By Armen Zakarian
An influential Armenian government minister in charge of local governments denied on Saturday growing speculation that this week’s stormy congress of several thousand local community officials was convened to undermine Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and his Republican Party (HHK).
Hovik Abrahamian, who also oversees several other policy areas, said the unprecedented harsh criticism directed at Markarian and his cabinet by some local chiefs had not been stage-managed by President Robert Kocharian as is claimed by some media and pundits.
Tuesday’s emergency congress of the Union of Communities was thrown into turmoil after a keynote speech by Kocharian that signaled the start of his reelection campaign. The purpose of the gathering attended by around 7,000 delegates from across Armenia remained unclear.
Several heads of local administrations, led by Echmiadzin Mayor Yervand Aghvanian, openly lambasted policies pursued by Markarian’s government. The criticism drew an angry response from other community heads affiliated with the HHK. It also fueled speculation that the presidential administration intends to weaken and discredit the Republicans ahead of the local, presidential and parliamentary elections. Some commentators believe that Kocharian is preparing the ground for Markarian’s dismissal.
Aghvanian is one of the leaders of the Union of Communities and reportedly close to the influential chief of the presidential staff, Artashes Tumanian.
However, Abrahamian, himself a member of the HHK, insisted that the attacks on the Republican-led cabinet were initiated by Aghvanian who he said is “not a serious person.” “It was a personal show staged by one man,” Abrahamian told RFE/RL in an interview. He said the Echmiadzin mayor and his supporters thus managed to “kidnap the congress.”
Republican leaders, including deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, have condemned the organizers of the congress which saw Kocharian outline his vision of local self-government. Kocharian, who is seeking community backing for his bid to win a second term, called for the devolution of central government’s power. He also told local officials that they have a major part to play in making Armenia “the most organized state in the region.”
But the presidential speech, the first in many months, was overshadowed by the ensued wrangling among the delegates.
Abrahamian, who increasingly appears in public with Kocharian and now enjoys the unofficial status of a deputy premier, also denied that he is being groomed by the president as a counterweight to Markarian inside the HHK. Asked about press reports that he will be named Kocharian’s campaign manager in the February election, he replied: “I have not received such offers. If I receive them, I will think.”
Abrahamian, who owns several businesses in his native Ararat province, expressed confidence in Kocharian’s victory. “Today, the president has no serious rival acceptable to the people,” he said.