By Ruzanna Stepanian
A top leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) signaled on Thursday his opposition to Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s far-reaching political plans as the nationalist party opened a weeklong conference in Yerevan.
Hrant Markarian, the de facto head of Dashnaktsutyun’s worldwide governing bureau, said the party represented in the Armenian government will not serve as a support base of Sarkisian. “We can’t be followers of one or another individual,” he told reporters on the sidelines of the gathering. “Even individuals within Dashnaktsutyun have no followers.”
Asked whether that means the party, which has long been allied with President Robert Kocharian, will not be supporting the powerful defense minister, Markarian said: “Neither him, nor anybody else.” He also dismissed speculation that the Dashnaks are divided on the issue.
Sarkisian, who attended the opening session of the Dashnaktsutyun along with other guests, has recently joined the bigger and more influential Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) nominally headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. Observers believe he will use the HHK’s grip on many central and local government bodies to try to secure his victory in the next presidential election due in 2008.
Dashnaktsutyun’s official position on Sarkisian’s apparent presidential ambitions remains unclear. Its leaders are focusing on their participation in next year’s parliamentary elections for the moment. Preparations for the vote are expected to top the agenda of the party conference which will continue, behind the closed doors, outside Yerevan on Friday.
According to Markarian, Dashnaktsutyun is unlikely to form an election alliance with other political groups. “A lot depends on this gathering, but we have been inclined until now to contest the elections on our own,” he said.
The gathering began with a minute of silence observed by delegates in memory of Shahen Hovasapian, a Dashnaktsutyun-linked senior official at the State Taxation Service who was killed in a car bombing on Wednesday. Deputy parliament speaker Vahan Hovannisian, another party leader, described the murder as politically motivated.
“The murder is political in nature because it is directed against the state and statehood,” he told RFE/RL. “I hope and demand that the law-enforcement bodies solve the crime.”
Hovannisian did not deny opposition allegations that this and other high-profile killings attest to the growing role of “criminal elements” in Armenia’s political life. “The criminal world is a player in our political system,” he said.
(Photolur photo: Sarkisian, right, chats with Hovannisian and another Dashnaktsutyun leader, Armen Rustamian, during the conference.)