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By Ruzanna Stepanian
Aram Karapetian, an Armenian politician who finished fourth in last year’s presidential election, has filed a libel suit against opposition leader Artashes Geghamian for accusing him of secretly collaborating with the authorities.

In a series of recent newspaper articles and public speeches, Geghamian and his top aides subjected the leader of the opposition Nor Zhamanakner (New Times) party to derogatory criticism, branding him a “government agent” and a “stooge.” The allegations followed Karapetian’s questioning of the opposition campaign of anti-government protests and indirect support for President Robert Kocharian.

Karapetian rejects them as “slanderous” and is seeking a public retraction and apology. “I thought Mr. Geghamian, given his age, should have a lot of experience,” he told RFE/RL. “Unfortunately, it turned out that that experience is mostly one of Soviet-era government intrigues.”

However, Geghamian, whose National Unity Party (AMK) is spearheading the anti-Kocharian drive together with the opposition Artarutyun (Justice), was unrepentant. “He is well aware that our courts act only in accordance with Kocharian’s and [Defense Minister] Serzh Sarkisian’s wishes,” he said, reacting to news of the legal action. “So Mr. Karapetian has made our life easier by finally exposing himself.”

An obscure scholar who spent much of the past decade in Moscow, Karapetian was unknown to most Armenians as recently as one year ago, at the start of the presidential race. He quickly made his name and attracted a substantial following through tough anti-government rhetoric.

Unlike Geghamian, Karapetian endorsed the most popular opposition presidential candidate, Artarutyun leader Stepan Demirchian, for the March 2003 run-off with Kocharian and was high on the list of Artarutyun candidates for the May 2003 parliamentary elections. But he was eventually barred by the authorities from contesting the vote on the grounds that he had not permanently resided in Armenia for the previous five years.

Karapetian subsequently distanced himself from Demirchian and Artarutyun, deciding to form his own party. He pointedly refused to endorse or join in the concerted Artarutyun-AMK effort to topple Kocharian with a campaign of street protests, questioning the tactics of the mainstream opposition. He has also taken issue with the latter’s calls for a referendum of confidence in Kocharian and criticized the opposition leaders for trying to win the Council of Europe’s backing for regime change in Armenia.
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