women - 
attempt to do it. Lebanon witnessed rapid urbanization during the 
twentieth century, and many Lebanese who still vote in their ancestral 
villages have lived in Beirut, its suburbs and other urban centers for 
decades. The requirement to return to the native village on Election Day 
inevitably lessens the impact of recent socio-economic changes on voting 
behavior. It also makes the organization and cost of transportation an 
important factor during elections, both for the candidate and the voter, 
increasing the latter's dependence on the former.

The predictability of voter behavior, based on trans-generational 
loyalty toward a preferred party, a local political boss or a clan 
(usually from the same ethno-confessional group as the voter) has 
provided successive governments - from the period of the French Mandate 
to Syria's recent fifteen-year domination of Lebanese politics and 
beyond - with a highly effective tool to manipulate the outcome of 
elections. Electoral laws have frequently changed in Lebanon; rarely has 
the same law been in force for two successive elections. However, while 
changes in the law have not touched the basic principles of vote-casting 
and vote-counting described above, adjusting the size of electoral 
constituencies and thus affecting their ethno-confessional make-up has 
been a persistent ploy used to enhance the chances of candidates favored 
by the sitting government.


The roots of the overall Lebanese social fabric go back to Ottoman 
times. Armenians, on the other hand, are relative newcomers; they have 
lived in Lebanon as a large community for less than a century. In 
political terms, however, this time span has been more than enough for 
them to adopt many of the established local traditions and adjust 
themselves to the "Lebanese" rules of electoral politics.

The Armenians of Lebanon have no landed aristocracy with prestige rooted 
in history; whatever leftovers they had of that medieval institution 
back in their homeland were wiped out as a consequence of the 1915 
genocide. Their sole poles of political attraction remain their party 
allegiances. Some Armenians brought these allegiances with them from 
their ancestral lands. Others have adopted them because of the community 
school they attended or the neighborhood they live in, where one of 
these parties may be in control. The overwhelming majority of Armenian 
candidates who have made a serious showing for one of the Armenian 
Orthodox seats during the past 75 years, and more recently for the 
Armenian Catholic and Evangelical seats as well, have had the blessing 
of one or more of these parties. Having their candidates win in 
parliamentary elections provides these parties with a sense of 
self-confidence that they are still in control of a substantial 
following within the Lebanese Armenian community and that they will be 
in a better position to deliver the services their supporters need. 
Parliamentary representation may also help the winning party place its 
members or clients in the very few high-ranking civil service positions 
pre-assigned as the Armenian community's quota within the Lebanese 
establishment. Although the Armenian parties have regularly felt obliged 
to forge electoral alliances with broader-based and more influential 
non-Armenian political factions, they have rarely pursued any political 
goal broader than maintaining their grip over their own, 'Armenian' 
electoral constituency. Moreover, they have never seriously attempted to 
develop a political vision, an ideology or a program of action on the 
pan-Lebanese scale. It can be argued that, on the broader Lebanese 
scene, the Armenian parties have seen themselves not as path-breakers 
but more as survivors.

Wealthy Armenian candidates have rarely challenged the authority of the 
Armenian parties; instead they have usually tried to secure places on 
the party-backed lists through one or more of the following means: (a) 
making substantial donations for Armenian causes dear to one of these 
parties and thus gaining prestige within the community at large; (b) 
making substantial donations to sporting, cultural or other 
organizations close to one of these parties and hence strengthening the 
latter's reach within the community; or (c) committing themselves to 
cover all the costs of their own electoral campaign and sometimes even 
the costs of other Armenian candidates on the same list, thus relieving 
the sponsoring party's coffers of a huge financial burden.

Women have also consistently been absent from among Armenian candidates 
since 1934 - with one exception in 1996, when Linda Matar, a 
Maronite-born candidate married to an Armenian Orthodox man, ran 
independently of the Armenian parties for one of the Armenian Orthodox 
seats in Beirut. Matar, a prominent women's rights activist, received 
altogether 7,552 votes, or just 6 percent of the total votes cast in 
this large constituency. Among these 7,552 votes, only some 110 were 
cast by Armenian Orthodox and another 30 by Armenian Catholic voters. 
The rest she received from voters from other ethno-religious communities.

Among the three parties, the Tashnags have, over the years, steadily 
increased their share of Armenian voters, whom they manage to mobilize 
to vote in their favor. During the last three elections (from 2000 
inclusive), over 75 percent of all Armenian voters have regularly 
followed the Tashnag party's instructions. This success within the 
Armenian fold makes the Tashnag leadership aspire to assuming a role 
very similar to "chiefs of lists" as far as the Armenian seats in the 
various constituencies are concerned. The Tashnag leadership usually 
nominates one (or at most two) prominent party members for the up to 
seven seats Armenians can run for across the country. This leading 
Tashnag figure acts as the so-called "representative" of the Tashnag-led 
Armenian Bloc of Deputies and makes sure that all other members of the 
bloc do not stray from the party's political line. The other candidates 
who get the Tashnag party's support fall under either the 
above-described ideal category of wealthy businessmen or are public 
figures, independent of the other parties and usually with very little 
prior political experience on the pan-Lebanese scene. These chosen 
candidates have to pledge absolute loyalty to the decisions made by the 
party leaders during their forthcoming tenure in parliament. In the 
past, Tashnag invitations to the other two parties or prominent members 
of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) to take their place 
among the up to seven candidates approved by the Tashnags has also been 
conditional upon the latter's tacit acceptance of following the Tashnag 
lead in parliament.

However, the last three elections have also shown that the relatively 
small size of the Armenian population in the country is a serious 
constraint to the Tashnag desire to be seen as the uncontested leading 
political force within the Lebanese Armenian community - both at the 
parliamentary and cabinet level.

Over three million Lebanese citizens - over the age of 21 - were 
eligible to vote in these elections, including those who live 
permanently outside the country. Among these potential voters, there 
were over 88 thousand Armenian Orthodox, some 16 thousand Armenian 
Catholics, and a lesser number of Armenian Evangelicals. Most Armenians 
were registered in the 1920s in the eastern sector of Beirut or in the 
neighborhood of Bourj Hammoud in the district of Metn, just north of the 
capital. Their descendents continue to vote in the various 
constituencies of Beirut and in Metn, although there is a continuing 
drift of relatively well-off Armenians from the poorer neighborhoods of 
East Beirut and Bourj Hammoud to other neighborhood in Metn, mostly to 
the north of Bourj Hammoud. The naturalization of some 17 (and perhaps 
as many as twenty) thousand Armenians in 1994 did not alter this 
distribution because of behind-the-scenes bargaining between the Tashnag 
leadership and the then Minister of the Interior, Michel al-Murr.

However, only within the boundaries of two municipalities across the 
country - those of Bourj Hammoud and Anjar - do the Armenians constitute 
the majority of registered voters. In these two localities, the Tashnag 
party hand picks all members of the respective municipal boards. Within 
Bourj Hammoud, the board also includes representatives from other 
ethno-religious communities registered in the neighborhood. Because of 
the continued loyalty of the vast majority of Armenian voters to the 
Tashnag party, both in Bourj Hammoud and Anjar, these municipalities 
have rarely seen any electoral contest; for decades, successive 
municipal boards have been elected unopposed.

The constituencies to elect members of parliament are much bigger, and 
Armenians constitute a numerical minority even in those constituencies 
where they are registered in high numbers. The five Armenian Orthodox, 
the Armenian Catholic and the Evangelical seats were allocated for the 
2009 elections in the following five constituencies:

Hence, in order to win in any of these constituencies, political forces 
backing rival Armenian candidates had to not only mobilize their own 
supporters but also forge political alliances with influential political 
forces outside the Armenian community in order to exchange votes with 
the latter. Since it is no longer disputed that the Tashnag mobilization 
power far exceeds that of their Armenian rivals, non-Armenian political 
factions have a vested interest in obtaining the support of the Tashnag 
party; the thousands of votes the Tashnags deliver often tilt the 
balance between two rival lists and affect the final outcome in races 
between candidates from other ethno-confessional groups. An altogether 
different tactic the non-Armenian rivals of the Tashnag party have 
resorted to during the last decade is to gerrymander the constituencies 
where Armenians are registered in such a way that the so-called 
"Armenian bloc vote" (i.e. the support base of the Tashnag party) loses 
its numerical significance in relation to a much larger bloc of voters 
from other ethno-confessional groups, who are expected to vote for the 
rival list. This tactic was resorted to in 2000 and again in 2009.


A little history is evidently necessary to understand what was at stake 
for the Lebanese people in general and for the Armenians of Lebanon in 
particular as they went to the polls on June 7.

For the Lebanese in general, an appropriate starting point may be the 
joint United States-French decision in the summer of 2004 that the time 
had come for Syria to end its fifteen-year domination of Lebanese 
politics and withdraw its troops and intelligence apparatus from 
Lebanon. This was followed in September by a US- and French-backed 
United Nations Security Council resolution, which formally called for a 
total Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, plus the disarming of Hizballah, 
an Iranian- and Syrian-backed Shi'i organization opposed to Israel and 
operating from south Lebanon.

As western pressure on Syria increased, cracks became visible within the 
pro-Syrian coalition that had governed Lebanon since 1990. Two important 
components of that coalition, the largely Druze Progressive Socialist 
Party (PSP) and Sunni billionaire Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri's 
Future Movement broke away in quick succession and gradually forged 
close ties with the long-established and largely-Christian anti-Syrian 
opposition. The immediate pretext for this break was Syrian insistence 
that the presidential term of the incumbent Emile Lahud should be 
extended for another three years, something which the PSP rejected 
outright, while Hariri acquiesced, but apparently only under duress.

Regular parliamentary elections were scheduled to be held in the spring 
of 2005, and it was expected that Hariri would seek to obtain a large 
number of seats for his followers in the next parliament in order to 
return as Prime Minister with added strength. This would in turn put 
Syria under more pressure to withdraw from Lebanon.

Under these circumstances, the assassination of Hariri on February 14, 
2005, plunged the country into a real crisis. Hariri's followers and 
their Druze and Christian allies openly accused the Syrian government of 
being behind the murder. International pressure finally forced Syria to 
withdraw from Lebanon on April 26. The Lebanese political landscape 
became divided into large political blocs with diametrically opposed 
views on the country's political identity and foreign policy 
orientation. True to established Lebanese traditions, these blocs relied 
on majority support among different ethno-confessional groups in the 
country, thus adding to their political disagreements a more dangerous 
religious dimension. The anti-Syrian (and eventually, by extension, 
anti-Iranian) alliance brought together the most powerful political 
factions among the Sunnis, the Druze and Christians (Armenians 
excepted). As a group, they formally named themselves the "March 14" 
coalition, after the date of a massive rally they held in downtown 
Beirut to mark the passing of one month from the assassination of 
Hariri. At the other end of the spectrum, the most powerful forces 
within the anti-American coalition were the Shi'i organizations, 
Hizballah and Amal. The latter openly called for the maintenance of good 
links with Syria and opposed United States and French meddling in 
Lebanese affairs.

The parliamentary elections, scheduled for May-June 2005, were now held 
with no Syrian military presence. General Michel 'Awn, the most 
prominent anti-Syrian figure in Lebanon, returned to the country less 
than a month before the polls, after some 14 years of forced exile. His 
return soon created a schism within the "March 14" coalition. 'Awn was 
dissatisfied with the small number of seats his followers were being 
given on the lists with which the "March 14" coalition would contest the 
forthcoming elections. He believed that this attitude was the 
consequence of a conspiracy to marginalize him hatched through an ad hoc 
understanding among the other factions within the "March 14" coalition, 
including the largely Christian Lebanese Forces and the Phalanges Party.
'Awn broke away from the "March 14" coalition. He was forced to forge 
electoral counter-alliances with individual political bosses and 
political parties known for their earlier and allegedly continuing close 
ties to Syria (including the Tashnag party) and, ultimately, he scored a 
sweeping victory in the Christian-inhabited areas of Mount Lebanon 
(including Metn) and Zahlah.

This schism between 'Awn and his rivals in the Christian-inhabited areas 
would shape the political debate among the Christians of Lebanon for the 
next four years. 'Awn claimed, after the 2005 elections, that he was now 
the most popular Christian leader and that he should assume the 
presidency once President Lahud's extended term came to an end. 'Awn's 
claim was challenged by other prominent figures in the Christian, 
especially Maronite, community. These opponents of 'Awn were, in turn, 
backed politically - and, many suspect, also financially - by the Future 
Movement, which was now led by Sa'd al-Hariri, the assassinated prime 
minister's son and political heir.

The coalition government formed immediately after the 2005 elections 
consisted of representatives of the "March 14" bloc (now minus 'Awn and 
his followers), the Shi'i factions, Amal and Hizballah, and ministers 
appointed personally by President Lahud. At this stage, 'Awn's followers 
constituted the only major parliamentary bloc not represented in the 
cabinet. However, the balance within the cabinet soon changed as most of 
the ministers appointed by Lahud deserted him and grew closer to the 
"March 14" bloc. Thereafter, the Shi'i ministers realized that they had 
become an ineffectual minority within the cabinet. Ministers 
representing the "March 14" bloc were being openly encouraged by the 
United States, France and conservative Arab governments, and they were 
following policies aiming at the undermining of Syrian and Iranian 
influence both in Lebanon and throughout the Middle East. This Shi'i 
feeling of having become marginalized led to two important ministerial 
crises during the next three years. In December 2006, the Shi'i 
ministers resigned from the cabinet altogether in order to force its 
fall. However, the prime minister and the rest of the ministers were 
determined to continue on their own. They ignored arguments that the 
withdrawal of all Shi'i ministers from the cabinet was a breach of the 
constitutional traditions of Lebanese democracy. In return, the Shi'i 
speaker of parliament now considered the reduced cabinet line-up as 
unconstitutional, and he declined to invite meetings of the plenary 
session of parliament if the presence of government ministers was 
required by law. This effectively shut down the parliament for a period 
of about a year and a half.

For different reasons, 'Awn and Hizballah were now both feeling shunned 
by the "March 14" coalition. Both were independently accusing the 
sitting government of arrogance and exercising despotic rule. These 
shared feelings pushed them closer to one another, and, on February 6, 
2006, they signed a memorandum of understanding, which became a 
precursor to 'Awn's full transfer from the "March 14" coalition to the 
newly emergent broad opposition, where Hizballah constituted arguably 
the most influential component.

In November 2007, Lebanon was also left without a head of state when 
President Lahud's extended term came to an end. The parliamentary 
factions failed to agree on a compromise candidate, and the opposition 
(including the two Armenian deputies close to the Tashnag party) was 
successful in denying the parliamentary majority a quorum to convene and 
formally elect a successor of its own choosing. A few months later, on 
May 7, 2008, serious violence erupted when the government decided to 
take measures to tighten the grip against Hizballah's military wing. 
Hizballah claimed that these latest government measures were part of an 
international attempt to weaken its military capabilities against any 
future Israeli attempt to subdue Lebanon. Together with some of its 
allies in the opposition, Hizballah retaliated by launching a blitzkrieg 
against the positions of the Future Movement in Beirut and temporarily 
brought the capital under its military control. This raid on the 
Sunni-inhabited sector of Beirut was followed by bloody skirmishes 
between Shi'is and the Druze in areas to the southeast of Beirut. With 
Lebanon on the verge of a new civil war, which could ignite a more 
serious Sunni-Shi'i conflagration in many other potential hot-spots 
across the Arab world, intervention by the Arab League became more 
urgent and was carried out more intensely than at any time since the 
beginning of the crisis in September 2004. The Lebanese leaders were all 
pressured eventually to leave for Doha, the capital of Qatar, and were 
not allowed to return until they forged an agreement to end the 
paralysis of the various constitutional authorities in the country and 
create a relatively smooth and stable political atmosphere in advance of 
the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for June 2009.

The Doha Agreement of May 21, 2008 was a temporary measure to bring back 
some sense of normalcy to Lebanon at least until the next parliamentary 
elections. It had three components. First, all sides agreed to elect 
General Michel Sulayman, the commander of the Lebanese army, as the 
country's next president. Secondly, a national unity government was 
formed to guide the country until the next parliamentary elections. 
Finally, the participants at Doha also hammered out an agreement on the 
boundaries of the constituencies that would be applied during the said 
elections. Thereafter, Lebanon, to all practical purposes, entered a 
pre-election period of wait-and-see, which extended just over a full 
calendar year.


In the previous section, a few references were already made to the 
Tashnag party as one component of the Lebanese opposition from 2005 to 
2009. In this section, we will deal with the impact of the Lebanese 
(and, some may say, the regional/international) crisis on the inner 
dealings of the country's Armenian community and its political parties.

For a better understanding of the existing Armenian cleavages, it is 
advisable to go further back than we did in the case of Lebanon in 
general. For the Armenians of Lebanon, the year 2000 is probably a more 
correct starting point. This is when the appearance of unity among the 
three Armenian parties vis-`-vis the basic challenges facing Lebanon 
broke down, and it is yet to be restored.

Unlike the earlier and shorter civil war of 1958, when the three 
Armenian parties had found themselves facing each other across the 
barricades, in 1975, they decided to stay away from the armed conflict 
and adopt what was later termed a policy of positive neutrality. All 
three parties were enthusiastic supporters of the 1989 Ta'if Accords, 
which ended the fifteen-year-long civil war and, thereafter, they did 
not challenge Syria's ever increasing grip over day-to-day Lebanese 
politics. The Tashnags and the Hunchagians disregarded the Christian 
boycott of the 1992 parliamentary elections and joined the 
pro-government list in the capital. The Tashnags also ran candidates in 
Metn and for the newly created Armenian Orthodox seat in the 
constituency of Zhahlah. Four years later, direct Syrian intervention 
obliged the three parties to forge an unprecedented (and to date unique) 
'Grand' Armenian coalition and deliver about 80 percent of the Armenian 
votes cast in the capital to the list headed by Prime Minister Rafiq 

Problems began to surface two years later, when the Syrians imposed 
Lahud as Lebanon's next president, against Hariri's wishes. When the 
latter refused to form the first government under Lahud and preferred to 
move to the opposition, the pro-Tashnag deputies (who had been elected 
on Hariri's list two years earlier) deserted him and voted confidence to 
the next anti-Hariri government. Only the Hunchagian and the AGBU 
(pro-Ramgavar) representatives among the seven Armenian deputies in 
parliament stayed loyal to Hariri.

At the time of the next parliamentary elections in 2000, the experiment 
of 1996 could not be repeated. Hariri was now disinclined to give the 
Tashnags a blank check as far as the Armenian seats in parliament were 
concerned. Two of his new conditions proved unacceptable to the 
Tashnags: (a) Hariri's insistence to have an Arabic-speaking Evangelical 
person fill that seat, instead of Armenian Evangelical candidates who 
had served in parliament continuously from 1972 to 2000; and (b) 
Hariri's insistence that all candidates (including Armenians) running 
with him in Beirut should pledge to stick together as one bloc in the 
next parliament and vote as a group on all issues. The Tashnags rightly 
argued that this second condition would make the Armenian vote in the 
next parliament subservient to Hariri's wishes. Their position was that 
- according to a practice going back perhaps to 1957 - all Armenian 
deputies elected with Hariri in Beirut should become members of a 
separate Armenian bloc of deputies, which would remain friendly to 
Hariri, but would reserve the right to decide on each political issue on 
its own merits. This newly emergent rivalry between Hariri and the 
Tashnags in the three constituencies of Beirut was seen at the time as a 
microcosm of a broader, nation-wide struggle over influence between 
Lahud and the former prime minister. With the Tashnags refusing to go 
along with Hariri's terms, the latter distributed the four Armenian 
slots on his lists in Beirut among Agop Kassardjian (Ramgavar), Yeghia 
Djeredjian (Hunchagian) and two relatively unknown independents, Jean 
Oghassabian and Serge Toursarkissian.

The 2000 elections showed that Hariri enjoyed the unswerving support of 
the overwhelming majority of Sunni voters in the capital. Since Sunni 
voters constituted a plurality in all three constituencies in Beirut, 
all candidates supported by Hariri - including the four non-Tashnags 
mentioned above - were elected as deputies. Hariri's win also meant the 
loss of an ethnic Armenian deputy in the next parliament - that holding 
the Evangelical seat.

Although electoral constituencies in Lebanon are mostly 
multi-confessional, the electoral law has stipulated, since 1960, that, 
wherever possible, voters from the same ethno-confessional community 
should preferably vote in separate polling booths, even within the 
confines of the same polling station. This requirement makes it possible 
to find out the so-called ethno-confessional distribution of votes 
received by each candidate. In all three constituencies in Beirut, the 
candidates proposed by the Tashnag party in 2000 received well over 75 
percent of the votes cast by Armenian voters - Orthodox, Catholic and 
presumably also Evangelical. The winning Armenian candidates on Hariri's 
lists had pushed ahead only through the votes cast by voters from other 
ethno-confessional communities, notably Sunnis. The Tashnag prominence 
among the votes cast by Armenians was also evident in the constituencies 
of Metn and Zahlah. The peculiarities of Lebanese electoral law 
dictated, however, that the party which mobilized some 80 percent of 
ethnic Armenian voters across the country would hold only two of the six 
seats allocated to the same community in the next parliament: Sebouh 
Hovnanian, a prominent Tashnag politician, elected in Metn; and George 
Kassardji, a Tashnag ally, in Zahlah.

Hence, the six Armenian deputies in the 2000 parliament belonged to two 
blocs, which did not see eye-to-eye on many issues on the pan-Lebanese 
scene. The four Armenian deputies elected in Beirut formed part of 
Hariri's parliamentary bloc. Hovnanian and Kassardji, on the other hand, 
declared themselves to constitute the Armenian Bloc (controlled by the 
Tashnag party), which had previously had up to seven members. However, 
the nature of this Armenian Bloc in the post-2000 era remained somewhat 
ambiguous, as both Hovnanian and Kassardji also remained members of the 
parliamentary blocs with which they had been elected in Metn and Zahlah, 
respectively. At times it appeared to outsiders that both Hovnanian and 
Kassardji were members of two parliamentary blocs at the same time.

Post-election developments did not assist any rapprochement between 
Hariri and the Tashnags. Hariri returned to the prime minister's office 
immediately after the elections, and he nominated Hovnanian, the only 
surviving Tashnag deputy, for his 30-member cabinet. However, this 
appointment failed to satisfy the Tashnags, and it even put the Armenian 
deputies in Hariri's parliamentary bloc in a difficult position. The 
problem for both was the absence of a second Armenian cabinet minister - 
either Orthodox or Catholic - which Armenians expected to have in a 
cabinet of 30 members - according to the power-sharing quotas agreed as 
part of the package to end the civil war. Tashnag demands that the 
situation be remedied immediately, from Hovnanian's initial refusal to 
assume his ministerial responsibilities to the holding of public rallies 
and even a three-hour, precautionary strike, did not make any 
difference. Hariri simply admitted that a mistake had been made and that 
it would be corrected when the next cabinet was formed. Tashnags came to 
believe that Hariri was intent on weakening the Armenian community and 
diluting its specific political identity through the marginalization of 
the Tashnag party.

When the next cabinet was formed in 2003, the situation was indeed 
corrected in form, but yet again failed to satisfy the three Armenian 
parties and other active members of the Armenian community. Hovnanian 
was retained as minister, but the second 'Armenian' ministerial 
portfolio went to Karim Pakradouni, the leader of the Phalanges Party, 
which has very few Armenian members and cannot be seen as reflecting the 
Armenian political mood in the country. Pakradouni was born of an 
Armenian father and was hence registered as Armenian Orthodox. However, 
he had lived most of his life distant from the immediate concerns of 
Armenians in Lebanon.

In the meantime, the Tashnag party was continuously questioning the 
legitimacy of the four Armenian deputies allied to Hariri and trying to 
downplay their significance as much as possible. The Lebanese electoral 
law does not require that a deputy representing a certain community in 
parliament should obtain the majority of votes cast by members of the 
same community in that constituency; the legality of the election of 
Djeredjian, Kassardjian and others could not be challenged before the 
Constitutional Court. However, the Tashnag print media and its radio 
station, The Voice of Van, consistently ignored these four Armenian 
deputies, making sure that they would not appear even in group photos in 
the pages of Tashnag newspapers and that their names would not be 
mentioned in news reports of events they had attended in their official 
capacity. Their names would even sometimes be crossed out on paid 
communiquis issued by other organizations. (In time, this also led to 
the counter-habit of crossing out the name of the Tashnag deputy in 
communiquis printed in Hunchagian or Ramgavar newspapers.) Moreover, the 
control that the Tashnags exercise over the Armenian Catholicosate of 
Cilicia (based in Antelias, north of Beirut) and the Armenian Prelacy in 
Lebanon meant that the links of these deputies with these religious 
institutions and their elected bodies would remain very formal at best.

Hariri's influence over the Sunni electorate in Beirut was not waning, 
however, and the Tashnag leaders realized that sooner or later they had 
to mend their fences with the prime minister so that the setback of 2000 
would not be repeated during the next polls, scheduled for the spring of 
2005. In this regard, the municipal elections in 2004 were seen as a 
positive step in bridging the gap between Hariri and the Tashnags. 
Unlike for parliamentary elections, there is no requirement in Lebanon 
that the distribution of seats at the municipal level also be based on 
ethno-confessional quotas. Hariri was worried that if a serious 
electoral contest occurred in Beirut, Sunni plurality could easily 
translate into a new municipal board in the capital where the Christian 
communities would be severely underrepresented or even missing 
altogether. Hence, he worked for and succeeded in forming a coalition 
divided evenly between Christians and Muslims and representing many of 
the shades of political opinion in the capital. This list was 
predictably strong enough to win all the seats on offer. As the Armenian 
candidates on his list, Hariri retained the two Orthodox councilors who 
had been elected in 1998 - before his break with the Tashnags. He also 
replaced the Armenian Catholic candidate with a new candidate close to 
the Tashnag party. In return, the Tashnags worked hard to deliver as 
many votes to Hariri's list as possible.

International pressures hampered the further development of this 
Hariri-Tashnag rapprochement. As the Lebanese political scene became 
polarized after September 2004 between loyalist and anti-Syrian blocs, 
the Tashnags were seen by their opponents to be firmly entrenched within 
the pro-Syrian camp of President Lahud. The Tashnags did not object to 
the extension of Lahud's presidential term and, unlike the Hunchagians 
and Ramgavars, they did not push their followers to attend the March 14, 
2005 rally of anti-Syrian forces. In consequence, Sa'd al-Hariri refused 
to cooperate with the Tashnags during the parliamentary elections of 
May-June 2005. The Tashnag demands on this occasion had been more modest 
than in 2000. The electoral law had not changed, and the young Hariri 
was now even more popular among the Sunnis in Beirut than his late 
father had been in 2000. The Tashnags agreed to give up any attempt to 
re-take the Evangelical seat. They also endorsed the candidacies of 
Djeredjian and Kassardjian, the incumbent Hunchagian and Ramgavar 
deputies. In return, they only asked to replace Oghassabian and 
Toursarkissian with two candidates approved by the Tashnag party. Even 
this proved too much for Sa'd al-Hariri to accept. He was rightly 
confident of a total victory in Beirut - with or without the Tashnags. 
Realizing that under these conditions their candidates would inevitably 
lose, the Tashnags withdrew from the electoral race and declared a 
boycott in Beirut. The four sitting Armenian deputies allied to Hariri 
retained their seats unopposed. For the Tashnags, the only consolation 
was the fact that very few Armenians actually went to the polls; this 
was proof that the Tashnag party had fully maintained its following 
among the Armenians of Lebanon, despite its reduced presence in 
parliament since 2000.

Yet again the only representation the Tashnags would have in the 2005 
parliament came from Metn and Zahlah. Hagop Pakradouni (no relation to 
Karim) replaced Hovnanian in Metn, while Kassardji was returned in 
Zahlah. Both victories were achieved through a new electoral alliance 
the Tashnags had just forged with 'Awn. The anti-Hariri disposition of 
both 'Awn and the Tashnags proved sufficient common ground for them to 
establish an alliance, which survives to date.

The significance of the developments of 2004-2005 for the Armenians of 
Lebanon is that what had started in 2000 as 'normal' inter-party rivalry 
for parliamentary representation and political influence, with mostly 
local implications, had gradually metamorphosed in an unplanned manner 
into the diverging of paths among the rival Armenian parties in Lebanon 
on fundamental issues related to the country's political identity and 
foreign policy orientation. In 2000, both Lahud and Hariri were seen to 
be under the Syrian political umbrella. Despite their local rivalries, 
the Tashnags (closer to Lahud) and the Hunchagians and Ramgavars (both 
allied to Hariri) did not feel obliged to make choices related to 
Lebanon's (and consequently their own parties') relations to the United 
States, Syria and Iran - three countries with significantly large 
Armenian communities and with important diplomatic, commercial and other 
links to Armenia. After 2004, however, relations between the Hariri 
family and the Syrian government were at their lowest. Consequently, by 
2005, the pro-Lahud Tashnags had become identified (especially by 
reductionist foreign diplomats and journalists) as pro-Syrian and 
pro-Iranian, while, at the opposite end of the spectrum, the pro-Hariri 
Hunchagians and Ramgavars were now labeled as pro-American, anti-Syrian 
and anti-Iranian. Echoes of the ideological divide of the Cold War years 
had returned to haunt the Armenians of Lebanon and partly strain some of 
their contacts with the Armenian communities in Syria and Iran. However, 
since the problems facing Lebanon were more of regional, rather than 
global, character, the new (Lebanese Armenian) ideological 
interpretations of pre-existing intra-Armenian rivalries did not attain 
the acuteness of similar divisions back in the 1950s, at the time of the 
story told at the very beginning of this analysis. The Republic of 
Armenia and Lebanon are part of different geopolitical regions these 
days. The implications of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Sunni-Shi'i 
split, so important for Lebanon, are almost non-existent in the context 
of politics in Yerevan. The Lebanese are not much concerned with 
US-Russian and Turkish-Russian rivalries, let alone the implications of 
Caspian oil and gas politics. Only the US-Iranian rivalry is of 
sufficient concern to both of these geopolitical regions. Hence, unlike 
the 1950s, understanding Armenian politics within the Lebanese context 
today has very little to offer to students of politics in Armenia and 
vice versa. In order to decide whether this divergence of paths is 
simply the short-term outcome of discrete political developments or an 
unmistakable sign of the gradual distancing of Armenian Diasporan 
politics from homeland concerns and the increased rootedness of Armenian 
Diasporan communities within their host-states a separate in-depth study 
is definitely needed.

Back in Lebanon, the Tashnag alliance with 'Awn was strengthened further 
immediately after the 2005 elections, when the new prime minister 
refused to take a Tashnag representative in his 24-man cabinet. The only 
Armenian minister in the new government was Oghassabian, a Hariri ally 
since 2000. 'Awn, in turn, refused to accept ministerial portfolios for 
his Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) unless his key electoral allies 
(including the Tashnags) were also represented. This condition made by 
'Awn effectively condemned him to the ranks of the opposition for the 
next three years. At the same time, it made the Tashnags more reliant on 
'Awn to achieve their political objective of becoming accepted as the 
main and hopefully the only representatives of Armenians in Lebanon.

After 'Awn signed the memorandum of understanding with Hizballah and 
formally joined the coalition in opposition to the "March 14" cabinet, 
the Tashnags, too, found themselves automatically within the ranks of 
this opposition. They formally participated in all major actions of 
protest undertaken by the opposition. At the same time, they 
consistently opted to keep a lower profile, refraining from harsh 
rhetoric and avoiding taking part in any act of violence.

Despite the contrasting allegiances of the three Armenian parties after 
September 2004, a joint delegation representing their deputies in the 
Lebanese parliament - Hagop Pakradouni, Djeredjian and Kassardjian - 
regularly took part in all the National Dialog sessions held after March 
2006. In May 2008, this same three-man delegation also flew to Doha. The 
national unity government negotiated in Doha made it possible for 
Tashnags to return to the cabinet after a hiatus of three years. 
However, the Armenian star during the deliberations in Doha was 
Pakradouni. The thorniest issue still to be discussed in depth was the 
shape of the electoral constituencies for the forthcoming parliamentary 
elections. Within this context, the subdivisions in Beirut were very 
critical, and the distribution of Armenian seats relative to the size of 
Armenian voters in each of the constituencies to be determined was one 
of the most awkward bones of contention. The opposition nominated 
Pakradouni as one of its three delegates in the subcommittee to discuss 
and come up with an agreement on this issue. There were no Armenians 
among the three deputies representing the "March 14" coalition; 
Djeredjian and Kassardjian left that task to their non-Armenian allies 
in the Future Movement and the Lebanese Forces. Members of this 
subcommittee and the other participants in Doha took it for granted that 
most Armenian voters would follow the Tashnag party and that the latter 
would side with 'Awn. Hence, both Djeredjian and Kassardjian on the one 
hand and representatives of the Future Movement and other "March 14" 
factions in the subcommittee on the other hand had a common interest in 
designing the constituencies in such a way that the elected Armenian 
deputies would be dependent, as much as possible, on votes to be 
received from the Sunni community and, at the same time, Armenian voters 
would not have much influence on the success or failure of candidates 
from the other communities. After much wrangling, a compromise was 
struck whereby Beirut was divided into three constituencies (see above). 
Armenian influence in Beirut III would be minimal; Sunni voters would 
constitute some 70 percent of all eligible voters there, and it was 
expected that they would vote dutifully for all candidates proposed by 
Hariri, including the candidate for the Evangelical seat. That made the 
"recovery" of the Evangelical seat by the Armenian community during the 
2009 elections a near impossibility. Beirut I would be majority 
Christian, and the Armenian votes would play an important role in 
deciding the outcome of the expected race between 'Awn and his Christian 
opponents in the "March 14" bloc. Beirut II would be evenly divided 
between Armenian, Sunni and Shi'i voters. However, any real electoral 
race in this constituency was avoided through a separate gentlemen's 
agreement, whereby its four seats were divided evenly between the "March 
14" bloc and the opposition; within this framework, one of the two 
Armenian Orthodox seats would go the Tashnags and the other to their 
Armenian rivals in the "March 14" bloc. The large number of Armenian 
voters registered in the neighborhood of al-Mudawwar (which was made 
part of Beirut II) would be separated from the smaller, yet significant 
number of registered Armenian voters in the adjoining neighborhoods of 
al-Rumayl and al-Ashrafiyyah (now both part of Beirut I) and would not 
influence the outcome of the expected hot contest there.

Overall, the Doha Agreement guaranteed that the Tashnags would recover 
at least one of the four seats they had "lost" in 2000 - and this 
without risking an electoral race. The Tashnags also acquired in Doha a 
fair chance to contest and win two other seats in Beirut I. Since the 
Doha Agreement did not alter the boundaries of the constituencies of 
Metn and Zahlah, the overall conclusion of pundits was that the Tashnags 
could now realistically aspire to five of the six 'Armenian' seats on 
offer. Pakradouni was received as a hero by Tashnag supporters in 
Lebanon, and soon the party's Central Committee launched the slogan that 
2009 would be the year of the restoration of the Armenian Bloc in the 
Lebanese parliament.


Because the electoral constituencies agreed in Doha were much smaller 
than those of previous elections in the post-civil war era, the overall 
number of candidates jumped considerably compared to the previous polls. 
When candidate registration closed at midnight on April 7 - exactly two 
months before Election Day - 702 candidates had submitted formal 
applications to run for the 128 seats on offer. Among them were 28 
Armenians for the possible seven seats, including the Evangelical seat 
in Beirut III. Needless to say, there were yet again no women among the 
registered Armenian candidates. Indeed, throughout Lebanon, the total 
number of women candidates was miserably low.

A number of these early candidate registrations were simply of a 
tactical nature. For example, the Tashnag party had registered two 
candidates for the single Armenian Orthodox seat in Metn. Shortly after 
the close of the registration period, one of them, the businessman 
Nazaret Saboundjian, withdrew, leaving the incumbent Hagop Pakradouni as 
the sole registered candidate for that seat. According to Lebanese law, 
Pakradouni was immediately declared the winner, becoming the first 
deputy to be elected unopposed to the next parliament.

The Lebanese electoral law gives a further two-week period for 
registered candidates to withdraw and get back part of their deposit. In 
addition to Saboundjian, five other Armenian candidates used this 
opportunity. Four of them were in Beirut II, which was the subject of a 
side-agreement in Doha, described above. Alain Balian, a former 
vice-governor of the Lebanese Central Bank and a candidate close to the 
Tashnags, withdraw to make way for the unopposed election of Arthur 
Nazarian, the official candidate of the Tashnag party for this seat. In 
the opposing camp, two registered Hunchagian candidates, Mardiros 
Jamgotchian and Hagop Gergerian, also withdraw, leaving their party 
comrade, Sebouh Kalpakian, as the only candidate supported by the "March 
14" bloc. The last of the Armenian candidates to withdraw in this 
constituency was Raffi Madeyan, a political maverick, who had 
unsuccessfully challenged the Tashnags on an anti-Syrian platform in 
Metn during the previous three elections - 1996, 2000 and 2005. Since 
the last elections, however, Madeyan had switched sides and drawn closer 
to the (pro-Syrian) opposition. His withdrawal should probably be 
interpreted as a personal gesture to the opposition in general, which 
was, in turn, playing on Tashnag resentment against the Hariris and 
hoping that, by satisfying the Tashnags through the 'Armenian' seats, it 
would benefit from 'Tashnag' votes in favor of other candidates on the 
opposition lists. With Nazarian and Kalpakian remaining the only two 
candidates for the two Armenian Orthodox seats in Beirut II, they, too, 
were immediately declared winners.

Hence by the deadline of April 22, three of the six Armenian seats in 
the next parliament had been filled. These were the only three such 
cases across the country. The other 125 seats (including two Armenian 
Orthodox, the Armenian Catholic and the Evangelical seats) would all be 
contested on June 7. The fact that both the Tashnags and their Armenian 
rivals proceeded into the pre-election campaign period confident that 
each of them would be represented in the next parliament by at least one 
or two deputies made the campaign within the confines of the Armenian 
community less tense than in either 2000 or 2005. Under these conditions 
calmer than before, Armenian Orthodox clergy were also more restrained 
in their public statements. Consequently, the usual complaints by the 
anti-Tashnag parties that some of the higher-ranking clergy openly break 
the neutrality demanded of them and side with the Tashnags also remained 
absent on this occasion.

Despite the fact that over 580 candidates were still officially running 
for the remaining 125 seats, the polarized nature of Lebanese politics 
since September 2004 made it obvious that only those candidates who 
would secure a place on either the "March 14" or opposition lists would 
have a real chance of getting elected. Having two strong rival lists in 
each constituency became the norm across the country, including the 
three constituencies where 'Armenian' seats were still for the taking.

The Tashnag party was the sole Armenian political organization committed 
to the opposition camp. It hence enjoyed almost total freedom in 
choosing its candidates before formally presenting them to the public in 
a ceremony on March 29. In addition to Pakradouni and Nazarian, the 
Tashnags sponsored the candidacies of Vrej Saboundjian, an 
industrialist, for the Armenian Orthodox seat in Beirut I and Gregoire 
Calouste, the principal of the Armenian Catholic St. Mesrob College, for 
the Armenian Catholic seat in the same constituency. In Zahlah, George 
Kassardji, who had held the seat since 1992 and had been a Tashnag ally 
since 1996, would run again. There would be no challenge to the Tashnag 
candidate in Zahlah from Karim Pakradouni, the former leader of the 
Phalanges Party and now a prominent figure in the opposition. Earlier, 
Karim Pakradouni had not hidden his desire to run for the Zahlah seat, 
especially when many believed that Kassardji might retire because of 
poor health. Kassardji's insistence to run again, coupled with the 
opposition's commitment to flatter the Tashnags, probably convinced 
Karim Pakradouni that he should postpone yet again his aspirations to 
become a deputy. All five candidates sponsored by the Tashnags pledged 
that, if elected, they would establish an Armenian Bloc of deputies in 
the next parliament, which would be guided by the decisions of the 
Tashnag political leadership and constitute proof of the re-emergence of 
Tashnag dominance in Lebanese Armenian parliamentary politics.

A few days after announcing the names of its five official candidates, 
the Tashnag party also partly adopted the candidacy of George Viken 
Ishkhanian for the Evangelical seat in Beirut III. Ishkhanian had 
submitted his candidacy independently. Moreover, his chances of getting 
elected were deemed to be very small in a constituency where Hariri's 
electoral base was overwhelming. Toward the end of the campaign period, 
Ishkhanian attended some of the rallies held by the Tashnag party. 
However, the latter were almost totally geared toward voters in Beirut 
I. Unlike the other Armenian candidates running in Beirut I, Ishkhanian 
did not address any of these rallies. He also did not appear in the 
official group photo of Tashnag-sponsored candidates.

The selection of Armenian candidates among the "March 14" political 
factions proved more protracted and received more journalistic scrutiny. 
In the run-up to the elections, three Armenian political organizations 
formed an ad hoc electoral alliance and pledged to work together under 
the "March 14" umbrella. The Hunchagians and Ramgavars were joined by 
the Free Lebanese Armenian Movement. The latter is a relatively small 
offshoot of the Tashnag party. Its leaders first disagreed with the 
Tashnag party's allegedly pro-Syrian political orientation in Lebanon, 
then broke away and were formally recognized as a separate political 
organization in Lebanon in 2007. Together, these three factions 
contended that all Armenian candidates running on the "March 14" lists 
across Lebanon should enjoy their blessing.

Among the incumbent Armenian deputies in Beirut - all allied to Hariri - 
Djeredjian would retire from parliament, but he made sure that his slot 
on the lists to be supported by Hariri would go to another Hunchagian. 
Indeed, he was eventually 'replaced' by Sebouh Kalpakian, a former 
principal of a Hunchagian-controlled Armenian school in Beirut and a 
former chairman of the Administrative Board of the Hunchagian party in 
Lebanon. He had left for Australia almost a decade ago but returned to 
Lebanon specifically to 'succeed' Jerejian, an old ally in internal 
party affairs. Reports in Arabic language newspapers talked of internal 
disagreements within the Hunchagian party on the selection of a 
'successor' to Djeredjian. Indeed, Sarkis Chapootian, the chairman of 
the party's Administrative Board in Lebanon, was replaced at this 
juncture by Mardiros Jamgotchian. Ararad, the Hunchagian newspaper in 
Beirut, gave no explanation regarding this change of the guard.

The three other incumbent Armenian deputies in Beirut all wanted to run 
again. However, since the Doha Agreement had practically conceded one of 
the Armenian Orthodox seats in the capital to the Tashnags, one of the 
two sitting Armenian Orthodox deputies had to give way. The unfortunate 
choice initially fell on Oghassabian, who was now expected to contest 
the Armenian Orthodox seat in Metn. That slot on the "March 14" lists 
had become vacant after Madeyan, the defeated "March 14" candidate in 
2005, had defected to the opposition. However, the doors of Metn were 
also soon closed for Oghassabian when influential figures on the "March 
14"-supported list in that constituency decided, for tactical reasons to 
be explained below, not to include an Armenian Orthodox candidate on 
their list and allow the Tashnag candidate, Hagop Pakradouni, to get 
elected unopposed.

Things soon got more complicated, though a little rosier for 
Oghassabian. The "March 14" leadership - more specifically, Sa'd 
al-Hariri, whose Future Movement was undoubtedly the strongest "March 
14" faction in the capital - preferred to allocate the 'safe' Armenian 
Orthodox seat in Beirut II - acquired through the Doha Agreement - to 
Kalpakian, the new Hunchagian candidate, rather than the Ramgavar 
Kassardjian. The only option for the latter was now to run in Beirut I. 
However, Kassardjian faced other difficulties there. In this mostly 
Christian constituency, the "chief" of the "March 14" list was Michel 
Far'awn, with whom Kassardjian's personal relations were reportedly 
cool, in spite of their political alliance going back to 2000. Far'awn 
had his own preferred candidate for that same seat: the young Sebouh 
Mekhdjian, a long-time and prominent staff member in his private office. 
Kassardjian withdrawing from the race and the Ramgavars adopting 
Oghassabian as their candidate ended up being the compromise solution. 
Thereafter, Mekhdjian was quietly asked to withdraw from the race, and 
Oghassabian's candidacy was formally supported by Far'awn, the Ramgavars 
and the Hunchagians.

Serge Toursarkissian, the expected "March 14" candidate for the Armenian 
Catholic seat in Beirut I, also faced a surprise challenge coming from 
the mostly Maronite Lebanese Forces. This challenge went beyond the 
personal rivalries which were at stake with respect to the Armenian 
Orthodox seat in the same constituency. In this case, a largely 
non-Armenian organization nominated Richard Kouyoumdjian, one of its 
ethnic Armenian members, as a candidate for an 'Armenian' seat which 
community-oriented Armenian parties consider as their exclusive 
preserve. The reaction of the three above-mentioned Armenian political 
factions within the "March 14" camp was predictably very strong.

Kouyoumdjian's nomination was not a first in the history of Armenian 
participation in Lebanese parliamentary elections. The Lebanese 
Communist Party nominated an Armenian, Haroutioun Madeyan, Raffi's 
maternal grandfather, on three separate occasions - in 1934, 1951 and 
1953. In all three cases, however, Madeyan ran independently of the 
stronger lists, where the Armenian parties had their own candidates, and 
had few chances of winning. In 1996, the Phalanges Party also nominated 
two Armenian candidates (Karim Pakradouni and Antoine Chader), but they 
also ran independently of Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri's list, which 
had the backing of the three Armenian parties. The eventual failure of 
these Phalanges candidates was also never in doubt. More problematic was 
the precedent of Joseph Chader, an Armenian Catholic, who was also the 
vice-president of the Phalanges Party. Chader's personal and 
professional links to the rest of the Armenian Catholic community, as 
well as its religious and community structures were tenuous at best. 
Nevertheless, Chader ran regularly for either the Minorities or the 
Armenian Catholic seats from 1947 to 1972, and he was successful most of 
the time. His candidacy was never challenged by the Tashnag party before 
and during the Tashnag electoral alliance with the Phalanges from 1960 
to 1972. Indeed when the Tashnags and the Phalanges had their difference 
prior to forming joint lists both in 1968 and more seriously in 1972, 
their disagreement centered on the ethnicity of the Evangelical and not 
the Armenian Catholic candidate. On three occasions in the 1950s, the 
anti-Tashnag Armenian coalition did challenge Chader with Noubar 
Toursarkissian, another Armenian Catholic, but with closer ties to the 
community. On every occasion, however, the opposition list that Noubar 
Toursarkissian was on lost. It was only after the end of the civil war 
in 1990 that the Tashnags claimed the Armenian Catholic seat, and they 
actually held it from 1992 to 2000. Thereafter, the seat passed on to 
Serge Toursarkissian.

Within the "March 14" bloc, there was a prior consensus that its 
constituent organizations would contest elections with unified lists in 
every constituency across the country. This premise predictably opened 
the door for a lot of give-and-take among the various "March 14" 
factions on how many candidates each of them would have on those joint 
lists. By proposing a candidate for the Armenian Catholic seat - held by 
Serge Toursarkissian, close to the Future Movement - the Lebanese Forces 
were also increasing their bargaining power vis-`-vis their "March 14" 
allies elsewhere in the country. Samir Ja'ja', the leader of the 
Lebanese Forces, argued that the Joseph Chader precedent had encouraged 
his organization to push forward with Kouyoumdjian's candidacy. The 
latter had until his nomination been a person totally unknown to 
activists within the Armenian community. The three Armenian factions 
allied to Hariri now found themselves in a difficult position. Because 
of the prior agreement to have joint lists in all constituencies, 
Kouyoumdjian's formally joining Far'awn's list in Beirut I had to be 
blessed by Hariri's Armenian allies. This would not only force them to 
abandon an old ally, Toursarkissian, but would also make them liable to 
charges from their Tashnag opponents that they have no bargaining power 
vis-`-vis their more powerful partners within the "March 14" camp, 
particularly Hariri's Future Movement. Therefore, these three Armenian 
factions stood their ground. The Hunchagian party formally adopted 
Toursarkissian as its candidate, and there were hints at a boycott by 
Armenian voters allied to Hariri in the hotly contested constituencies 
of Beirut I and Metn if Kouyoumdjian were preferred to Toursarkissian. 
In case of close races in each of these two constituencies, the one to 
two thousand votes the anti-Tashnag Armenians would contribute could 
make all the difference between the "March 14" list winning or losing 
completely. After protracted behind-the-scenes bargaining, including an 
unsuccessful offer by the Lebanese Forces to back Toursarkissian if he 
promised to leave Hariri's Future bloc in the next parliament and join 
the Lebanese Forces, Kouyoumdjian's candidacy was pulled, and 
Toursarkissian formally became the fifth member of Far'awn's "March 14" 
list in Beirut I. (Nevertheless, the Lebanese Forces attempts to co-opt 
one of the elected Armenian deputies would continue after the elections, 
as we shall see below.)

The Tashnags, being within the opposing camp, were simple bystanders to 
this struggle between the Armenian factions allied to Hariri and the 
Lebanese Forces. However, this episode gave the Tashnags an added sense 
of self-righteousness that only they had the strength, determination and 
freedom to fight for the preservation of what they saw as Armenian 
political rights in Lebanon, in this case, the 'privilege' of the 
traditional Armenian political factions to nominate candidates for all 
positions reserved to the Armenian community in the Lebanese state 

Although the phenomenon of Kouyoumdjian had had its precedents, it 
exercised Armenians still involved in community life more than ever 
before. Part of this restlessness is tied to the anxieties the hard core 
of Armenians in Lebanon feels in light of an increased pace toward 
assimilation at the edges of the community. Among the earlier examples 
mentioned above, the Armenian Communists - despite their 
internationalist ideology - were never seen as totally alien to Armenian 
community life in Lebanon; they actually made important contributions to 
the development of its literature and culture. On the other hand, Joseph 
Chader's mostly unchallenged grip on the Armenian Catholic seat was 
possible in the 1950s because many among the more numerous Orthodox 
Armenians still felt some distance at the time from their Catholic kin. 
Chader's grip continued in the 1960s only because of the exigencies of 
the electoral law, which was in place from 1960 to 1975. Once the 
Phalanges grip over the Arabic-speaking Christian community weakened 
during the civil war years and, then, the boundaries of electoral 
constituencies were altered in 1992, the Tashnags felt free to withdraw 
their previous concession to the Phalanges, and in this they enjoyed the 
tacit backing of other Armenian political factions. When Chader held the 
Armenian Catholic seat, the Armenian community in Lebanon was still 
growing steadily and was gradually becoming more and more confident. 
Parliamentary seats did not capture the imagination of Lebanese 
Armenians as much as they do today. In the post-civil war era, however, 
Armenians have become more integrated into the Lebanese social fabric 
and are more cognizant of their political rights. At the same time, they 
have also become very anxious because of the decline in the size of 
their community - both in absolute numbers and percentage terms - as 
well as because of creeping assimilation, especially into the 
Arabic-speaking Christian communities. Privately, it is widely 
acknowledged that Armenian parties and other community organizations no 
longer constitute the sole pole of attraction for politically active 
Armenian youth; significant numbers among them have in recent years 
directly joined non-Armenian political organizations, particularly the 
two largest among Arabic-speaking Christians, the FPM and the Lebanese 
Forces. Kouyoumdjian's nomination was disturbing because it may be the 
beginning of a trend whereby non-Armenian political organizations, now 
having a respectable Armenian following, will venture into what has 
largely been a preserve of the traditional Armenian parties. (These 
fears may grow with the possibility of one of the newly elected Armenian 
deputies joining the Lebanese Forces bloc of deputies, as we shall see 
below.) With the number of Armenian voters expected to decline in the 
coming decades, at least in percentage terms, traditional Armenian 
parties could end up with less and less bargaining power. In this 
respect, it will be interesting to see if the Kouyoumdjian phenomenon is 
repeated in the coming parliamentary elections in 2013 and beyond.

While the three Armenian factions within the "March 14" bloc were thus 
successful in pushing Toursarkissian's candidacy in Beirut I, they were 
not that lucky as regards the Armenian Orthodox seat in Zahlah. Their 
declared candidate was Nareg Aprahamian, a retired high-ranking Lebanese 
army officer, a former Tashnag and now the leader of the Free Lebanese 
Armenian Movement. However, he ultimately failed to get the slot. 
Nicolas Fattush, the "chief" of the "March 14" list in this 
constituency, insisted that the Armenian Orthodox candidate on his list 
should be a native of the town of Zahlah. Aprahamian was from Anjar. 
Fattush's precondition opened the way for the 35-year-old Shant 
Chinchinian, the principal of the AGBU Levon Nazarian Elementary School 
in the outskirts of Beirut. Chinchinian had run as an independent in 
2005 and had received a mere 601 votes (compared to 35,065 votes for the 

The failure of Aprahamian to make the "March 14" list provided a further 
pretext to the Tashnag leadership to argue that those Armenians who tie 
their fate to non-Armenian political groups (in Aprahamian's case, to 
Hariri's Future Movement) fail to realize their expectations. In one 
radio interview following the announcement of the "March 14" list in 
Zahlah, Hovig Mkhitarian, the chairman of the Tashnag party Central 
Committee in Lebanon, used an Arabic language saying to describe what 
had befallen Aprahamian. "Those who purchase you will also sell you," he 

Unlike Hariri, Fattush's personal ties to the Tashnags are not that 
strained. His brother, Pierre, is a major investor in Armenia; at one 
time he held the majority of shares of the Vivacell mobile telephone 
operator. In 2005, Nicolas Fattush was the only deputy among 128 in 
Lebanon who won by "breaking into" the opposing list in Zahlah, which 
reaped the other six seats in the constituency. It was then claimed that 
Fattush had managed to do so partly by obtaining a respectable number of 
votes through a side-deal with the Tashnags, who were ostensibly voting 
for all members of the opposing list. The same rumors allege that 
Fattush had even used the moral authority of former Armenian president 
Robert Kocharian to seal this side-agreement. It is possible that, in 
2009, Fattush avoided having the 'dissident' Aprahamian on his list in 
order not to antagonize his Tashnag acquaintances. He picked Chinchinian 
because the latter would appear less controversial to the Tashnags. 
Moreover, Chinchinian's joining the Lebanese Forces bloc after the 
elections - and this against the express desire of Fattush - leads one 
to think that the former were also involved in the political bargaining 
on the choice of the Armenian Orthodox candidate on the "March 14" list 
in Zahlah.

A week after he formally made Fattush's list, Chinchinian was separately 
received at the headquarters of the Hunchagian and Ramgavar parties 
during a visit he paid to Beirut on May 25. These two meetings were some 
sort of belated endorsement for Chinchinian. The Ramgavar newspaper, 
Zartonk, also printed a full-page interview with him.

Antoine Nshanakian, the defeated candidate of the "March 14" bloc in 
Zahlah during the 2005 elections, withdrew from the race on this 
occasion not long before polling day, and he pledged support to the 
Tashnags and the list headed by Elias Skaf, Fattush's rival.


The major campaign themes during these elections were the future 
political orientation of Lebanon and whether Hizballah should be allowed 
to keep its arms as a resistance movement, independent of Lebanese state 
structures, against any possible future Israeli armed action aimed at 
Lebanon. In the polarized atmosphere of Lebanese politics since 2004, 
all factions and serious individual candidates participating in these 
elections had to position themselves as regards these two key, but 
interrelated, issues. The elections were also of immense interest to a 
number of foreign powers - the United States, Saudi Arabia, Syria and 
Iran - each of which backed one of the two rival blocs on the Lebanese 
scene. The US Vice-President paid an unprecedented short visit to 
Lebanon during the pre-election campaign period, becoming the highest 
ranking US official ever to visit the country. In addition to meetings 
of protocol with the heads of various branches of government, he held a 
well-publicized pre-election meeting with prominent figures in the 
"March 14" bloc. Opposition figures were denied such an honor. Soon 
after the elections were over, Newsweek reported that Saudi Arabia had 
spent over 700 million dollars to support the "March 14" coalition 
during the campaign period. If true, this was more than Barack Obama had 
spent to become president of the United States in 2008. All of this 
money was presumably meant to bolster the "March 14" bloc. On the other 
hand, the Iranian president predicted that a victory for the opposition 
in the Lebanese elections would have far-reaching (and for Iran, 
positive) implications throughout the Middle Eastern region. It is 
widely believed that the Iranians were as generous as the Saudis in 
backing the preferred side, the opposition.

It was taken for granted that most Shi'is would vote for Hizballah and 
its allies in the opposition. The majority of Sunni and Druze voters 
were, in turn, expected to vote for the Future Movement and the PSP 
respectively, two pillars of the "March 14" coalition. The demographic 
make-up of the 26 constituencies indicated that victory for the "March 
14" bloc was certain in the Sunni-majority areas in West Beirut and 
north Lebanon, the Druze-majority areas in Mount Lebanon, and Bsharri, 
Samir Ja'ja''s native region. On the other hand, victory for the 
opposition was all but guaranteed in the Shi'i-populated districts in 
south Lebanon and Ba'albak-Hirmil, plus Zgharta, the bastion of the 
pro-Syrian, Maronite Franjiyeh clan in north Lebanon. Moreover, seats in 
Beirut II had already been divided by prior agreement between "March 14" 
and the opposition. The overall success or failure of one bloc or the 
other would therefore be dependent on the outcome of races in 
largely-Christian constituencies in north Lebanon, Mount Lebanon, Beirut 
I and Zahlah. The two constituencies, where 'Armenian' seats would be 
contested on Election Day, as well as the constituency of Metn, where a 
large number of Armenians had the right to vote, all fell within this 
last category. In all these constituencies the Tashnags had committed 
themselves to vote for 'Awn and his (mostly Christian) allies. This was 
the reason why some western media outlets described the Armenians as 
possible kingmakers and warned that their participation in large numbers 
would enhance the chances of Hizballah, arguably the strongest faction 
within the opposition and the actor on the Lebanese scene, whose fate 
concerned the western powers the most.

'Awn accused his Christian opponents of being subservient to the corrupt 
system imposed by the Hariris in the post-civil war period. His 
opponents - the Lebanese Forces, the Phalanges, a few other political 
parties of lesser following, plus representatives of a number of 
traditionally influential families, often posing as "independents" 
allied to the "March 14" bloc - accused 'Awn of having become a blind 
follower of Hizballah and its Syrian and Iranian backers. They argued 
that 'Awn was drawing the Lebanese Christian community away from its 
pro-western outlook and traditions and that his policies would further 
weaken the Christian role in Lebanese politics. 'Awn's Christian 
opponents received open backing from the Maronite patriarch, plus - many 
concluded - tacit support from President Sulayman.

Unprecedented amounts of money were spent during the election period. 
Voters were bombarded with nationwide TV and radio talk-shows, 
billboards, and e-mail messages. Arabic-language TV and radio stations 
also devoted some of their airtime to interviews with a few of the 
Armenian candidates. News items and analyses pertaining to Armenian 
candidates and voters also appeared in the print media. In the run-up to 
the elections, the Tashnag party set up its own Arabic-language website 
as well.

Among the Armenian-language media outlets available exclusively to 
Armenian voters were the newspapers published by the Armenian political 
parties, two radio stations, and two, half-hour, daily news programs 
broadcast on two separate nationwide TV stations.

The three Armenian political parties have published their respective 
daily newspapers in Beirut for decades. Among them, the Tashnag 
newspaper, Aztag, is currently the richest in content and has the widest 
distribution. On the other hand, the Hunchagian newspaper, Ararad, and 
the Ramgavar Zartonk have faced serious financial difficulties in recent 
years. During the weeks leading up to the elections, however, all three 
underwent some growth. From March 12, Aztag raised the number of its 
pages to 12 from the previous 10. Ararad, which had been published on a 
weekly basis for a number of years, gradually increased its frequency to 
two and then three issues per week in 2007 and finally returned to its 
traditional status as a daily in early March 2009. Zartonk, which had 
ceased publication altogether in January 2007, returned as a weekly in 
May 2008. It then continued as a semi-weekly from February 2009 and 
started appearing three times a week from mid-May. The newly established 
Free Lebanese Armenian Movement also publishes a newspaper, but it comes 
out infrequently and irregularly; it can be likened to a bulletin rather 
than a newspaper.

These Armenian newspapers are notoriously secretive. They confine 
themselves to reporting only about their own parties' activities, and 
that to the extent permitted by the respective party's leadership of the 
day. In order to make sense of what is really going on, intelligent 
readers sometimes need to resort to all the skills developed by 
Kremlinologists in the not too distant past. Moreover, these party 
newspapers usually disregard any news item pertaining to their rivals, 
even reports on internal problems among the latter. This approach is 
justified in the name of keeping harmony within the community. During 
the election period, all three newspapers confined themselves to 
reporting about the rallies their own side had held and to statements by 
the Armenian candidates they were sponsoring. Readers of only one of 
these newspapers may be excused if they failed to realize that there 
were other Armenian candidates running in these elections, too. One 
classic example of this approach was the way the three Armenian 
newspapers reported the election of both Kalpakian and Nazarian because 
of the absence of other registered Armenian Orthodox candidates in their 
constituency at the end of the deadline to withdraw nominations. Aztag 
and Ararad both reported the election of their own party's candidate in 
bold headlines on the front page. Aztag focused solely on Nazarian and 
never bothered to mention Kalpakian. Ararad faired only a little better: 
its report concentrated on Kalpakian, while Nazarian was mentioned only 
in passing, without any additional information besides his full name. 
For Zartonk, this was not a news item worthy of being shared with its 

Among the many Armenian language radio stations that had sprung up 
during the anarchy of the civil war, the Tashnags managed to legalize 
their station, the Voice of Van, through the Audiovisual Broadcasting 
Law adopted in 1993. The Hunchagians had to close down their own 
station, Radio Nayiri, under the same law and, for years, the Voice of 
Van was the only legal Armenian-language radio outlet in the country. 
However, in 2007, when the opposition was boycotting the cabinet 
sessions, the "March 14" government, which was hostile to the Tashnags, 
gave permission to a rival Armenian-language station, Radio Sevan. Owned 
by Hariri, this new station is staffed predictably by members and 
supporters of Armenian political groupings affiliated with the "March 
14" coalition. Both stations have permission to broadcast political news 
and programs, and they used their capacities fully to spread the views 
of their respective owners and their allies.

Among the television stations, Hariri's Future TV established a 
10-minute Armenian language news bulletin prior to the 2000 elections. 
In 2007, when the same corporation established Future News, a 24-hour 
news channel, the Armenian, English and French news bulletins were 
transferred to this new channel and given longer, 30-minute slots. The 
Tashnag 'retaliation' was the establishing from April 24, 2009, of a 
similar 30-minute Armenian language news bulletin on Orange TV, owned by 
the FPM. Unlike Future News, Orange TV has no English and French 
language news bulletins; it broadcasts only in Arabic and Armenian. 
There is a lot of overlap in the staff, who work simultaneously at Radio 
Sevan and Future News on the one hand, and at the Voice of Van and 
Orange TV on the other. News of immediate concern to Lebanese Armenian 
politics broadcast on both channels is mostly partisan. Moreover, both 
news bulletins are broadcast at exactly the same time of the day, 
forcing the viewer to choose only one of them.

Pictures of the various Armenian candidates - those elected unopposed 
before June 7 and those still running - were posted in various 
neighborhoods in and around Beirut, where Armenians live in considerable 
numbers. The territorial control that the Tashnags and the Hunchagians 
exercise on some of these neighborhoods prevented the possibility of 
pictures of rival candidates appearing in close proximity to one 
another. Much bigger panels were used widely and very imaginatively by 
marketing agencies working for the rival camps outside the Armenian 
community. Among the Armenian parties, however, only the Tashnags made 
use of such panels. Then again, their use was very selective, and the 
quality of their artistic composition lagged far behind panels hosted by 
other non-Armenian parties; they simply consisted of a group picture of 
the five candidates formally proposed by the party.

Arguably the most common means used by the rival Armenian factions to 
help their message reach their own followers was the organizing of 
public rallies. Due to their smaller size, the Hunchagians and Ramgavars 
confined themselves to one rally each, both within Beirut city limits. 
The Tashnags, on the other hand, held around a dozen such events in 
Beirut, in some of its heavily Armenian-populated outskirts and even in 
Jubayl (Byblos) and Anjar. Earlier, the Tashnag party had also organized 
a series of receptions, where their leaders had spoken to invited 
Armenian audiences from specified professional groups - businessmen, 
engineers, schoolteachers, college students and others. The audience in 
such gatherings tends to be a little more diverse than those attending 
party rallies. The only face-to-face 'Armenian' debate during the 
pre-election campaign period was that between Hagop Pakradouni and Jean 
Oghassabian. It was organized in mid-May by the Lebanese Broadcasting 
Corporation, arguably the most popular TV station in Lebanon. This 
author believes that this face-to-face debate was probably a first in 
the history of Armenian participation in Lebanese elections.

The campaign themes emphasized by the rival Armenian camps were 
different. The Tashnags insisted on the necessity to reestablish an 
Armenian Bloc of deputies in the next parliament. They already had two 
deputies in the parliaments elected in 2000 and 2005, who acted under 
this label. The slogan "Reestablishing the Armenian Bloc" in practice 
meant increasing the number of Armenian deputies willing to cooperate 
with the Tashnag party leadership. Tashnag orators argued consistently 
that their party was the best suited to defend Armenian interests in the 
country; it was free to take decisions on their own merit. They also 
claimed that the incumbent Armenian deputies in the "March 14" coalition 
had been ineffective and lacked freedom even to criticize the 
participation of a Turkish contingent in the expanded UNIFIL forces, 
which took position in south Lebanon after the Israeli invasion of 2006. 
Tashnag leaders informed their audiences that they had, nevertheless, 
suggested to the two other parties to work together to reassemble the 
Armenian Bloc and, despite the much larger Tashnag following, had had 
the magnanimity to offer them a seat each in that projected bloc. 
However, the other parties had rejected the Tashnag offer. Tashnag 
orators explained this rejection as due to the prior commitments 
allegedly made by their Armenian rivals to Hariri and hence their 
inability to make independent decisions. Speeches by Tashnag orators, as 
reported in Aztag, did not refer much to broader issues in Lebanese 
politics and avoided talking openly and at length about the thorny issue 
of the weapons of Hizballah. They also did not raise issues of social 
justice or propose measures to raise the efficiency of the state 
machinery, even though this was a favorite theme for their principal 
ally, the FPM. The only concrete pledge this author came across in the 
news reports of Tashnag rallies was the promise to work in the future so 
that the Evangelical and 'Minorities' seats would be transferred away 
from constituencies with a Muslim majority. In one radio interview, 
Mkhitarian avoided pledging that the expanded Armenian Bloc in the next 
parliament would ask for the withdrawal of the Turkish UNIFIL contingent 
from Lebanon.

The agenda of the anti-Tashnag candidates during their campaign speeches 
was altogether different. Only two of the rallies they addressed were 
organized for an exclusively Armenian audience, and this peculiarity 
probably affected the themes that they preferred to dwell on. These were 
the general slogans of the "March 14" camp, including sharp criticism of 
Hizballah and calls to safeguard Lebanon's established historical and 
cultural identity, which they believed was being threatened by the 
pro-Iranian Shi'is of the country. Themes peculiar to Armenians were 
almost non-existent in their speeches. Only toward the end of the 
pre-election campaign period, did Ararad publish a few articles critical 
of what was being said during the Tashnag rallies. On the issue of the 
Armenian Bloc, the argument of the anti-Tashnag parties was that the 
Tashnag offer to re-establish such a bloc lacked clarity about what 
policies it would pursue as regards the fundamental political identity 
and foreign policy orientation issues, which have deeply divided the 
Lebanese since 2004.

Violence has often accompanied pre-election campaigns in Lebanon in the 
past, and unfortunately it has not been alien to the Armenian community 
as well. Fortunately, during the polarized political atmosphere 
throughout the country, there was only one reported instance of serious 
intra-Armenian violence. Hrag Akian of the Free Lebanese Armenian 
Movement was heavily wounded and paralyzed by a shot fired by a Tashnag 
supporter during a heated encounter in Bourj Hammoud in late January. 
The police released the initials of the suspected attacker, but he has 
so far evaded arrest.


The Lebanese electoral law does allow citizens living outside the 
country to vote in parliamentary and municipal elections but only if 
they appear in person at their designated polling station in Lebanon on 
Election Day; absentee ballots and voting in embassies or consulates 
abroad are not options. During the past few elections, a few candidates 
had sponsored a handful of expatriates to return and vote for them. This 
trend had not affected supporters of the Armenian parties, however, 
although a few Armenian voters had benefited from such 'services' 
offered by non-Armenian parties and organizations. The elections of 2009 
broke all records in this domain, and all sides were engaged in this 
novel effort. None of the parties involved has provided any figures as 
regards the number of voters they were able to attract from abroad. They 
have also not acknowledged the fact that they usually paid for the air 
travel of their expatriate voters. However, it is estimated that some 
120 thousand expatriates actually returned briefly and voted. Among them 
were a few thousand Armenians, especially from North America, France, 
Australia and Armenia.

Within the North American context, both Hunchagians and Tashnags worked 
openly to bring former Lebanese Armenians who had migrated since the 
1970s to vote in these elections. They both used their transnational 
networks to organize this effort. The Hunchagians started putting 
announcements to this effect in their weekly, Massis (Pasadena, CA), as 
early as January 2009. There were no such announcements in the Ramgavar 
weekly, Nor Or (Altadena, CA). However, the local networks of both 
parties were active in hosting Oghassabian, the minister representing 
the Armenian factions of the "March 14" bloc, when he visited the Los 
Angeles area in late February in order to address a commemorative 
gathering hosted by the "March 14" bloc on the fourth anniversary of the 
assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri. However, Oghassabian was also the 
guest of honor at a banquet organized by local Hunchagians, and he 
visited a number of Armenian religious and educational institutions 
within the circle of Ramgavar and Hunchagian influence. His visit was 
predictably ignored by the Tashnag daily in California. The said 
announcements to encourage willing Lebanese Armenian expatriate voters 
continued to appear in Massis for a number of weeks, but, eventually, 
the Hunchagians brought very few, if any, voters to Lebanon on June 7.

The overwhelming majority, if not all, ethnic Armenian expatriates who 
returned to Lebanon for June 7 had to thank the Tashnags for both their 
efforts and their generosity. The first visible step the Tashnags took 
in this regard was dispatching in December 2008 Mkhitarian and Hagop 
Pakradouni to address the annual celebration day of the Tashnag party in 
Montreal and Los Angeles, respectively. During their respective 
sojourns, these two prominent Tashnag politicians began preparing the 
public mood, and soon a corresponding ad hoc infrastructure was set up 
across North America. Working under the name "Electoral Office for the 
Re-establishment of the Armenian Bloc of Lebanon," its goals were to 
locate and encourage potential Lebanese Armenian voters to make the trip 
to Lebanon, ensure that they had the proper documents (a valid Lebanese 
identity card or a passport) to vote in the elections, and reserve their 
airplane tickets to Lebanon and back. From mid-February 2009, the 
Tashnag party's Armenian-language newspapers in Boston, Los Angeles and 
Montreal all printed full-page ads calling on readers "to defend the 
rights" and "support the just cause" of the Lebanese Armenian community. 
For those interested in this venture, telephone numbers were given in 
Glendale, San Francisco, Fresno, New Jersey, Montreal, Laval, Toronto 
and Vancouver. A website was also established, where those interested 
could read and download information and application forms. In cities, 
where the number of Armenians was smaller, the task to locate, encourage 
and assist potential expatriate voters was given to specific Tashnag 
party activists. It was stated in advance that priority would be given 
to voters in the constituencies of Beirut I and II, Metn and Zahlah. 
Most returning voters admitted in private that the Tashnag party had 
paid for the renewal of their passports (if that were necessary) and for 
their airplane tickets. Since most expatriate voters who came to Lebanon 
still have relatives in the country, paying for their lodging did not 
constitute an additional cost to their hosts. Nevertheless, the 
returning voters were told that short-term arrangements for their 
lodging could also be made if they had no place to stay.

Since all sides were engaged in this novel activity and none are 
disclosing how many voters they were each able to bring in, it is 
difficult to assess to what extent it affected the outcome of the 
elections, particularly in a number of key, marginal constituencies. 
Simply subtracting the number of voters during the 2000 or 2005 
elections (plus the expected natural growth) from the total of actual 
voters on this occasion will not do the trick since there was also a 
noticeable increase in participation among those living inside the country.

The issue of expatriates is very sensitive in Lebanon; this small 
country has continuously 'exported' its 'surplus population' in the last 
150 years or so. Christians have regularly insisted on respecting the 
political rights of expatriates and including them in population 
statistics. Up until the past couple of decades, the vast majority of 
expatriates were Christian. Including them in official statistics would 
soften the gradual demographic decline of the Christian communities 
inside Lebanon proper. Moreover, successive Lebanese governments have 
tried to tap into expatriate resources both as investors and as 
tourists. Finally, all Lebanese factions and individual candidates have 
for years spent a lot of money at home to provide transportation to 
their supporters who live away from the polling stations where they are 
registered to vote. In this case, only the distances and the means of 
transportation used were different.

All candidates praised the participation of expatriates in their public 
speeches, although the opposition in general claimed that the "March 14" 
bloc had spent more money and thus lured more expatriates to come and 
vote for its candidates. One newly elected FPM deputy claimed that of 
those who returned, some 90,000 were brought by the "March 14" forces 
and only some 20,000 by the opposition. Most Armenians fall into the 
latter group.

The phenomenon being very novel, there is no specific restriction in the 
current electoral law on how much money a candidate can spend to fly in 
voters from abroad, especially if the respective air tickets are paid 
for before the formal registration of his/her candidacy. However, there 
is an ethical side to this 'right', which the current law does not 
distinguish, but which eventually has to be taken into consideration. 
Not all Lebanese expatriates can be dumped together in the same basket. 
Among them are tens of thousands of youth who work abroad, mostly in the 
Gulf region, but maintain quasi-daily contact with their extended 
families back home. Many of them may yet return, establish families and 
work in Lebanon. However, there are also countless others who have 
migrated farther, to the Americas, France and Australia; they have 
become naturalized citizens of their adopted countries and have no 
intention of returning full-time. Among the voters lured back to Lebanon 
for the elections many were in the latter category. They had been away 
for decades and had no intricate knowledge of what was really at stake 
for these elections. In almost all cases, people in this category voted 
dutifully according to the wishes of the party which arranged and paid 
for their airline tickets. More than the elections, the people enjoyed 
long overdue reunions with relatives and old friends, and then they 
returned to their new homes abroad, perhaps hoping for another such 
opportunity at the time of the next elections in 2013.

Among the ethnic Armenian voters flown in by the Tashnag party there 
were a number of die-hard party activists, raised in Lebanon and now 
filling party or party-related Armenian community positions abroad. 
However, the vast majority falls into the category of "political 
tourists," for whom this was an opportunity to meet relatives and old 
friends whom they had missed for years, or sell some property they had 
left behind, finish up some lingering government paperwork, even undergo 
dental or medical treatment, because those are cheaper in Lebanon 
compared to North America. These "political tourists" often brought with 
them their young children, who had left Lebanon as babies or toddlers or 
had been born abroad but had inherited Lebanese citizenship from their 
fathers. Having gone to school outside Lebanon, these young men or women 
went to the polls without even being able to read in Arabic their names 
on the voters' register. Tashnag leaders tried to justify the "interest" 
shown by Lebanese Armenian expatriates by the alleged deep feelings they 
continue to nurture toward Lebanon or by the centrality of Lebanon in 
Armenian Diasporan thinking. It is doubtful, however, that these 
arguments convinced many. All that can be said is that the whole of 
Lebanon became entangled in this novel game, and the Armenian political 
factions, as an integral component of the country's political landscape, 
could not remain outside, especially when their political constituency 
has - in percentage terms - one the largest expatriate communities.

A relevant question, which will probably go unanswered, is the source of 
financing for these thousands of free airplane tickets. Their total can 
easily be estimated to have amounted to a few million dollars, and this, 
without taking into consideration other types of inevitable expenses 
incurred during any pre-election campaign and on voting day. For the 
Armenian community in Lebanon this is a huge sum, needed dearly for the 
improvement of its various institutions, particularly schools, sporting 
and cultural associations. In the fall of 2006, when the representative 
of the US-based Lincy Foundation brought a one-off contribution 
exceeding four million dollars for Lebanon's Armenian community schools 
in the aftermath of the most recent Israeli war against the country, he 
was received as a real-life Santa Claus.

Even before 2009, election campaigns in Lebanon had the reputation of 
being among the costliest in the world. It has become accepted in 
Lebanon that candidates practically "buy" votes by offering services to 
their potential voters and their neighborhoods (paying school fees, 
covering medical costs, asphalting village roads, etc.) or by showering 
various organizations with large contributions to influence the votes of 
their members. Most of these contributions are not declared to the 
public. The new election law did introduce for the first time a certain 
mechanism to check pre-election spending. However, specialists argue 
that it still has many loopholes and candidates are under no obligation 
to report large amounts of pre-election spending (including the buying 
of airline tickets) if those transactions were carried out a 
considerable time before Election Day.

It is widely assumed, and sometimes privately acknowledged, that 
Armenian organizations also receive donations at times of elections 
either from rich Armenians who aspire to a parliamentary seat on a slate 
supported by one or more of these parties, or from non-Armenian 
candidates who form joint lists with one or more of these Armenian 
parties. There are clear indications in recent works on Lebanese history 
that at least in the 1957 and 1960 elections Armenian parties also 
received some contributions from foreign states like the United States, 
Iran and perhaps the Soviet Union. On this occasion, however, the 
amounts spent, particularly by the Tashnags, far exceeded anything done 
before. It is unlikely that the Armenian sides - Tashnags or their 
rivals - will ever be under real pressure to disclose the full range of 
sources of the money they each spent on this occasion; no party or 
individual candidate in Lebanese history has done that in clear terms. 
In the case of the Hunchagians and Ramgavars, most people will continue 
to believe that they relied, as before, on cash injections from the 
Hariri family and, by extension, from foreign states which backed the 
Hariris and their allies. On the Tashnag side, many sympathizers 
privately surmised that it was possible the ultimate source of some and 
possibly all of the party's funding could also eventually be traced to 
the coffers of one or more foreign states interested in a victory for 
the opposition. In any case, if this trend to fly in voters from abroad 
and pay for their tickets will continue in the coming elections, it will 
inevitably put all Armenian political factions under increasing pressure 
to look for additional sources of funding from outside the community and 
make them more and more dependent on their non-Armenian funders.


This was the first time since 1951 when elections throughout Lebanon 
were conducted on the same day. Previously, they had been held across 
three or four successive week-ends. The Ministry of the Interior carried 
out this complicated task relatively adequately. This included an 
unprecedented level of use of technology to monitor the application of 
the electoral law both before and on the day of the elections. Despite 
the polarized state of Lebanese politics, the elections were conducted 
in a relatively calm atmosphere, and all sides quickly accepted the 
results. Those, who had misgivings said they would resort to the 
Constitutional Court, which has the sole right to review applications to 
quash results and has actually done so on a few occasions since its 
formation at the end of the civil war.

The final results were a disappointment to the opposition, which was 
hoping to gain a slight majority in the next parliament. The vast 
majority of voters cast their ballots in favor of "complete" lists - 
either in the "March 14" movement or in the opposition - and most 
constituencies returned the same political forces which had gained in 
2005. The opposition only added the constituencies of Zgharta and 
Ba'abda to what it already had, but it also lost Zahlah. In the final 
tally, the "March 14" bloc and its so-called "Independent" allies had 71 
seats, while the opposition bloc had to be content with 57 - almost the 
same as the ratios that had prevailed before these elections. The three 
Armenian seats which were still contested on Election Day all went to 
anti-Tashnag candidates within the "March 14" bloc. The Tashnags, who 
again received around 80 percent of the votes cast by Armenians, were 
once more left with an Armenian Bloc of Deputies consisting only of two 
members. Hence, it was dij` vu on all fronts, and this partly explains 
why interest in these elections faded quickly after the results were 
announced. It was enough for the western powers and conservative Arab 
(Sunni) regimes that Hizballah would not pull the strings behind the 
next Lebanese cabinet.

In Beirut I, voter participation was around 40 percent, a number of 
percentage points higher than what pundits had expected. The "March 14" 
list, led by Michel Far'awn, received over 19,000 votes, out of a total 
of 37,284 ballots cast. The Armenian Orthodox candidate on this list, 
Jean Oghassabian, and his Armenian Catholic list-mate, Serge 
Toursarkissian, were both elected to the parliament for the third 
consecutive time. Since their candidacies had been backed in the run-up 
to these elections by the Ramgavars and Hunchagians respectively, it is 
now being said that the Hunchagians will be represented in the next 
parliament by two and the Ramgavars by one deputy. Previously, both 
Oghassabian and Toursarkissian had claimed to be independents within the 
Future Movement. The Tashnag party's electoral office claimed that out 
of the 6,740 Armenians who had voted in this constituency, just over 
5,000 had preferred the Tashnag candidates, Vrej Saboundjian and 
Gregoire Calouste, and their list-mates from the FPM. However, the whole 
opposition list gained close to 17,000 votes and all its members lost to 
their "March 14" rivals. The ratio of votes received by Tashnag and 
anti-Tashnag candidates for the Armenian Orthodox and Armenian Catholic 
seats in Beirut in 2000 and those in Beirut I on this occasion has 
remained mostly unchanged. If most Lebanese Armenian expatriate votes 
went to the Tashnags, then the anti-Tashnag candidates probably added 
the number of Armenians who voted for them either by working harder to 
bring their supporters to the polling stations or by convincing the 
occasional floating Armenian voter from the "other" side, probably by 
playing on fears that Lebanon would lose its pro-western outlook to 
Iranian Islamism if the opposition won. Nevertheless, the Tashnags can 
still rightly argue that yet again their rivals were elected through 
votes obtained from outside the Armenian community. However, on this 
occasion, these non-Armenian votes were mostly from other Christians 
(Maronites, Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholics) and were not 
overwhelmingly Sunni votes as was the case in both 2000 and 2005, when 
the boundaries of electoral constituencies in Beirut were different.

In Beirut II, the contest over the two Armenian seats was over before 
Election Day. Elections went on only for the Sunni and Shi'i seats, but 
the result was again never in doubt. The sides that had agreed in Doha 
to divide the seats in this constituency respected their undertaking; 
supporters of the Future Movement, Amal and Hizballah exchanged votes to 
assure the elections of their respective candidates. Compared to the 
other two constituencies in the capital, the percentage of voter 
participation was much lower here - at 27 percent. There was only one 
serious challenge to the Sunni candidate proposed by the Future 
Movement. He was opposed by a Sunni member of the opposition, who argued 
that Sunnis in the opposition were never part of the compromise reached 
in Doha and were hence under no obligation to refrain from challenging 
the Future Movement. He received just over 8,000 votes, compared to the 
over 16,500 votes obtained by the winning candidate. Under these 
circumstances, the interest shown by the large number of Armenians 
eligible to vote in this constituency was very timid. Indeed, in a 
number of cases, voters flown in from abroad to cast their ballots in 
this constituency were told on Election Day that they would not be taken 
to the polling station by their Tashnag hosts because Beirut II had 
ceased to be a priority.

Armenian interest in Beirut III was confined to the Evangelical seat. 
This large constituency had more eligible voters than Beirut I and II 
put together and it would return ten out of the total 19 deputies 
allocated to Beirut. Sunni voters formed some 70 percent of those 
eligible to vote in this constituency. Since it was a foregone 
conclusion that most Sunnis would cast their votes for the list backed 
by Hariri, the expectation that the incumbent Arab-speaking Evangelical 
deputy would be returned easily came true. Like all other members on 
Hariri's list, he received some 76,000 votes. He had two ethnic Armenian 
challengers, including the Tashnag-backed George Viken Ishkhanian. He 
found himself on the rival list, which ran a campaign imbued with Arab 
nationalist themes, reminiscent of the era of the Egyptian leader Jamal 
'Abd al-Nasir in the 1950s and '60s. The list members, including 
Ishkhanian, received around 21,000 votes each. The second Armenian 
candidate for the Evangelical seat, who ran as an independent, received 
only 71 votes.

Although the fate of the Armenian Orthodox seat in Metn was the first to 
be settled, and that a full two months before Election Day, Armenian 
participation in this largely-Christian constituency was very intensive 
and provided the most controversy (as far as Armenians were concerned) 
after the polls had been closed.

The traditionally Armenian neighborhood of Bourj-Hammoud is part of the 
Metn constituency. The territorial control that the Tashnag party 
exercises over this neighborhood and to a lesser extent over its 
newly-emerging 'settler colony' in Mezher near Antelias makes it even 
stronger among the Armenians registered here than in Beirut. Tashnags 
have usually controlled up to 90 percent of the 'Armenian' votes cast 
during past elections in Metn.

 From 1964 to 2005, one regular feature during all Metn elections was 
the alliance - better to say the 'marriage of convenience' - between 
Michel al-Murr, a local political boss, and the Tashnag party. Murr's 
influence grew in Metn and the entire Lebanese political scene during 
the Syrian era (1990-2005), and the Murr-Tashnag alliance was crucial 
throughout this period to keep most of Syria's opponents in Metn out of 
parliament. Murr's anti-Syrian opponents held the Armenians in general 
responsible (sometimes even in what amounted to racist rhetoric) for 
maintaining Murr in power and hence strengthening Syria's hand in 
Lebanon through the large number of votes they cast in favor of Murr's 
lists both in 1996 and 2000.

Developments in 2005 drastically changed the picture, at least 
temporarily. Immediately prior to the elections, the Syrians left and 
the anti-Syrian forces coalesced under the umbrella of the "March 14" 
movement. It would have been very difficult for both Murr and the 
Tashnags to stop the anti-Syrian tide together had 'Awn not broken away 
from the "March 14" coalition not long before polling day. Looking for 
allies to challenge the "March 14" bloc in Metn, 'Awn's FPM first forged 
an electoral alliance with the Tashnags, who, in turn, had just been 
shunned by Sa'd al-Hariri in Beirut. Thereafter, the Tashnags were 
instrumental, probably with others, in bringing former rivals 'Awn and 
Murr together. 'Awn consented to a formal alliance with Murr only after 
the latter issued a formal and public apology for all the misdeeds he 
had personally approved against 'Awn's supporters during the Syrian era. 
The 'Awn-Tashnag-Murr alliance proved very effective in 2005 and swept 
all the seats it contested in Metn. The margin of its victory was so 
large that the defeated candidates could not argue that their defeat was 
caused because of the so-called "Armenian bloc vote."

However, while this new 'Awn-Tashnag alliance remained strong throughout 
the next four years, the parallel 'Awn-Murr alliance grew increasingly 
shaky and finally broke down in 2008. Thereafter, Murr moved in quick 
steps toward his former anti-Syrian rivals in Metn and fought the 2009 
elections on a single list with the "March 14" forces. In this process, 
Murr also became a sharp critic of 'Awn, accusing him of misdeeds 
carried out not only after 2005 but also in the late 1980s - long before 
he had forged an electoral alliance with 'Awn in 2005.

This re-drawing of the political landscape in Metn put the Tashnags 
before a stark choice. It was evident from the beginning that they had 
already been charmed by 'Awn. In public, the Tashnags said that they 
felt obliged to 'Awn for having lent them a hand at a time when Hariri 
was attempting to push them out of parliament altogether. Privately, 
they were also thankful to 'Awn for having fought hard and changed the 
boundaries of the electoral constituencies in Beirut, which had robbed 
the Tashnags of the Armenian Orthodox and Catholic seats in both 2000 
and 2005. Nevertheless, Murr tried hard to lure the Tashnags away from 
'Awn into the "March 14" camp. On March 7, 2009, he arranged a 
trilateral meeting with Mkhitarian and Sa'd al-Hariri at the latter's 
residence. During this first meeting, Hariri reportedly proposed to 
include three Armenian candidates agreeable to the Tashnag party (out of 
a total of four) on the "March 14" lists in Metn, Zahlah and Beirut I. 
In return, he expected the Tashnags to push their electorate - an 
estimated 80 percent of all actual Armenian voters - to back "March 14" 
candidates in these three constituencies, hence seriously weakening 
'Awn's chances of success in any of them. However, it remained unclear 
how these elected Armenian deputies would position themselves in the 
next parliament. Hariri's press office claimed he had suggested that 
these deputies should completely commit themselves to political 
neutrality between "March 14" and the opposition. The Tashnag 
interpretation was different. They said that they had proposed the 
establishment of a five-member, Tashnag-controlled Armenian Bloc - with 
a sixth slot reserved for the "March 14" candidate elected unopposed in 
Beirut II. The Tashnags wanted this bloc to have the freedom to make 
political decisions independently - without any prior commitment to 
"March 14" or the opposition. In any case, the Tashnag leadership was 
quick in rejecting Hariri's offer; at a time when most pundits expected 
'Awn (with Tashnag and other support) to win in all three 
constituencies, the Tashnags thought that Hariri's offer was too little 
and perhaps too late. The Tashnag decision was formally made public only 
after it had been communicated Hariri during a second meeting on April 
1. Thereafter, the official Tashnag line was that the party would remain 
an ally of the FPM in all constituencies, but would also vote for Murr 
on an individual basis in Metn if he did not include another Armenian 
Orthodox candidate (to challenge Hagop Pakradouni) on the rival list. 
Murr complied with the Tashnag condition; the list he eventually 
announced in alliance with the "March 14" forces in Metn did not have an 
Armenian Orthodox candidate. This made Pakradouni's election unopposed 
possible. However, 'Awn refused to make things easy for the Tashnags. He 
nominated two candidates for the two Greek Orthodox slots on his list, 
thus making clear his intention to inflict a defeat on Murr. Against 
Murr, 'Awn proposed the candidacy of a young and popular musician, 
Ghassan al-Rahbani, well known among Armenians for a song he made in 
2007 praising the Armenian contribution to Lebanon.

As Election Day neared, the Tashnags continuously reiterated their 
commitment to both 'Awn's list and to Murr as an individual. However, 
this commitment appeared shakier by the day. Although the Tashnags were 
concentrating on Beirut I, Pakradouni did still appear alongside 'Awn's 
candidates during some of their campaign appearances in Metn. On the 
other hand, he was never seen alongside Murr, who was conducting a rival 
campaign against 'Awn, together with the "March 14" candidates in his 
constituency. Intent on inflicting a heavy defeat on 'Awn, Murr 
supporters on the ground made clear their unhappiness with what they saw 
as an ambiguous Tashnag stand. They accused the Armenians of 
ingratitude, after years of alleged service by Murr to the Armenian 

With the 45-year-old 'marriage of convenience' between the Tashnags and 
Murr clearly showing cracks, a considerable chunk of Tashnag supporters 
felt more comfortable in openly raising their doubts as regards Murr. 
This snowballing anti-Murr stand can be attributed to a number of 
factors: (a) a deep-seated, but previously subdued, resentment toward 
Murr because of his reputation among his opponents as an arrogant and 
corrupt politician; (b) a clear preference for 'Awn's personality 
compared to Murr's; (c) a political choice in favor of the opposition 
against "March 14"; (d) resentment of some of the electoral allies Murr 
had chosen, and, finally, (e) unhappiness with the growing criticism 
among Murr's clientele, who targeted the Armenians as a whole.

On Election Day, some 13,000 Armenian voters cast their ballots - an 
increase of 30 percent compared to the previous polls, at a time when 
the overall number of actual voters in the constituency had increased 
from 83,502 to 96,748. This large number of Armenian voters showed that, 
despite the election of its candidate, the Tashnag party still believed 
that it had something to prove to both friend and foe. Yet again, most 
of these Armenians followed Tashnag guidelines and voted for the 
candidates of the FPM. The estimated 10,000 'Tashnag' votes were very 
crucial in assuring the success of five of the seven FPM candidates; the 
margin of victory in most cases was only around 2,000 votes. Murr was 
one of only two candidates on the "March 14" list to win at the expense 
of their FPM rivals. The Greek Orthodox candidate who lost out against 
him was Rahbani. The other winner on the "March 14" list, representing 
the Phalanges Party, was careful in his acceptance speech not to blame 
the Armenians for the defeat of his list-mates. He was even diplomatic 
in praising the discipline of the Tashnag electoral machine, as well as 
the Armenian community's perceived sense of cohesion, wishing that the 
other Christian communities would learn from the Armenians. However, 
Murr was bitter. He had received only 4,500 votes more than other 
members of the "March 14" list, indicating that the Tashnags had failed 
to deliver in full their promise to vote for him; otherwise Murr should 
have had around 10,000 votes more than the remaining members of the 
"March 14" list. Forty-five years of mutual compliments went down the 
drain in a single day. Murr soon became a fierce critic of the Tashnags, 
even questioning the validity of the polls held in Bourj-Hammoud. During 
the ensuing war of words, the Tashnags admitted that they had only 
delivered 2,200 votes to Murr. They explained this unexpectedly low 
figure by what they described as the anti-Murr mood prevailing among the 
Armenian electorate in the run-up to polling day. The Tashnags also 
admitted that the other votes that Murr had received in 'Armenian' 
polling booths - close to 3,000 - were cast by non-Tashnag Armenian 
supporters of the "March 14" forces. This means that, similar to the 
situation in Beirut I analyzed above, anti-Tashnag Armenian groupings 
had also increased their share among Armenian voters registered in Metn. 
During the 2000 and 2005 elections, the anti-Tashnag Armenian Orthodox 
candidate in Metn had received only around 7 percent of all the 
'Armenian' votes cast.

The last of the three Armenian seats contested on June 7 was in the 
constituency of Zahlah, and again it went to a candidate running against 
the Tashnags. The number of Armenian voters in this constituency is 
small, and they are mostly concentrated in the village of Anjar, which - 
like Bourj Hammoud - is under the quasi-total territorial control of the 
Tashnag party. Armenian voters in this constituency voted overwhelmingly 
(an estimated 95 percent) for the Tashnag-backed candidate, the 
incumbent George Kassardji. However, he and the Tashnag party had placed 
their bet on the losing side, the alliance between the FPM and followers 
of the local political boss, Elie Skaf. Members of this list received an 
average of 41,000 votes, while the opposing "March 14" list, led by 
Nicolas Fattush, got over 48,000. The Sunni voters in this constituency 
voted in large numbers for Fattush's list and played an important role 
in cementing its victory. Shant Chinchinian, the Armenian candidate on 
the victorious list, was elected together with all its other members, 
although the actual 'Armenian' support he got in terms of votes was very 
timid. Nareg Aprahamian, the leader of the Free Lebanese Armenian 
Movement and originally the preferred candidate of the Armenian factions 
within the "March 14" bloc, was left out of the two strong competing 
lists and ended up with only 19 votes.


This concluding section will be confined to a number of important 
election-related issues which were not touched above. Predicting how 
political events pertaining to the Lebanese Armenian community will 
develop from now on is outside the scope of this analysis; at the time 
of writing, even the make-up of the parliamentary blocs, which the six 
Armenian deputies have joined either individually or in small groups, 
appears still to be fluid.

The 2009 elections will be remembered for having confirmed the status 
quo both in Lebanon at large and also among its Armenians. Within this 
general trend, the Tashnags maintained their overall share of the 
'Armenian' vote. On polling day, friends and foes were equally impressed 
by the efficiency of their electoral machine; one non-Armenian 
journalist claimed that it was arguably the best in the country, perhaps 
even surpassing that of Hizballah. Non-Armenian journalistic interest 
during the election period focused solely on the Tashnags, almost 
totally ignoring their Armenian rivals within the "March 14" camp. At 
times, it even equated the Tashnag party and its supporters with the 
Armenian community as a whole. In the run-up to the elections, and also 
during the post-mortem, the chief Tashnag spokesman, Hagop Pakradouni, 
almost monopolized the airtime devoted to the Armenian dimension of 
these developments. In his answers to questions posed by talk-show hosts 
and the general TV viewing public, he appeared quite convincing when 
selling the idea that his was a party jealous of the independence and 
dignity of the community it seeks to represent and an organization 
largely in control of its day-to-day political decisions. Aztag reported 
visits by foreign election observers to Tashnag offices, but no report 
appeared in either Ararad or Zartonk as regards similar visits to 
Hunchagian and Ramgavar headquarters. This appeared to be the 
continuation of a trend set during the past four years, when a number of 
foreign mediators, who visited Lebanon, or foreign diplomats accredited 
in the country, were also regular visitors to the Tashnag headquarters, 
but made no corresponding visits to the Ramgavars or Hunchagians. These 
foreign visitors probably considered the Tashnags powerful and 
independent enough to warrant separate meetings with them. Perhaps some 
of them - especially from western or conservative Arab countries - 
harbored a hidden desire to lure the Tashnags away from 'Awn and hence 
weaken the latter and, by extension, Hizballah. In any case, their 
rivals, the Hunchagians and the Ramgavars, were not honored with similar 
visits; the foreign dignitaries, after all, had direct access to Hariri, 
who ultimately made the final decisions in the "March 14" bloc. All 
these factors presumably added to Tashnag self-esteem and self-confidence.

However, all this social capital was not enough for the Tashnags to 
attain their set political objective: the expansion of 'their' Armenian 
Bloc of deputies from two to five members. They lost all three seats 
which they contested on Election Day and, in both cases, only because 
they had allied themselves with the weaker party in these two 
constituencies. What happened was similar to - and perhaps worse than - 
the 2000 elections. In an analysis written for the Armenian News Network 
(Groong) immediately after the 2000 polls, this author then attributed 
the Tashnag defeat solely to an unfortunate choice of electoral allies. 
Nine years later, when this pattern has been repeated, a more 
sophisticated analysis of the factors behind the Tashnag defeat becomes 

In the year 2000, Rafiq al-Hariri offered the Tashnags two seats out of 
five in Beirut and no possibility for the prospective Tashnag deputies 
to set up a parliamentary bloc independent of him. Hariri's offer did 
not cover Metn and Zahlah, where Tashnags would still be free to act as 
they wished. The Tashnags thought that Hariri's offer was much less than 
they felt themselves entitled to. They probably also believed that they 
could challenge Hariri with the assistance of President Lahud and the 
state security apparatus in league with him. The election results proved 
that this Tashnag expectation was unfounded.

Nine years later, Hariri's son, Sa'd, proposed to the Tashnags four 
seats out of seven possible - at a time when the Tashnags were 
realistically aspiring only to five of these seven seats and would be 
content with four if they were allowed to lead an independent Armenian 
Bloc of six deputies. By rejecting this new offer, the Tashnags again 
ended up with only two seats. If the Tashnags had agreed to the young 
Hariri's offer and voted for the "March 14" lists in all three 
constituencies concerned, today they would have had four seats in 
parliament and possibly a separate Armenian Bloc, albeit with limited 
political choices. At the same time, the opposition would have found 
itself in an even weaker position, with only 50 seats (instead of the 
current 57), while the "March 14" bloc would have had 74 deputies 
(instead of the current 71). The Tashnags could have either formed an 
'independent' bloc of four or joined the "March 14" alliance outright 
and raised its total to 78 seats.

In retrospect, whether the Tashnags were correct or not in rejecting 
Hariri's latest offer depends on our reading of what the party's aims 
are. Why did the party choose to stick with 'Awn to the end? Is the 
current Tashnag-FPM alliance yet another 'marriage of convenience' or is 
the Tashnag commitment to 'Awn based on a deep conviction that his 
vision for the future of Lebanon is indisputably the best on offer? 
After all, 'Awn did benefit from the Tashnag commitment, especially in 
Metn, but what did the Tashnags benefit from 'Awn in return?

Since very little is divulged about internal Armenian party (including 
Tashnag) deliberations, a lot of what follows remains speculative. Among 
the various factions constituting the (anti-American) opposition in 
Lebanon, of which the Tashnags are now seen as an important component, 
there are influential individual political bosses, who have significant 
following in certain areas - not less and often broader than that of the 
Tashnags - and who again, like the Tashnags, failed to enter parliament 
with the number of allies they had anticipated. These political figures 
need not undergo renewed soul-searching following the elections for they 
have committed themselves to the opposition for ideological reasons, and 
their followers would not ask their leader why he chose the allies he 
did. However, the Tashnag rhetoric, especially when it is geared toward 
an Armenian audience, does not leave the impression that the party's 
commitment to 'Awn is ideological. Tashnag orators avoid deep analyses 
of pan-Lebanese issues in their public appearances. This may be a 
manifestation of the Lebanese Armenian tradition, established prior to 
and during the civil war, according to which the Armenian community (as 
opposed to the individuals who constitute it) should remain neutral 
among and equidistant from all other Lebanese factions engaged in 
serious political divisions in the country. The Tashnag line of 
reasoning in public is more tuned toward the argument that, within the 
Lebanese ethno-confessional mosaic, the Armenians will be better 
situated at the bargaining table if they are represented there through 
their most formidable force. During the next four years, however, the 
Tashnags will not be the undisputed representatives of the Armenians at 
that table and - as in the year 2000 - they only have themselves to 
blame for having placed their bet on what proved to be the weaker 
contestant. If predicting the future trajectory of political 
developments is an important quality of leadership, then the current 
Tashnag hierarchy in Lebanon failed again to notice the direction in 
which the winds were blowing, i.e. the fact that 'Awn had lost some of 
his Christian following since the 2005 elections, in addition to the 
potential effect of all the sums and efforts the "March 14" bloc and its 
American and Saudi backers were spending to humble 'Awn and hence weaken 
Hizballah on the Lebanese political scene.

If the inability to notice the changing mood of the Arabic-speaking 
public is the actual cause of the Tashnag failure, then it must be added 
that this type of conservative behavior has its precedents in the 
history of the party's involvement in Lebanese politics. In 1943, for 
example, Movses Der Kaloustian of the Tashnag party was one of the two 
Armenian Orthodox deputies sitting in the Lebanese parliament which 
terminated the French mandate. If an oral testimony attributed to the 
then Lebanese Prime Minister, Riad al-Sulh, is to be believed, Der 
Kaloustian's victory in the 1943 elections was declared only under 
strong pressure from the outgoing French mandatory authorities. In 
return, Der Kaloustian became one of the only five deputies who 
abstained when the necessary constitutional amendments were put to vote 
in parliament on November 8, 1943; the other Armenian deputy, 
representing the anti-Tashnag factions, voted for the proposed changes. 
Nevertheless, this abstention did not prevent Der Kaloustian and another 
Tashnag-backed candidate from filling the two Armenian Orthodox slots on 
the pro-government list during the next elections in 1947. Another 
example of slow Tashnag adaptation to changing circumstances was the 
vote of the four pro-Tashnag Armenian Orthodox deputies in favor of the 
pro-government candidate during the crucial 1970 presidential elections. 
He eventually lost this dramatic election by a single vote, and his 
defeat marked the end of a period in Lebanese history. The Tashnags had 
worked with the previous government for twelve years and, following the 
1970 presidential elections, their relations with the incoming president 
remained cool for at least two years. However, things had been patched 
up yet again in time for the next parliamentary elections in 1972.

In the past, Tashnags could 'correct' such 'mistakes' and remain 
politically afloat because the Armenian votes they controlled were 
significant for the success or failure of rival non-Armenian 
politicians. They were eventually courted by everybody who wanted to win 
at all cost. What has made the 'correction' of similar 'mistakes' 
difficult since 2000 is not only the sophisticated methods now used by 
the Tashnag party's potential rivals to dilute the 'Armenian' vote 
through successive waves of gerrymandering, but also the decline in the 
overall percentage of the 'Armenian' vote because of mass emigration 
during the war years - noticeably above the national average.

The three successive defeats of the Tashnag party, and the independent 
development of Armenian individuals now joining non-Armenian political 
factions in increasing numbers, may eventually fully destroy the myth of 
the centrality of the so-called "Armenian bloc vote" in East Beirut and 
Metn. Accordingly it may embolden non-Armenian political factions like 
the FPM, the Lebanese Forces, the Phalanges or the Future Movement to 
try to fill the parliamentary seats allocated to the Armenians through 
ethnic Armenian candidates from their own party ranks, totally bypassing 
and even confronting traditional Armenian community structures. In 
retrospect, it can be argued that had the Lebanese Forces insisted on 
having Kouyoumdjian on the "March 14" list in Beirut I, instead of 
Hunchagian-backed Toursarkissian, and had the Hunchagians and Ramgavars 
carried out their threat of a boycott, the "March 14" list might still 
have defeated its FPM-Tashnag rivals, for the eventual margin of victory 
was slightly higher than the around 2,000 votes which anti-Tashnag 
Armenians were able to deliver to their "March 14" allies. The Tashnag 
leadership seems to be fully aware of this 'danger,' and appears 
determined to fight it tooth and nail within the limit of its abilities. 
The anti-Tashnag Armenian stand vis-`-vis Kouyoumdjian was also not 
motivated - in all probability - solely by selfish interests, but was 
also a reflection of the same fear, which is being felt on both sides of 
the traditional Armenian political divide. However, Chinchinian's 
possible adherence to the Lebanese Forces bloc may yet again complicate 
matters as regards this issue among the Armenian factions within the 
"March 14" camp.

Another common explanation for the continued Tashnag support for 'Awn - 
given mostly by 'Awn's Arabic-speaking Christian opponents - was the 
alleged pressure the Syrian and Iranian governments exercised on the 
Tashnag party in Lebanon through the manipulation of both the existence 
of significant Armenian communities in Syria and Iran and the 
transnational structure of the Tashnag party. Indeed, the current 
chairman of the Bureau, the Tashnag party's highest executive body 
world-wide, was born and grew up in Iran, before moving to and settling 
in Armenia soon after the country regained its independence in 1991. In 
all such analyses, he appears as a shadowy figure, pushing his party's 
branch in Lebanon toward accommodating the political desires of his 
country of birth. Tashnag spokesmen predictably refute all such 
allegations, citing the fact that the party's internal bylaws have 
always allowed a large measure of decentralization, including the right 
of party structures in Lebanon to draw the guidelines of local policy 
and nominate the party's representatives for government posts. Because 
of the Tashnag habit of holding their deliberations in secret, it is 
impossible for outside observers to confirm or reject such claims 
outright. However, if the burden to provide proof falls on those who 
come up with such claims, what they have actually produced so far 
amounts to nothing more than guesswork. Before 2004, too, the argument 
that the Armenians of Lebanon had to follow the Syrian line during the 
period of Syrian hegemony because the Syrian government would otherwise 
make life very hard for its Armenians was quite common. Developments 
since 2004 have shown, however, that such fears were misplaced. The 
Hunchagians and Ramgavars also have their followers and party structures 
in Syria. Since September 2004, their party organizations and newspapers 
in Lebanon have largely followed and never dissented from the 
anti-Syrian line of the Hariris. Yet there is no indication that the 
Syrian government has made life more difficult for Hunchagian and 
Ramgavar activists or sympathizers, who are Syrian citizens and live in 
Syria. In the case of Iran, it should be remembered that, in addition to 
hosting a large Armenian community, it shares a lot with Armenia the 
nation-state as well - a common border; economic investment; growing 
transportation and energy infrastructure; political concerns related to 
the South Caucasus; geopolitical ramifications of oil and gas 
exploration and transportation in the Caspian basin, etc. Many of these 
issues are of no great interest to the Lebanese and were never touched 
on by analysts based in Beirut. To assume that Iran would disturb these 
delicate relations with Armenia, a friendly Christian neighbor, and, by 
extension, with the latter's more powerful geopolitical ally, Russia, 
simply because of how a few thousand 'Armenian' votes would go during 
elections in Lebanon is tantamount to according Lebanon, let alone its 
tiny Armenian minority, an importance much greater than it actually 
deserves. Moreover, the Tashnags have played a lesser role in 
formulating Armenian foreign policy in Yerevan in recent years, and in 
April this year they left the ruling coalition government altogether. 
Finally, it should also be mentioned that the number of Armenians living 
in either the United States or France far exceeds those living in Syria 
and Iran together.

Another newspaper, critical of 'Awn, reported in the immediate aftermath 
of the elections that the Tashnag party's Bureau, based in Yerevan, had 
asked the Tashnag leadership in Lebanon for an explanation for its 
latest defeat at the polls. Yet again, it is naove to expect the 
Tashnags in Lebanon to confirm such an occurrence even if it actually 
happened; it would be against the party's modus operandi. There is no 
archives-based research on the internal party history of the Tashnags in 
Lebanon, and independent historians are unable to discover in full to 
what extent there has been Bureau involvement at the times of Lebanese 
elections in the past. Memoirs written by two former Tashang 
parliamentarians, Khosrov Tutundjian in 1937 and Melkon Eblighatian in 
1972, admit that on both of these occasions the Bureau was directly 
involved in the process of choosing the Tashnag candidate. However, they 
make no hint that the Bureau's involvement was related to the dictating 
of policy or the imposing of electoral alignments with non-Armenian 
factions. During the recent elections, the Bureau had at least a moral 
right to seek an explanation because such a mobilization transcending 
continents in order to locate potential voters from among Lebanese 
Armenian expatriates, as well as organizing and paying for their return 
for the elections could not be accomplished without the Bureau's 
blessing. Some of the vast amounts of money spent for this purpose might 
also have come from funds at the Bureau's disposal. On the other hand, 
if the Bureau is held responsible - by some of the Tashnag party's 
non-Armenian rivals - for having imposed upon its branch in Lebanon its 
alignment with the allegedly pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian opposition, then 
it goes without saying that it has, in that case, no right to hold the 
Lebanese Tashnags responsible for their electoral defeat.

Ever since voting in separate ethno-confessional polling boxes was 
introduced in Lebanon in 1960, non-Armenian candidates who have lost 
because of Armenians voting for their rivals in large numbers have also 
often ended up claiming that their defeat was imposed by a community 
whom they still see as somewhat alien to the Lebanese social fabric. 
This argument, and its acceptance by at least part of the Lebanese 
public, is without doubt evidence both of lingering xenophobia within 
Lebanese society at large and of the problematic nature of gradual 
Armenian assimilation into the host society. The Lebanese electoral law 
does not insist that deputies filling seats pre-allocated to a certain 
ethno-religious community should necessarily receive the most votes from 
members of their own community. However, in a fragmented political 
environment, imbued with feelings of ethno-confessional xenophobia, this 
ploy has been used quasi-regularly by defeated candidates. Supporters of 
the Tashnags, the majority party among the Armenians, have, in turn, 
questioned the legitimacy of non-Tashnag Armenian deputies who have not 
gotten the majority of votes cast by Armenians and have obtained their 
seats largely through votes delivered by non-Armenians. On this 
occasion, 'Armenian' votes in Metn benefited 'Awn and deprived the 
Christian factions of the "March 14" bloc of one Greek Orthodox, one 
Greek Catholic and three Maronite seats, which would have gone the other 
way had the Armenians as a group decided not to make use of their 
constitutional right to vote and stayed at home. Moreover, the Armenians 
were not the only community on this occasion whose members voted 
overwhelmingly for one faction. Sunni voters cast some 75 percent or 
more of their ballots for the Future Movement; the Druze, for the PSP; 
and the Shi'is, for the Hizballah-Amal alliance. Again, in a thinly 
disguised xenophobic tone, the Arabic-speaking Christians, i.e. 
Maronites, Greek Orthodox and Greek Catholics - especially supporters of 
the "March 14" alliance - argued that theirs were open societies, but 
'their' deputies in religiously mixed constituencies were being imposed 
upon them by Armenian, Sunni or Shi'i "bloc votes." In addition to 
Murr's complaints discussed during our coverage of the results in Metn, 
similar accusations were leveled at the Armenians, in particular by 
Murr's 27-year-old granddaughter, who ran and won in Beirut I, and by a 
returning Lebanese Forces deputy in North Lebanon. Fortunately, such 
comments also received timely criticism not only from the leaders of the 
Tashnag party but also from a number of prominent non-Armenian 
politicians, including the outgoing prime minister.

The "Armenian bloc vote" is a relatively new phenomenon in Lebanese 
history. 'Armenian' seats were hotly contested among rival Armenian 
groupings, particularly in Beirut, in the 1930s,'40s and '50s. During 
the last head-to-head contest between the Tashnags and their Armenian 
rivals, prior to the outbreak of the 1975 civil war, the Tashnags and 
their Phalanges allies got 'only' 58 percent of the 'Armenian' votes 
cast in Beirut I in 1960. Their Hunchagian and Ramgavar rivals mobilized 
the remaining 42 percent of the Armenian electorate. We must also 
remember that illegal, but unashamedly open, Lebanese government 
intervention on polling day in favor of candidates it preferred was 
persistent up to the mid-1960s. The anti-Communist Tashnags regularly 
benefited from such interventions, especially after the Second World 
War. Such intervention could have made an additional difference of a few 
percentage points. However, when the "Tashnags versus the rest" 
electoral contests in Beirut resumed in 2000, it soon became clear that 
the Tashnags had during the intervening forty years consolidated their 
hold over the Armenian community in general. They are now regularly 
getting some 80 percent of the 'Armenian' votes, even though direct 
government intervention on polling day is now much less and the Tashnags 
are no longer necessarily the favored Armenian party for successive 
Lebanese governments. Why and how the Tashnags became even stronger at 
the expense of their rivals warrants a separate study by historians and 
will not be covered here.

If the preliminary figures regarding the distribution of the 'Armenian' 
votes cast, released by the Tashnag party and used in this analysis, are 
true (and, in the past, they have only differed slightly from those 
tabulated ultimately by the Lebanese Ministry of the Interior), the 
non-Tashnags made a slight advance on this occasion in Beirut I and a 
more significant one (but from a much lower base) in Metn, compared to 
the results in 2000 and 2005. However, these advances are too 
insignificant to alter the image that, when it comes to Lebanese 
electoral politics, "Armenian" mostly means "Tashnag." Hence, when 
Armenians are targeted, such comments and behavior come mostly from 
non-Armenians unhappy with the political choices of the Tashnags.

Moreover, the Tashnags are seen as the Armenian party most ready to 
raise its voice and object when the reputations of the Lebanese Armenian 
community or Armenia the country are targeted. The reaction of 
anti-Tashnag parties or deputies has usually been slower and appeared 
half-hearted. While Hagop Pakradouni has become in the last four years a 
figure familiar to all politics-crazy TV viewers across Lebanon, the 
anti-Tashnag spokesmen among the Armenians have failed, for a variety of 
reasons, to come up with a corresponding figure (or figures) ready and 
well-equipped to also carry their respective message to the airwaves. TV 
appearances by Oghassabian and Toursarkissian have been far fewer and 
much less articulate. Kassardjian rarely gave TV interviews during his 
nine years as a deputy, while the now retiring Djeredjian probably never 
appeared on live TV or radio throughout his 17 years in parliament. Will 
the incoming two non-Tashnag deputies, Kalpakian and the much younger 
Chinchinian, make any difference and fill in this gap? This remains to 
be seen.

It will be interesting to analyze in depth how various components of the 
Lebanese Armenian community are choosing their representatives at this 
current juncture, especially after 2004, when Lebanese politics became 
exceedingly polarized. Most Lebanese pollsters take for granted that 
Armenians will vote according to their communal party allegiances. Those 
with more day-to-day contact with Armenians, however, realize that the 
picture is more complex. For example, if the Tashnags had agreed to 
Hariri's offer and crossed to the "March 14" bloc prior to the recent 
elections, what percentage of votes would 'Awn and his supporters still 
have gotten from Armenian voters? While this hypothetical number would 
have definitely been much lower compared to what they actually got on 
June 7, it would still not have been negligible. As Armenians are 
becoming more integrated within the Lebanese (actually, the 
Arabic-speaking Christian) community and are in better command of the 
Arabic language than ever before, they have also become more prone to 
obtaining information and making political decisions bypassing their 
traditional Armenian party channels. It is evident for those living and 
working within the Armenian community that, in recent years, the number 
of traditional Ramgavars and Hunchagians sympathetic to Hizballah's 
arguments in favor of a resistance movement in south Lebanon, or the 
number of traditional Tashnags wary of the future repercussions of 
'Awn's pro-Hizballah line, is not negligible, particularly among the 
better-educated. The 'mini-rebellion' among Tashnag supporters against 
the decision to vote for Michel al-Murr may be one manifestation of the 
more independent spirit shown by some Armenian voters in recent years. 
However, this 'independence' is partly conditioned by fact that politics 
in Lebanon on the one hand and pan-Armenian political issues pertaining 
to Armenia and the Diaspora on the other are no longer seen by most 
Armenians as being inter-connected, as was the case earlier, during the 
Cold War period. This issue also warrants an in-depth analysis based on 
a broad survey of political opinion among the Lebanese Armenians.

The gradual Armenian assimilation within the 'Christian' Lebanese fabric 
was also evident through the professional qualities of some of the new 
candidates, who contested the elections for the first time. Command of 
the Arabic language has always been a major obstacle when selecting 
Armenian candidates to run for public office. Lebanese political satire 
has, in turn, concentrated excessively on fossilizing the stereotype of 
the Armenian who cannot speak the Lebanese Arabic dialect properly. For 
years, Armenian parents who preferred to pull their children from 
Armenian community schools and instead send them usually to foreign 
missionary schools have dwelt upon the necessity for their children to 
master the Lebanese Arabic dialect in order to succeed in life. Hagop 
Pakradouni, a product of the Armenian community school system, broke 
this myth in 2005 and showed that it is possible to learn to speak 
Arabic at an acceptable level and become known to the Lebanese public 
without necessarily attending a non-Armenian school. Among the 
candidates who failed on this occasion, but were fully qualified to 
repeat Pakradouni's accomplishment, were Gregoire Calouste and Sebouh 
Mekhdjian. Both may again attempt to enter parliament in 2013. Finally, 
two of the three Armenian newcomers in the Lebanese parliament of 2009 
bring with them past experience as principals of Armenian community 
schools - again following a path first taken by Hagop Pakradouni.

Unfortunately, the increasing visibility of Armenians within the context 
of Lebanese politics is offset by the continuing decline of the 
influence of the Lebanese Armenian community across transnational 
Armenian politics. In the year 2000, soon after the news that the 
Tashnags had failed to win five seats in Beirut came out, this author 
received an email from a renowned senior colleague in the field of 
Armenian Studies in the United States. He asked if this change in 
Tashnag fortunes in Lebanon might assist in making the Tashnags more 
flexible and help in finding a solution to the lingering political and 
administrative dispute around the Armenian Church in the USA. 
Developments in Lebanon were still seen as pivotal by some when it came 
to transnational Armenian politics. Nine years later, fewer people, if 
any, harbor any expectation of a domino effect transcending state 
borders. The Armenians of Lebanon are becoming more rooted in their host 
society, but Armenian politics on the Lebanese scene is losing its 
ability to influence Armenians in other countries.

Ara Sanjian is Associate Professor of Armenian and Middle Eastern 
History and the Director of the Armenian Research Center at the 
University of Michigan-Dearborn.
He can be reached at

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