David Tonoyan: Aspiration for leadership
Last weekend in Khndzoresk (Syunik region of Armenia) an event was held on the occasion of the Armenian military-patriotic holiday - Sparapet Day. By tradition, the military-political leadership of the country celebrates this day together with the military. Considering the heavy fighting that took place two months ago on the border between Armenia and Azerbaijan, Nikol Pashinyan's personal participation in the event also had a specific PR dimension.
After the July events, militaristic sentiments in the Armenian society are especially in trend, and today the Armenian leader, together with his wife, are actively trying to fit into this trend. However, on the day of Sparapet, Pashinyan clearly lagged behind his more charismatic Defense Minister David Tonoyan. If the minister of defense greeted the officers in the army (read - in a man's way) by the hand, then the prime minister who sluggishly followed Tonoyan - with his fist. By the way, Pashinyan, presumably already having had a coronavirus, of a man's handshake on a sacred day for the Armenian war, could not be afraid.
An even more revealing moment was Pashinyan's communication with citizens in Khndzoresk. The wife of Narek Sardaryan, an Armenian citizen who ended up on the territory of Azerbaijan (according to the Armenian version - captured, according to the Azerbaijani version - transferred voluntarily), addressed the Prime Minister. “What information do you have? I have no information about Narek,” she said. In response to this, Nikol Pashinyan said that, unfortunately, he could not say much. “Unfortunately, he ended up not with his friends, but with the enemy. We must understand what we can do,” the Prime Minister of Armenia stunned the woman with his answer and was like that. Unlike Pashinyan, Tonoyan showed more attention and leadership qualities in this situation: "We will talk now, we will talk on the way. I will be here."
In general, in the army topic, the ruling couple regularly have PR overlays. At the time when the Armenian-Azerbaijani clashes on the border were already underway, Pashinyan's wife Anna Hakobyan published her photos on social networks - on the field, with flowers and wishes for peace. Pashinyan himself, at a government meeting dedicated to military clashes, publicly doubted the adequacy and justification of the actions of the Armenian military against Azerbaijani servicemen on the border (it should be noted here that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov considered the actions of the Armenian side in July inadequate). After that, it became clear even to the supporters of the prime minister in Armenia that Nikol Pashinyan, at least, was not privy to his defense minister about the details of the events on the border. In July, the prime minister, who did not serve (unlike his predecessors Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sargsyan) in the army, did little to cope with the role of supreme commander in chief.
However, Nikol Pashinyan, being an experienced journalist and politician, has a keen sense of the mood of the crowd, which, in fact, brought him to power two and a half years ago. One of the first steps to urgently revive his image as supreme commander-in-chief was Pashinyan's presentation of more than 70 Armenian servicemen who took part in the July battles for state awards. But here Pashinyan went too far. Many local media outlets and bloggers drew attention to the fact that Azerbaijan lost 12 servicemen during the July battles. It turns out that for one killed Azerbaijani soldier, Armenia awards seven servicemen.
The next step in the field of military PR was the unexpected action of Anna Hakobyan, who went to Nagorno-Karabakh to undergo a military training course ... as part of the Women for Peace initiative. Thus, Hakobyan compromised her own initiative, tailored to the external target audience, rather crudely using it for internal consumption - and with a dubious effect. The PR was too rude - a huge number of photos and videos of the Prime Minister's wife posing with firearms, who had already received the ironic nickname Anka the Machine Gunner in Azerbaijan, caused ridicule among the Armenians themselves.
It is difficult to say who will eventually emerge as the winner in the increasingly obvious political competition between Pashinyan and Tonoyan. The Minister of Defense has not only certain positions within the country, but also clear external support - otherwise it is difficult to explain the fact that he was the head of the Ministry of Emergencies under Serzh Sargsyan and became Minister of Defense under Nikol Pashinyan.
But it is also important to understand that the image race on the militaristic track does not take place in some kind of Armenian information vacuum - attempts to prove who the big "hawk" is have dangerous foreign policy consequences. In the words of Sergei Lavrov, such rhetoric "overheats the public space", creating conditions for the next escalation of the Armenian-Azerbaijani confrontation.