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Armen Zakarian and Harry Tamrazian in Yerevan

Former ruling party HHSh (Pan-Armenian National Movement) and its allies gathered in Armavir, a small town 60 km from Yerevan last Saturday, to discuss what many speculate is the possible candidacy of former president Levon Petrosian for the next year's presidential elections. Meanwhile, the supporters of the first Armenian president downplayed the significance of the major gathering as being just another friendly meeting.

The spokesman of Levon Ter-Petrosian and one of his close allies, Davit Shahnazarian told the press last week that the former president would most probably run for presidency, leading to speculation that the former regime is seeking political revenge for its defeat in 1998, when the resignation of Levon Ter-Petrossian led to massive defections of the ruling party's members to the rival camp.

According to the former deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament, the meeting of the leaders of former regime had no secretive agenda of a possible Ter-Petrossian comeback. Speaking to RFE/RL Ara Sahakian said that they had decided to meet in Armavir to avoid the summer heat of Yerevan.

However, the meeting of the former political elite, with the participation of President Ter-Petrosian and dozens of other members of former regime left no doubt that the "HHSh" and its allies had gathered for serious business. "There are positive changes in "HHSh" and we are outlining our future plans of action for the upcoming elections", Sahakian said. The leading member of the former regime confirmed that the "HHSh" will participate in all upcoming local, parliamentary and presidential elections.

According to the former deputy speaker of the parliament only the Dashnaktsutyun, the Communist party and the HHSh had a major impact on Armenian politics in the 20th century. Armenian Communists and Dashnaks have currently a 10 percent presence each in the Armenian parliament and the HHSh also should have 10 percent of parliamentary seats, Sahakian said, adding that the party will do everything to insure its adequate representation. Currently the HHSh has no seats in the Armenian parliament. He added that the party should reach a level of representation in the Armenian political landscape, which is commensurate with its capabilities, with or without Levon Ter-Petrosian.

The HHSh has started active preparations in various regions of Armenia. Its deputy chairman, Andranik Hovakimian told RFE/RL that the party currently has 59 regional branches with 5500 members.

Ara Sahakian believes that the former president will certainly make a political comeback, because he remains engaged in the political realities of the country. "He is concerned about the failure of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace process, about the deadlock in the negotiating process", Sahakian said. He added that Levon Ter-Petrossian still firmly believes that the Nagorno-Karabakh peace plan offered in 1997 by the OSCE Minsk Group was the best offer to date. "Armenia will get the best results from a peace deal if it succeeds to go back to the plan offered in 1997".

Sources close to Levon Ter-Petrossian's circle told RFE/RL that the
discussions on the possible nomination of Levon Ter-Petrossian as a
presidential candidate for next year's elections have started long ago. The former president apparently met with the ambassadors of the EU countries in Armenia a month ago during which the European top diplomats asked Ter-Petrossian whether he is going to run for the presidency.

Sources close to the former president also told our correspondent, that Levon Ter-Petrosian declined to give a direct answer. The former president was apparently asked how he could solve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Levon Ter-Petrossian reportedly told the European ambassadors that as in 1998, he is still convinced that that the current authorities will not solve the conflict.
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