Orinats Yerkir Party leader Artur Baghdasarian gave an extensive interview to RFE/RL. Below are excerpts of the interview taken from the ex-parliament speaker by RFE/RL reporters Anna Israelian, Ruzanna Khachatrian, and senior editor Armen Dulian.
RFE/RL (Anna Israelian): Mr. Baghdasarian, the question that has been most frequently voiced by both the opposition and government in connection with the wiretapped conversation between you and the British vice-ambassador is as follows: ‘Why doesn’t Artur Baghdasarian turn to law-enforcement bodies with a demand that a criminal case be instituted over the violation of his rights and over the secret recording that constituted an invasion of his privacy?’ Why don’t you?
Artur Baghdasarian: We have stated on numerous occasions that the judiciary in Armenia needs serious reforms, and, yes, in many cases it is impossible to solve any problem without money, bribe or connections. It is obvious. Almost everyone speaks about this. Regarding this story – what secrecy are they talking about? I have meetings with hundreds of diplomats, representatives of international organizations, just like any other politician, and to make a show days before the [parliamentary] elections… one of the reasons for that is, of course, Orinats Yerkir’s growing rating. As for the eavesdropping, it is a very condemnable and bad display, let alone the fact that the conversation was distorted and given various interpretations. Should they also eavesdrop and record private talks in families, between friends? We strongly condemn this phenomenon. As for different newspaper publications, I will tell anyone the same thing that I have said in public. Yes, Armenia needs free and fair elections that will meet international standards.
RFE/RL (Anna Israelian): You always stress that Orinats Yerkir wants to build a rule-of-law state. Should people in the country you dream of be so tolerant to people secretly recording conversations, to phenomena of calling each other traitors in public? I repeat my question – why don’t you file a lawsuit?
A.B.: I have already answered your question. This is because justice in Armenia is not on a proper level and there have been cases when we did apply [to courts] and it had a diametrically opposite effect. We have given a clear answer in public and I suggest we should not dwell on this subject because I have spoken about it publicly and made it clear, every citizen of Armenia heard my answer and I suggest we speak about problems during the ongoing election campaign. I repeat: we consider the application of unfair methods unacceptable.
RFE/RL (Ruzanna Khachatrian): You speak about a corrupt judiciary. Do you also mean the Constitutional Court? You can apply to the Constitutional Court through the Ombudsman, can’t you?
A.B.: Everyday RFE/RL reports about wholesale human rights violations. I urge RFE/RL to apply to the Ombudsman, to apply to the Constitutional Court.
RFE/RL (Armen Dulian): You say everyone is a target for secret recordings, but if my conversation is secretly recorded it is one thing, and if yours it is a different matter. The concern here is that as a politician relying on a foreign force you will be dependent on it in carrying out your policies if you are elected to parliament or elected president.
A.B.: Orinats Yerkir is the child of the Armenian nation. We are a political party that has a decade-long track record and 110,000 members. That is, we rely on our people. I consider it absurd to rely on foreign forces. All should know that I have good friends outside Armenia. Thank God, all my speeches on the international arena have been shown on television and published in the press. At all international instances I have defended the Armenian Cause, the Karabakh problem, all those problems facing our state. We should put our ties to the service of our nation. The friendly and political ties we now have with different international political organizations, structures must serve the Republic of Armenia and this is the principle we have adhered to.
You know well that it was an ordinary working conversation during which concerns were voiced. OSCE observers came for a meeting at our office. All are interested, all give questions about the pre-election situation and ask to present it from the viewpoint of an opposition party. We have said during that conversation and a month before that. We said that we were not provided with halls. Now we say that the Kentron TV has not covered our campaign a single time during a month, ALM TV has never covered it in its news even once. Shouldn’t we say that? Today, after 7.00 pm the television is flooded with interviews featuring pro-government representatives. And we speak of equality? We have submitted a written application to the Central Election Commission. Why don’t you provide us with airtime? I had only three or four television appearances during a year. People have a very good saying: we switch on the iron press and the same people are speaking there. Comrades, we speak about freedom and equality and we tell the truth, and we must give a clear answer to that at the time of asking. It is the right of the television stations to decide, but we cannot disregard this.
RFE/RL (Anna Israelian): In a televised speech last Sunday you said your personal security was at risk. What reasons do you have to make such claims?
A.B.: I made two statements on that day. If the people trust us, then I will participate in the upcoming presidential elections and the second about what we see today. Look, what a bitter path Orinats Yerkir has traveled. I don’t want any of my compatriots to experience what we have. I don’t want to talk about specific examples now. Let’s organize a fair competition. The general estimation of the current campaign in Armenia with its good and bad aspects is that an opportunity is given to all political forces to present their message. This is positive. But we cannot keep silent on many negative things. We cannot but say that we are in unequal conditions today. Why don’t they invite us? Why don’t they give us an opportunity to speak? Why political advertisement is priced at $300-$400 a minute, which is ten times as high as the current pensions?
RFE/RL (Ruzanna Khachatrian): In that case, how would you comment on Shavarsh Kocharian’s recently published evaluation of you according to which you are not a frank politician?
A.B.: I invite you to meetings with people. See how people today evaluate every politician. Today, many speak only against Artur Baghdasarian, only against Orinats Yerkir. Mind your own business, organize your own campaign. The impression is that there is nothing else in this country.
RFE/RL (Ruzanna Khachatrian): But you say your rating is growing?
A.B.: I don’t know whether it is growing due to that or not. But have you seen me gathering political points by smearing anyone, say Shavarsh Kocharian or Manuk Gasparian? Let them pursue their campaigns the way they want. And in this sense, I will say, Dashnaktsutyun and several other parties are very balanced, when they speak, they speak about their programs. You have an opportunity to speak about your programs today, so take it and present your message to the voter. The country is in a serious socio-economic situation. There are lots of unsolved problems, there are illegalities and injustices. Poverty has attacked people. Offer ways of solution. Orinats Yerkir is unfolding a civilized campaign. We present our pre-election program, our vision of the future, we point at what is wrong, how we think we can move forward. Armenia is a small country despite the ambitions of some. Everyone knows each other very well. After all, no one can blame me for not meaning well for my homeland. I am struggling for my homeland, I am struggling for every compatriot of mine no matter what political views he has and I want all to live well in Armenia.
RFE/RL (Armen Dulian): Have you analyzed why Orinats Yerkir had to go through all those troubles and tribulations? Why the relations between the president and Artur Baghdasarian have deteriorated so dramatically, whereas you defended the president? In the end, the president called you a person showing a traitor’s behavior.
A.B.: I have already publicly responded to all these questions. I think it is all those who have made lives miserable for many people, who instead of being engaged in fair political competition are preparing tailor-made articles, trying to discredit people who are real betrayers of the country. Once we publicly supported [President Robert Kocharian]… I spoke about it in my reply statement. And I don’t want to tell more. Let time and God be the judge of any person’s political and public activities…
When Orinats Yerkir was in government, it said that power wasn’t an opportunity to enjoy the benefits for it, being in government was a duty and responsibility for us. Not a single parliament session passed without us raising various problems and concerns of our country and people, and, moreover, we were consistent in solving these problems. But we might have kept silent as well. We struggled against injustices, illegalities…
RFE/RL (Armen Dulian): Several days ago our guest was Vahan Hovannisian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation [Dashnaktsutyun]. He was saying the same things, that they were opposition in government. It turns out that you were opposition, Dashnaktsutyun was opposition, and who was the government?
A.B.: It seems to me that it is clear to all that Dashnaktsutyun is a political party in government today. Everyone knows each other very well. Orinats Yerkir is opposition today. Orinats Yerkir’s activities are open to public. And yes, we are struggling for the rule of law and justice. Because all - doctors, teachers, young people, pensioners, scientists, war veterans, disabled people, all members of the public equally need law in Armenia today. As for Dashnaktsutyun, it is represented in the government today, as it has four ministers, tens of deputy ministers, vice-governors, and so on. And if Dashnaktsutyun speaks about shortcomings today, it is very good, it should only be welcomed. If there are problems in the country, one must speak about them.
RFE/RL (Anna Israelian): Given that your team are not distinguished by their resolution, to what lengths will you go to protect the votes in the polls in a week’s time?
A.B.: Orinats Yerkir is a combat-ready army of many thousands of people adhering to their principles. Orinats Yerkir has 110,000 members. Today, Orinats Yerkir has appointed devoted representatives to all election commissions, we have proxies everywhere, and we will keep our votes. We will fight for them to the end. I want to take this opportunity to say: let’s organize free and fair elections. All those who will attempt to get our votes by force, that is to encroach on the votes of Republic of Armenia citizens should know that now they will face criminal responsibility for that and will face three to five years in prison. All our members in election commissions are well trained and have vast knowledge of laws. They will go to polling precincts to safeguard law and justice.
RFE/RL (Armen Dulian): In previous elections you complained of elections being mishandled. Even your representative to the Central Election Commission did not want to sign [the protocol]. And what happened after that? You complained, then entered the coalition and became government. That is to say, cooperated with those you had accused of mishandling the elections. Won’t the same happen this time around?
A.B.: In the previous elections we stated that our votes had been falsified, but we were the second largest party according to the votes we polled. It is people who decide who the government should be. Had Orinats Yerkir been sixth by its votes, we wouldn’t have been able to be a part of government. And now the goal of any political structure is to be in government. Our goal is also to be in government in order to be able to solve people’s problems, because we must be resolute to change this unjust situation. We will go and keep our votes, as for the rest, we’ll see what vote we get from people. Different sociologists foist different figures on members of the public, and we also arrange opinion surveys, which show that Orinats Yerkir has the highest political rating in Armenia today. We have worked in every corner of Armenia to get these results. We have our structures, our representatives and we will keep our votes at election commissions. If there are large-scale riggings, there will be great shocks in Armenia. I say it clearly for everyone to hear. All should be interested to prevent such shocks in Armenia by organizing free and transparent elections. Today, the Republican Party of Armenia, the Prosperous Armenia Party, the United Labor Party, Dashnaktsutyun have vast administrative, financial, airtime privileges, they use all possibilities as parties of the government to solve their problems. We agree to that, all we say is – just organize fair elections.
We will record on video the work of election commissions anywhere we will have an opportunity to. We will record on video the process of ballot count. I urge all parties – let’s unite – and the law gives that opportunity – let’s record on video the process to ensure that we have clean elections. I promise to be the first to congratulate the winner if he wins in an honest and fair struggle.
RFE/RL (Ruzanna Khachatrian): Will Orinats Yerkir take [its supporters] to the streets if the elections are rigged?
A.B.: If there are falsifications, I will be in the forefront of the fight. If the electoral laws are violated in Armenia, if wholesale riggings are committed, we will struggle with resolution and principle. But I am among those who do not want my country to find itself in a disgraceful situation once again. All those who think that they will go unpunished for the electoral fraud they commit are deeply mistaken. We will struggle to the end using all legal means for that.