By Karine Kalantarian
Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian believes that his 1997 decision to appoint then Nagorno-Karabakh leader Robert Kocharian as prime minister of Armenia was a serious mistake that proved fateful for his political career, according to one of his top allies.
Ararat Zurabian, chairman of the opposition Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), revealed at the weekend that the decision was taken over strong objections from his then ruling party and that Ter-Petrosian now regrets it.
“The HHSh was unhappy [with Kocharian’s appointment] even at that time,” Zurabian told reporters. “We felt that it is not a right step and that was always expressed in internal [government] discussions.”
“I think that he is definitely remorseful, even if that is not being expressed,” he added.
Kocharian, who had ruled the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic from 1992-97 as a staunch Ter-Petrosian loyalist, was named Armenian prime minister during a political crisis caused by the ex-president’s controversial reelection in September 1996. He succeeded in that post Armen Sarkisian, who stepped due to health problems less than seven months after his post-election appointment.
Kocharian quickly earned substantial political clout in Yerevan and by end of 1997 was a key member of a powerful government faction that opposed Ter-Petrosian’s softer line on resolving the Karabakh conflict. That faction, led by then Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, succeeded in squeezing Ter-Petrosian and the HHSh out of power in February 1998. The center-right party, founded by Ter-Petrosian and other pro-Western politicians in 1990, has been a vocal opponent of the current regime since then.
“I am convinced that Ter-Petrosian did not bring in Kocharian to make him a president,” Zurabian claimed. “Kocharian was only supposed to head the government.”
Ter-Petrosian himself has not spoken out in public on this or any other subject for the past five years, refusing to answer questions from journalists during his extremely rare public appearances. Last year he signaled his readiness to contest the 2003 presidential election but backed away after failing to build a broad-based opposition coalition
“I am convinced that Ter-Petrosian will return to active politics within a certain period,” Zurabian said vaguely.
The HHSh leader indicated that the ex-president now pins his hopes on dramatic developments in the Karabakh peace process which might put Kocharian in a difficult situation similar to the one which he faced in late 1997. Kocharian will have to either accept new Karabakh peace proposals to be unveiled by international mediators after this month’s presidential election in Azerbaijan or resign, Zurabian said.
Ter-Petrosian has until now relied on the HHSh and several small parties. They failed to join forces for the May parliamentary elections and did not win a single seat in parliament. Zurabian admitted that the HHSh is now too weak to affect political processes in Armenia, but said it will regain some of its erstwhile strength within a year or two.
“I don’t think that our party can today mobilize the masses to achieve certain solutions,” he said. “The situation in Armenia is now such that we have to wait a little. We don’t see a way out of it yet.”