By Shakeh Avoyan
Artashes Geghamian, a top presidential candidate advocating closer ties with Russia, won on Friday an unlikely endorsement from Paruyr Hayrikian, a veteran politician who had spent 17 years in Soviet labor camps for campaigning for Armenia’s independence.
Hayrikian said his center-right National Self-Determination Union (AIM) party will urge supporters to vote for Geghamian despite the latter’s leftist views and calls for Armenia’s accession to the Russia-Belarus union. He argued that Geghamian, who worked his way up the Soviet Communist Party ranks while Hayrikian was in jail, now “respects AIM’s past and present activities.”
“In this regard, Artashes Geghamian has an unquestionable advantage over other candidates,” the former dissident told a news conference, adding that Geghamian is not against Armenia’s independence despite his pro-Russian agenda.
“In our private conversations, we became convinced that Artashes Geghamian will not allow any retreat from the principles of national sovereignty [if he is elected president],” Hayrikian said.
Geghamian, who was Yerevan’s last Communist mayor in 1989-1990, is now seen as one of the most popular opposition leaders challenging President Robert Kocharian’s reelection bid. He is widely expected to be endorsed by two major opposition groups, the Communist Party (HKK) and the Socialist Armenia alliance.
Hayrikian and the HKK, which have never hidden their strong mutual antagonism, are thus likely to find themselves supporting the same presidential candidate for the first time ever.
Geghamian is mistrusted by other opposition forces that suspect him of maintaining secret ties with the Kocharian administration. They also harbor similar suspicions with regard to Hayrikian.
Hayrikian supported Kocharian during the previous presidential elections in 1998 and held various post in the presidential staff until last year. In a surprise policy U-turn, he has since repeatedly criticized Kocharian for not living up to his party’s expectations.