By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Samvel Babayan, the once powerful ex-commander of Nagorno-Karabakh’s army, on Thursday dismissed reports that his Dashink (Alliance) party is keen to form an electoral bloc with opposition forces.
“We will not join any alliances ahead of the elections to the National Assembly,” Babayan said. “We will contest them on our own.” He said Dashink is only prepared to include members of other parties on its electoral slate.
Reports in the Armenian press have said that Babayan is interested in teaming up with the Orinats Yerkir party of former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and another, smaller opposition party, the Union for Constitutional Rights (SIM). The SIM leader, Hayk Babukhanian, did not rule out such possibility last week.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Babayan said his party is aiming for a strong showing in the upcoming elections and would not content itself with a handful of parliament seats. “If we get, say, five percent [of the vote] we will renounce parliament mandates,” he said. “We don’t want to enter the parliament with six deputies.”
“We are joining the fray to effect change. The parliament must be multi-polar,” he added.
The 40-year-old retired general, who commanded the Karabakh army from 1993-1999 and was the territory’s post powerful figure during that period, warned last June that he and his loyalists would not hesitate to use force against those who would try to steal votes from Dashink. But he was far more restrained on that score on Thursday, saying that he “won’t blame anyone” if the elections are not free and fair. “That would mean we haven’t done a good job,” he said.
Babayan held the founding congress of his party in November 2005 just over a year after his unexpected release from prison. He was serving a 14-year prison sentence in Karabakh for allegedly masterminding a botched March 2000 attempt on the life of the disputed region’s president, Arkady Ghukasian. He never pleaded guilty to the charges.
Political observers suggested differing explanations for his liberation. Some speculated that Babayan was set free in return for agreeing to secretly cooperate with President Robert Kocharian and his possible successor, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. Both men are natives of Karabakh.
“I am inclined to believe that the Dashink party is a pro-government party,” Aram Sarkisian, the leader of the radical opposition Hanrapetutyun (Republic), said on Wednesday.
Babayan has repeatedly rejected such speculation, insisting that his party is in opposition to Armenia’s leadership.