By Ruzanna Stepanian
Gagik Tsarukian, a wealthy businessman playing a growing role in Armenian politics, on Monday dismissed a conspiracy theory about his burgeoning Prosperous Armenia party that was voiced by a prominent opposition figure.
Opposition leader Artashes Geghamian alleged earlier in the day that Tsarukian set up the party more than a year ago to avoid assassination at the hands of Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
“They had hired a hitman to kill Gagik Tsarukian,” Geghamian said, referring to Sarkisian and his controversial brother Aleksandr. “The case was solved.” He said President Robert Kocharian was informed of the alleged plot before sacking the chief of Armenia’s National Security Service in 2005 and ordering a crackdown on Aleksandr’s businesses.
“Naturally, people realized what a terrible situation will arise in Armenia if, God forbid, Serzh Sarkisian, becomes president of the republic,” claimed the outspoken oppositionist. “That is the reason why Prosperous Armenia was set up.”
Tsarukian was quick to reject the allegations as “absurd.” “His stories have nothing to do with reality,” the pro-Kocharian tycoon said in a statement sent to RFE/RL. “If Mr. Geghamian has some political problems, then he had better not try to solve them by turning other political figures and forces against each other through a provocation.”
A spokesman for the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), of which Sarkisian is a leading member, likewise laughed off Geghamian’s allegations. “This is absolutely ridiculous,” Eduard Sharmazanov told RFE/RL. “We do not intend to react to such unserious statements.”
The dominant view among Armenian politicians and commentators is that the establishment and rapid growth of Prosperous Armenia is part of Kocharian’s strategy of retaining a key role in government affairs after the completion of his second and final term in office in 2008. The party already claims to have about 400,000 members as a result of what its critics see as a massive vote buying.