By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), an influential governing party with strong Diaspora structures, will support President Robert Kocharian in the upcoming presidential elections, its leaders announced on Monday.
A statement adopted at a conference of the party’s organization in Armenia late Sunday, credits Kocharian with improving the difficult socioeconomic situation, approves his policy on Nagorno-Karabakh and praises his pursuit of international recognition of the 1915 Armenian Genocide. The document says that although the current authorities’ overall economic and anti-corruption record has not been “satisfactory,” Dashnaktsutyun feels vindicated for supporting Kocharian’s rise to power in 1998.
“Regardless of the external and internal difficulties and numerous unsolved problems, the course adopted in 1998 was right. It must be followed consistently and made irreversible,” the Dashnaktsutyun conference concluded.
Explaining the widely anticipated decision, one of its leaders, Armen Rustamian, said that Dashnaktsutyun does not expect more government posts in exchange for endorsing Kocharian’s reelection bid. He said that while supporting the incumbent, the party would accept any legitimate winner of the February 19 elections because it believes they must be free and fair.
Dashnaktsutyun’s parliamentary leader, Aghvan Vartanian, said the conference statement was adopted “almost unanimously,” declining to specify how many delegates voted against it or abstained.
Like all other Dashnaktsutyun gatherings, the three-day conference, held in the resort town of Tsaghkadzor, proceeded behind closed doors, and it was not possible to assess the extent of reported inner-party dissatisfaction with Kocharian and his government. Rustamian did not deny in this regard that the 2001 murder of a Dashnaktsutyun activist in a popular Yerevan café, widely blamed on Kocharian’s bodyguards, came up during the discussions.
The party has criticized the official inquiry into Poghos Poghosian’s violent death, but stopped short of holding Kocharian responsible for the alleged cover-up. Only one presidential bodyguard was prosecuted and got off with a one-year suspended prison sentence.
Dashnaktsutyun has supported Kocharian ever since he lifted a three-year ban on the nationalist party’s activities shortly after the forced resignation of his predecessor Levon Ter-Petrosian. Ter-Petrosian had controversially outlawed Dashnaktsutyun in December 1994, accusing it of sponsoring “terrorism” and violating an Armenian law that bans political parties from having foreign members.
The party has since become a part of the ruling establishment and controls two ministerial posts in Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s government. Rustamian said the Dashnaks will be looking to increase their representation in the parliament in the May legislative elections. They currently hold 10 seats in the 131-member National Assembly.
Rustamian also said that the decision to endorse Kocharian has been approved by the majority of Dashnaktsutyun’s Diaspora branches. Some of their representatives attended the Tsaghkadzor conference.
(Fotolur photo: Armen Rustamian, left, and Aghvan Vartanian)