Former president of Armenia (1991-1998),
Armenian National Movement member
A 53-year-old philologist and specialist in Armenian and Middle Eastern history, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian is, in many ways, the campaign's lightening rod. To many voters, he represents the hardship and confusion of the immediate post-Soviet era - an association the ruling Republican Party of Armenia, the outgoing President Robert Kocharian and most television stations have attempted to promote. To other voters, he represents a chance for change from the 10-year administration of President Robert Kocharian, a time that has seen rapid economic growth accompanied by a similar expansion of corruption.
After nearly a decade of silence following his 1998 resignation, Ter-Petrosian's decision to run for president, made in the fall of 2007, came as a surprise for many. The government has cast the former president as the main rival to its candidate, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. Ter-Petrosian's main campaign strategy is to criticize Armenia's level of corruption - a problem he alleges is reinforced by the Kocharian administration ("a pyramid of corruption"); he has branded the Kocharian-Sarkisian government "avazakapetutiun," a word he created which stands for "robbers' regime" or "robbers' rule."
Ironically, Ter-Petrosian himself, however, brought Kocharian and Sarkisian into the government in the 1990s as prime minister and defense minister. He maintains that he is running for president to correct the consequences of that decision, which he now terms a mistake.
Ter-Petrosian first entered politics in 1988 when he joined the Karabakh committee, a group of intellectuals promoting the unification of Armenia with Nagorno Karabakh, a predominantly ethnic Armenian region of neighboring Azerbaijan. The committee later led the country to independence from the Soviet Union.
After a short spell in prison for his activities with the Karabakh committee, Ter-Petrosian founded the Armenian National Movement, which, after winning the 1990 parliamentary elections, catapulted him to the post of chairman of the republic's Supreme Soviet, at the time Armenia's highest governmental post. In October 1991, shortly after a referendum on secession from the Soviet Union, he was elected Armenia's first president.
His seven-year term marked a time of turbulent changes: ranging from power shortages to economic collapse, population migration and the war with Azerbaijan over the breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh. The Ter-Petrosian campaign today attributes the economic hardships to the turmoil caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Clampdowns on media and government critics at the time have not been uniformly addressed.
Like Baghdasarian, though, he now pushes voters to "wake up" to the need for political change, often underlining that message with bars from Ludvig van Beethoven's Ode to Joy at rallies and some indoor meetings.
"Value the past, head towards the future!"