By Armen Zakarian
Some of Armenia’s wealthiest people and prominent athletes pledged on Wednesday their support for President Robert Kocharian’s reelection bid at the founding congress of their Haghtanak (Victory) organization attended by senior government officials.
The nominally apolitical group will be headed by Ishkhan Zakarian, deputy minister of culture, sports and youth affairs, -- an indication that it was set up with Kocharian’s blessing. Incidentally, the gathering was attended by the powerful chief of the presidential security guard, Grigor Sarkisian.
Among Haghtanak’s leaders are several wealthy businessmen who control some lucrative sectors of the Armenian economy. They are expected to provide hefty financial support to Kocharian’s reelection campaign.
Haghtanak’s governing board also comprises Culture Minister Roland Sharoyan and other top government officials, including Gyumri Mayor Vartan Ghukasian and the recently elected head of Yerevan’s central district, Gagik Beglarian. Its congress took place in Yerevan’s largest concert hall despite Sharoyan’s recent order banning political gatherings in cultural institutions across the country. There was no official explanation for the exception granted to the newly formed pro-Kocharian group.
The Haghtanak convention lasted for less than one hour, with several hundred delegates quickly rubber-stamping a statement expressing their commitment to the head of state and his victory in the February 19 presidential elections. The statement lavished praise on the country’s present leadership for achieving “development” in all spheres of life and stressed the need for continued political stability in Armenia.
In his address to the delegates, Zakarian said that Haghtanak will not turn into a political party and serve as a counterweight to Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK) as was speculated by the media. “Haghtanak was founded as a [non-governmental] public organization and will remain as such,” he said.