By Anna Saghabalian
President Robert Kocharian will be seeking a third term in office and expects the United States not to object to his plans by sending Armenian troops to Iraq, a prominent opposition politician claimed over the weekend.
“He does not imagine himself without the post of president and does not imagine Armenia without himself,” said Vazgen Manukian, a senior member of the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance.
Armenia’s constitution bars the head of state from holding the post for more than two five-year terms. A package of constitutional amendments drafted by Kocharian and his political allies would not remove this restriction. The latter insist that he has no intention to stay in power after completing his second tenure in 2008.
But Manukian implied that the authorities may start a new countdown of presidential terms after pushing the amendments through a referendum expected in July 2005. He alleged that the authorities will try to rig the vote.
Manukian, who had served as Armenia’s prime minister and defense minister in the early 1990s, further claimed that Kocharian is counting on both U.S. and Russian support in his bid to cling to power after 2008.
“Our community in Iraq is asking us not to go there, but we are going,” he said. “What for? Only to please America, to please [President George W.] Bush.”
“We give our assets to Russia to please [President Vladimir] Putin,” he added, referring to a controversial swap agreement that settled Yerevan’s $100 million debt to Moscow. “Why do we want them to like us? To resolve the Karabakh problem? No, only to keep these people in power and let them continue to make money in the same way.”
Artarutyun is opposed to the planned dispatch of a small unit of Armenian non-combat troops, saying that their involvement in the U.S.-led occupation force could provoke insurgent attacks on Iraqi Armenians. The concerns were echoed by about two dozen Armenian non-governmental organizations in a joint statement on September 24.
The Armenian government, however, appears determined to press ahead with the deployment, arguing that it wants to contribute to Iraq’s post-war reconstruction. Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian went on state television last week to strongly defend the decision.
(Photolur photo: Vazgen Manukian.)