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By Irina Hovannisian
Former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian expressed serious concern over the weekend at what he described as a growing involvement of government-connected “criminal elements” in political processes in Armenia.

“We now see that mobsters or good fellows, as people call them, are entering parties,” he said. “By beating and terrorizing people they are trying to further their interests. A country like that has no future.”

Although Baghdasarian was careful not to name names, the remarks appeared to be directed at the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) that has seen an influx of new influential members, notably Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, in recent weeks and is looking to solidify its already strong presence in various government bodies. Among the HHK members are millionaire businessmen and other influential individuals.

Some of them are better known to the public with their notorious nicknames that have long sullied their reputations. Their affiliation with Armenia’s most influential pro-government force is clearly the result of its far-reaching alliance with Sarkisian who is widely believed to be planning to succeed President Robert Kocharian in 2008.

Baghdasarian’s remarks underscored an ongoing fresh war of words between his Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law) party, which claims to be the largest in Armenia, and the HHK. The latter has been accused by Orinats Yerkir leaders of forcibly recruiting new members among central and local government officials and other public sector employees to ensure its victory in parliamentary elections due next spring.

The two parties were nominal allies until Orinats Yerkir was forced out of Kocharian’s governing coalition last April. Speaking to reporters during an Orinats Yerkir youth gathering on Saturday, Baghdasarian insisted that his party is now in opposition to Armenia’s leadership and is ready to cooperate with those political groups that are “really interested in carrying out reforms in Armenia and will really fight for change in the country.”

“Our life is in a state of stagnation, our society expects changes, and we are ready to cooperate with all those forces that are ready to put aside their interests and strive for those changes,” Baghdasarian said, refusing to specify those forces. “It’s hard today to name any parties or individuals,” he added.

The ambitious ex-speaker stressed at the same time that he sees “no necessity yet” to form alliances with other major opposition groups sharing his pro-Western agenda. Some of them have reportedly been courting Orinats Yerkir since its exit from the coalition and Baghdasarian’s resulting resignation as parliament speaker.

(Photolur photo)
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