By Hrach Melkumian
Stepan Demirchian, the top leader of Armenia’s biggest opposition alliance, on Monday criticized his disgruntled allies for seeking to form a new bloc that would not only strive for regime change but also orient the country toward the West.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Demirchian insisted that the nine-party Artarutyun (Justice) bloc represents the best possible framework for opposition cooperation despite its failure to force President Robert Kocharian into resignation.
“I must say that the atmosphere in the Artarutyun bloc is healthy and businesslike,” he said. “I also find it wrong when you are part of one format and constantly talk about new formats. It is better to make sure that Artarutyun operates even more effectively.”
The criticism seemed addressed to former Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian and his Hanrapetutyun party, the most radical Artarutyun force. Sarkisian and the leaders of two other opposition parties not affiliated with Demirchian’s bloc have been negotiating on the possibility of setting up a pro-Western opposition alliance.
Opposition sources say they have already agreed in principle to form it in the near future. But a top Sarkisian aide, Suren Sureniants, cautioned late last month that the process could take months.
“There is a lot of talk about new alliances. But it can be stated that Artarutyun is the real example of unity,” Demirchian said. “We are ready to cooperate with different political forces, but the question of new formats [of opposition cooperation] is not on our agenda.”
“There is something artificial here. Alliances are normally created ahead of elections,” he added.
But Sarkisian insisted on Monday that Demirchian himself took part in initial discussions on the formation of the new bloc. “He then refused to participate,” he told RFE/RL.
Sarkisian again sought to reassure Demirchian, saying that he is not intent on splitting Artarutyun. “But things really need to be refreshed,” he added.
Local observers believe Demirchian is opposed to the idea for fear of losing his status Armenia’s number opposition politician, a status which is increasingly questioned by Sarkisian and his associates. Still, Sarkisian claimed that he has no ambition to lead the would-be bloc.
Hanrapetutyun leaders blame the failure of Artarutyun’s spring campaign of anti-Kocharian protests on Demirchian’s perceived “indecision.” Some of them, including Sureniants, also believe that the opposition should have offered Armenians a pro-Western alternative to the foreign and security policy pursued by the current authorities.
Sarkisian, for his part, said the new bloc will primarily be concerned with Armenia’s democratization. “If that amounts to being pro-Western, then you can consider us pro-Western,” he said.
Meanwhile, Artarutyun’s governing board is scheduled to meet on Wednesday. According to Demirchian, its members will focus on formulating a common position on constitutional reform sought by Kocharian.