By Ruzanna Stepanian
Two prominent opposition politicians who left Armenia’s most radical opposition party, Hanrapetutyun (Republic), over its leadership’s increasingly pro-Western orientation announced on Wednesday their decision to set up their own political organization.
Albert Bazeyan and Vagharshak Harutiunian said the new party will hold its founding congress next month and will be in opposition to the government. Speaking at a joint news conference, they also stepped up verbal attacks on Hanrapetutyun’s outspoken leader Aram Sarkisian, saying that he forced them to leave the party.
“Why the party split? I’ll tell you why,” said Harutiunian. “During his last conversation with myself and Albert Bazeyan, Aram Sarkisian said that given the existing differences it is impossible to continue to work [together] and he proposed that we set up a party.”
“What should we have done after that?” asked the former defense minister known for his pro-Russian views. He said the conversation took place on August 28.
According to Bazeyan, Sarkisian told the dissenters that they “need to divorce in a civilized manner.” Sarkisian did not deny this. “It was their decision. Every person is free to decide what to do,” he told RFE/RL.
Bazeyan, Harutiunian and five other members of Hanrapetutyun’s 15-strong ruling board quit the party earlier this month in protest against Sarkisian’s and his associates’ pledges to put an end to Armenia’s close ties with Russia and criticism of Hanrapetutyun’s less radical opposition allies.
The rift within Hanrapetutyun began last year following the failure of the Armenian opposition’s attempts to force President Robert Kocharian to resign with a campaign of demonstrations. Sarkisian and his associates believe that one of the reasons for the fiasco was the opposition’s failure to offer Armenians a pro-Western alternative to domestic and foreign policies pursued by Kocharian.
According to Bazeyan, Sarkisian and his inner circle became convinced that the United States has decided to topple Kocharian and is looking for a reliable ally in Armenia. “They were trying to lure us, saying: ‘You know guys, we are about to get a lot of money,’” he claimed. “We tried to explain that some scenario is being played here that can not be trusted. But to no avail. Our attempts to convince our colleagues to give up those illusions and engage in real program-based political activities and the consolidation of opposition forces proved fruitless.”
Sarkisian, who met with senior White House and State Department officials during a visit to Washington last June, denied the claims. “Unlike some people, I don’t fall under others’ influence,” he said, again hinting that the Hanrapetutyun rift was engineered by the authorities.
U.S. officials say Washington does not consider regime change to be necessary for Armenia’s democratization despite its strong endorsement of the anti-government revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
(Photolur photo: Bazeyan, left, and Harutiunian speaking at a joint news conference.)