By Atom Markarian and Shakeh Avoyan
Andranik Markarian singled out pragmatism as the main reason for his political longevity on Thursday as he marked the fifth anniversary of his appointment as Armenia’s prime minister.
“It is all down to teamwork, realistic objectives and an ability to achieve them, rather than my beautiful eyes,” he told journalists after presiding over a weekly session of his cabinet.
Markarian, who will turn 54 next month, is the longest serving of Armenia’s ten post-Communist prime ministers. Very few expected him to hold on the post for so long when he was chose by President Robert Kocharian in May 2000 to replace Aram Sarkisian, now an outspoken opposition leader.
Markarian’s appointment sealed Kocharian’s victory in a power struggle with a government faction led by Sarkisian. It was sparked by the October 1999 attack on the Armenian parliament in which Sarkisian’s brother and predecessor Vazgen was shot dead along with seven other officials.
Markarian noted that he will have to remain on his guard as “there has been and there will be no lack of candidates for the post of prime minister.” He claimed that his economic track record has been very positive, pointing to robust economic growth registered by Armenia in the last five years. He said the existing macroeconomic situation allows his government to speed up the implementation of its poverty reduction strategy approved by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Markarian was also asked by his 2000 pledge to combat endemic corruption in Armenia in a “merciless” fashion. He admitted that few government officials have since been prosecuted on corruption charges.
“There are few such cases. But an anti-corruption struggle is not just about catching someone giving or taking a bribe red-handed,” he said, pointing to a program of mostly legislative anti-corruption measures approved by the government last year.
Markarian was further forced to answer embarrassing questions about a financial statement filed by his 27-year-old son who is poised to become the prefect of Yerevan’s northern Avan district as a result of an upcoming election. According to the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily, Taron Markarian has stated in his income and property declaration that he owns three apartments in downtown Yerevan in addition to two apartments in Avan which he co-owns with his parents.
“That has nothing to do with my tenure,” the premier said, adding that the expensive apartments in the city center are his daughter-in-law’s dowry. He also denied that his son owns Avan’s biggest supermarket as well as large chunks of real property mentioned in the financial statement.
Meanwhile, dozens of residents of central Yerevan whose old houses are to be torn down by private real estate developers gathered outside Markarian’s office earlier in the day to demand higher compensation. They said the compensation offered by the state is well below the market price of their property and not enough for buying adequate housing in other parts of the city.
An official from the Yerevan municipality in charge of house demolitions tried to soothe the protesters, denying any wrongdoing. “We don’t even know house prices in Yerevan,” Sanasar Papikian told them. “We don’t have to deal with that.”
“You fooled us,” retorted one angry woman. “You took away our land and houses to threw us out on the street. The mayor and the president misappropriated our property.”
The protesters chanted “Markarian! Markarian!” in the vain hope of attracting the prime minister’s attention. “We want him to come out and talk to us,” explained one of them.
“We have come here to congratulate the prime minister on his five years,” another man said with irony. “We protest, they don’t receive us. We congratulate, they still don’t receive us. What should we do?”