By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Karine Kalantarian
President Robert Kocharian and his closest associate downplayed on Tuesday the significance of last week’s apparent attack by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) on the two other parties represented in Armenia’s government.
Kocharian said through his spokesman that the ruling coalition maintains potential for “the continuation of its effective work” despite renewed friction among its members.
“The political forces making up the coalition government may have different approaches to different issues,” the presidential press secretary, Ashot Kocharian, told RFE/RL. He at the same time stressed that Dashnaktsutyun, the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and the Orinats Yerkir Party should “act with common approaches on issues that require agreement.”
Kocharian’s most powerful non-partisan ally, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, also shrugged off speculation that the three-party coalition is on the brink of collapse. “I believe that the coalition is doing well because a coalition doesn’t mean a merger of parties,” he said. There are three parties with their own programs, ideologies and different personalities. Naturally, it is not possible for all three of them to have the same thinking on every issue.”
The inner-coalition tensions were sparked by Dashnaktsutyun leader Hrant Markarian’s opening speech at the congress of his nationalist party which got underway in Yerevan on Friday. He alleged that powerful government-connected forces used vote bribes and demagoguery to win last years’ disputed parliamentary elections, in what many observers believe was a thinly veiled reference to the HHK and Orinats Yerkir.
The HHK’s board, led by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, was meeting late on Tuesday to formulate an official response to the allegations. Some senior Republicans have already warned that Dashnaktsutyun is putting its presence in government at risk.
There has been no reaction yet from Orinats Yerkir, which is led by parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian. “I think we will discuss the matter,” said one of its parliamentarians, Artak Arakelian.
Arakelian denied any Orinats Yerkir involvement in serious electoral fraud reported by the Armenian opposition and international monitors. “Dashnaktsutyun itself was in government before the elections, while we were in constructive opposition,” he said. “So we could not have done any electoral distortions. We ourselves were victims of those distortions.”
Like Armenia’s leading opposition parties, Dashnaktsutyun refused to recognize the legitimacy of the May parliamentary elections which were won by the Republicans and non-partisan candidates supporting Kocharian. Nonetheless, the nationalist party agreed to join the HHK-led coalition cabinet shortly afterwards, saying that it wants to maintain political stability in the country.
Its latest reminder of the vote irregularities also cut little ice with the opposition whose leaders say the Dashnaks should also recognize that the presidential elections held just three months before the legislative polls were fraudulent too.
“Sadly, the accusations were addressed not to the main culprit -- the president of the country who ordered all of that -- but to some unspecified forces,” said Albert Bazeyan of the opposition Hanrapetutyun party. “Dashnaktsutyun too was responsible for those falsifications and can not dodge that responsibility.”
Bazeyan also denounced as “national populism” Hrant Markarian’s calls for an autonomous status for Georgia’s Armenian-populated Javakheti region and assurances that the Dashnaks stand by their territorial claims to Turkey. “We just cannot wage a war on three fronts,” he said.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry promptly distanced itself from Markarian’s statements on Georgia and Turkey, saying that they do not stem from official Yerevan’s foreign policy despite Dashnaktsutyun’s status as a governing party. Kocharian’s spokesman endorsed the move.
“Dashnaktsutyun’s approaches to foreign policy are not new and are well known. So are the views of Armenia’s president on the subject,” he said.