By Satenik Vantsian in Gyumri and Emil Danielyan
The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) does not regret its 1998 decision to team up with President Robert Kocharian, despite its dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in Armenia, a top leader of the influential nationalist party said late Thursday.
Hrant Markarian painted a mixed picture of Dashnaktsutyun’s nearly decade-long track record in government as he addressed hundreds of supporters in Gyumri that gathered to mark the 116th anniversary of the party’s establishment.
“We have not succeeded on the social and democracy issues because he have been alone on these issues,” he said. “We have not been in power; we have been part of the government with 11 percent of the popular vote. It has not been our rule.”
“But I will rush to add that we are not trying to dodge responsibility. Nor do we regret having been part of the government,” he said.
Dashnaktsutyun, which has chapters across the worldwide Armenian Diaspora, was a radical opposition force during the eight-rule of Kocharian’s predecessor Levon Ter-Petrosian, denouncing his policy of economic liberalism and conciliatory line on Azerbaijan and Turkey. Ter-Petrosian controversially banned it in late 1994 for allegedly breaking laws and ordering political killings. It was legalized immediately after Kocharian came to power in February 1998 and has since been one of his key political allies.
According to Markarian, Kocharian deserved the Dashnaktsutyun backing because he toughened the Armenian position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and lent government support to the long-running Diaspora campaign for international recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide. He also credited Kocharian with strengthening ties between Armenia and the Diaspora.
Markarian, who is the influential member of Dashnaktsutyun’s worldwide governing body, complained at the same time that the current Armenian leadership has essentially carried on with the Ter-Petrosian’s economic and staffing policies and failed to combat endemic corruption. “We have achieved very little [on this front,]” he confessed.
The criticism mirrored the Iranian-born politician’s earlier comments on persisting problems with the rule of law and the overall situation in the country. “Today there is virtually no real and systematic fight against corruption and poverty in the country,” he told a Dashnaktsutyun congress a year ago.
The pan-Armenian party, which holds four ministerial posts in Kocharian’s cabinet, is also concerned about the freedom and fairness of the next parliamentary elections due in May. Armen Rustamian, another Dashnaktsutyun leader, warned earlier this year that it will pull out of the governing coalition in case of a repeat of serious vote irregularities.
Markarian issued no such threats, but attacked other, more powerful government factions that are already actively preparing for the polls. In an apparent reference to the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), he said “some forces have already begun making handouts from state resources.” He also lambasted unspecified forces that have “opened up their wallets” to voters, a clear allusion to Kocharian-linked “oligarch” Gagik Tsarukian and his Prosperous Armenia party.
Both the HHK and Prosperous Armenia have set themselves the task of winning the 2007 elections. The HHK’s unofficial leader, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, is also expected to contest the presidential election slated for 2008. Dashnaktsutyun leaders have indicated that they will not back his presidential bid.