By Emil Danielyan
A top leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) renewed late Thursday calls for President Robert Kocharian to take tough action against widespread corruption and other manifestations of “injustice” in Armenia.
Hrant Markarian said the authorities’ stated efforts to address these problems have largely been a gimmick, as evidenced by what he described as impunity enjoyed by a small group of the country’s wealthiest and most “privileged” citizens.
“There is now injustice in our country, of which you are the president, and both we and you are responsible for it,” Markarian appealed to Kocharian in a keynote speech delivered during an event dedicated to the 115th anniversary of the nationalist party represented in Armenia’s government.
“Today there is virtually no real and systematic fight against corruption and poverty in the country,” he charged. “You and we talked a lot about that in our pre-election programs, and are obliged to take serious, visible and real steps that would instill hope.”
“It is time to put the finger on the wound,” added the Iranian-born politician.
Markarian, who is the de facto head of Dashnaktsutyun’s worldwide ruling Bureau, dismissed as “ineffectual” anti-corruption bodies created by Kocharian and the government as part of their pledge to reduce the scale of graft in Armenia. Incidentally, one of those bodies is headed by Bagrat Yesayan, Kocharian’s special anti-corruption aide and a member of Dashnaktsutyun. Yesayan insisted throughout this year that the Armenian authorities are tackling the problem in earnest.
Markarian went on to decry deepening “class differences” between Armenians, saying that “the rich are becoming richer, while the poor remain hopelessly reliant on alms.” “Our society has long been divided into two unequal strata,” he said. “One is the ‘privileged’ stratum which enjoys the full backing of the authorities, is close to them and is sponsored by them. The other stratum, the majority stratum, is mainly deprived of state care, unprotected and forsaken.”
The Dashnaktsutyun leader clarified that he believes the “privileged” class comprises government-connected “oligarchs,” corrupt state officials and even quasi-criminal elements. He said they are the ones who usually get senior government posts, bear “the fruits of privatization,” and receive privileged treatment from tax authorities.
“The country’s unprotected majority is left to either stay silent in the face of injustice, or to assert its legal rights through bribes and favoritism,” he added.
This is not the first that time Markarian, the most critical of the Dashnaktsutyun leaders, lashes out at the “oligarchs” close to Kocharian. He voiced similar attacks in a speech at a Dashnaktsutyun congress in Yerevan held nearly two years ago. A Kocharian spokesman dismissed them at the time, saying that the country’s economic elite deserves greater respect. Critics also pointed to the fact that some of those “oligarchs,” notably tobacco magnate Hrant Vartanian, were elected to parliament in 2003 on the Dashnaktsutyun ticket.
Markarian’s latest remarks were reminiscent of the discourse of Armenian opposition leaders. However, he made no secret of his dislike of the latter, denouncing their “irresponsible stance on national security” and efforts to come to power “at any cost.”
In an interview with RFE/RL this week, Markarian said Dashnaktsutyun will not seek to pull out of Kocharian’s cabinet before the next parliamentary election due in 2007. He admitted on Thursday that many Armenians are “bewildered” by Dashnaktsutyun’s continuing presence in government.
“We became part of the government in order to wage a real struggle against all kinds of ugly phenomena,” he explained. “We may have failed to do much, but we have definitely done more than [would have been done by] fruitless demagoguery.”
Markarian also complained about excessive popular expectations from his party. “Dear people, in the last National Assembly election we received only 11 percent of your votes … but you are justly demanding a 100 percent result from us,” he said. “Indeed, the extent of our role and influence in Armenia’s political life has been much greater than the percentage of votes we got.”