By Anna Saghabalian and Armen Dulian
Armenia’s political elite and ordinary people alike seem to share the dominant mood outside the United States which has favored Democratic challenger John Kerry over the incumbent President George W. Bush throughout the neck-and-neck presidential race.
As Americans flocked to the polls on Tuesday, a random opinion poll on the streets of Yerevan found an overwhelming support for Kerry. Most people interviewed by RFE/RL singled out his pro-Armenian track record on Capitol Hill and repeated pledges to recognize the 1915 genocide of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey.
“I hope Kerry will win. He has taken a keen interest in Armenian issues for the last 20 years,” said one young man.
“He supports Armenians. He would a better president for Armenia,” agreed another.
Another, elderly Kerry supporter recalled Bush’s pledge to condemn the mass killings and deportations as genocide during his first presidential run and his subsequent failure to do so in his annual April 24 messages to the Armenian-American community. “Bush has deceived the Armenians,” he charged.
Kerry’s as well as his running mate John Edwards’s positions on the genocide issue have been instrumental in their endorsement by leading U.S.-Armenian organizations, notably the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA). Kerry’s Massachusetts constituency has one of the highest concentrations of ethnic Armenians in the U.S.
There were also those who mentioned the U.S.-led military campaign in Iraq, the main reason for Bush’s worldwide unpopularity. One Yerevan resident said he was greatly influenced by the “Fahrenheit 911” documentary of U.S. filmmaker Michael Moore and its scandalous criticism of Bush’s policies. “I think that if Kerry wins he will end the war,” he said.
Yet support for the Massachusetts senator was not unanimous. Some Armenians said they back Bush because of the fight against Islamist terrorism unleashed by his administration following the September 11 terror attacks. “He should be allowed to continue his mission,” said one woman.
Sargis Asatrian, the leader of the small Armenian Youth Party, has written an “open letter” voicing its strong support for the incumbent and handed it over the U.S. embassy in Yerevan on Monday. “I support him because his administration has been fighting terrorism ever since September 2001. I don’t want terrorists to rejoice his downfall,” Asatrian explained.
Several other, more prominent Armenian were sympathetic to Bush’s challenger. But they were skeptical about Kerry’s chances of victory. “I think Bush will win, even though it looks like a Kerry win would be more beneficial for all Armenians,” said Vazgen Manukian, an opposition leader who took part in Armenia’s last three presidential elections.
“I’m not happy to say this, but I think Bush will win,” said Alvard Petrosian, a parliament deputy affiliated with the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). “The Americans don’t like leaving their job unfinished.”
Khoren Abrahamian, a prominent Armenian actor, was less certain. “You are asking a question which even the Devil can’t answer,” he said. “Let’s just cross ourselves and pray for a Kerry victory.”