By Karine Kalantarian
Two of Armenia’s oldest political parties with a long history of mutual antagonism announced on Thursday that they will join forces to achieve common stated goals such as legal reform and a fight against corruption.
The unexpected move followed a Wednesday meeting in Yerevan between leaders of the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the smaller Ramkavar Azatakan (Liberal Democratic) Party of Armenia, or HRAK.
Founded more than a hundred years ago, the two parties have for decades been the main political organizations in the worldwide Armenian Diaspora and reopened their branches in Armenia following the fall of its Soviet-era Communist government in 1990. Their Cold War-era feud largely stemmed from differing attitudes towards the Soviet Union, with the liberal Ramkavars strongly supporting its Armenian republic and the Socialist Dashnaks favoring a tough anti-Soviet line.
Relations between the two parties remained cool even after Armenia gained independence. Its first post-Communist government led by President Levon Ter-Petrosian was backed by the HRAK but strongly opposed by Dashnaktsutyun. Now they both support the current president, Robert Kocharian, and their Armenia-based leaders see that as enough of a reason for making amends.
“Forget about the Cold War years,” the HRAK’s Harutiun Arakelian told RFE/RL. “Those times are gone. The two parties should now learn lessons from their past mistakes.”
A senior Dashnaktsutyun member, Spartak Seyranian, similarly blamed the Dashnak-Ramkavar feud on the former Soviet empire. He said the two organizations have now more common interests than differences.
The party leaders say they will cooperate in drafting new laws and suggesting amendments to the existing ones, including the constitution and the electoral code. They say they will also coordinate their anti-corruption efforts.
It is not yet clear though how that cooperation will unfold in practice. Dashnaktsutyun has a major faction in the Armenian parliament and is one of the three pro-Kocharian parties making up the current government. The HRAK, by contrast, failed to win any parliament seats in the May 25 elections. Nor is it clear whether their Diaspora-based elites also plan to heal the past wounds.
Incidentally, the bipartisan deal followed a sudden change of leadership of the HRAK. Its longtime chairman, Ruben Mirzakhanian, was removed earlier this month as a result of an internal party coup. Some local media have speculated that the revolt was orchestrated by Kocharian’s administration as it grew uneasy over Mirzakhanian’s close ties with Ara Abrahamian, the ambitious Russian-Armenian tycoon.