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By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Artashes Geghamian appears to have inflicted irreparable damage on his uneasy relationship with another prominent leader of the Armenian opposition as a result of his emotional spat with former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian.

Stepan Demirchian, the top leader of Armenia’s main opposition alliance, accused Geghamian on Friday of lying about his late father Karen in a live televised debate with Baghdasarian this week.

Seeking to prove that Geghamian has always paid a lip service to the opposition, the ex-speaker challenged the leader of the National Unity Party (AMK) to explain why he failed to endorse Karen Demirchian and his son during the presidential elections held in 1998 and 2003 respectively.

Geghamian responded by claiming that he had a lengthy conversation with the elder Demirchian in the run-up to the 1998 vote and persuaded him not to challenge then Prime Minister Kocharian for the sake of a pro-Armenian solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Demirchian, he said during Wednesday’s debate, “agreed that he had better become prime minister” and let Kocharian win the presidency but changed his mind the next day.

Stepan Demirchian, however, flatly denied this during a news briefing in the Armenian parliament. “I was present at that conversation,” he said. “Karen Demirchian offered the National Unity Party leader to run his campaign headquarters. The offer was turned down by the latter The fact that such an offer was made means that a decision to run for president had already been made by [Karen Demirchian.]”

“Running for president or endorsing one or another candidate is his right,” he added, referring to Geghamian. “But he has no right to distort reality, especially with regard to Karen Demirchian. I can tolerate many things but there are limits to that.”

Geghamian sought to minimize the damage caused by his remarks, offering confusing explanations at a separate news conference. He insisted that he did not mean to accuse Karen Demirchian, Armenia’s hugely popular Soviet-era ruler, of breaking his promises.

Both Demirchian and his late father have claimed to be the rightful winners of the disputed presidential ballots official results of which gave victory to Kocharian. Baghdasarian has alleged that Geghamian refused to back Stepan in the second round of the 2003 election because he was bribed by the ruling regime -- a charge angrily denied by the AMK leader but privately endorsed by many Demirchian loyalists.

Demirchian and Geghamian overcame mutual antipathy in April 2004 to join forces and try unsuccessfully to force Kocharian into resignation. Their relations again deteriorated following the ill-fated opposition offensive. Geghamian’s controversial remarks may have finally ruled out the possibility of the two leaders again cooperating during the next national elections.

(Photolur photo: Demirchian, left, and Geghamian holding a joint news conference in March 2004.)
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