By Karine Kalantarian
A top leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) on Monday dismissed former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s harsh criticism of Armenia’s present leadership, saying that many of the problems facing the country date back to his rule.
In a Friday speech that marked the end of his nearly decade-long silence, Ter-Petrosian branded the Armenian government “corrupt and criminal” and called for its ouster. He accused the administration of President Robert Kocharian of rigging elections, breaking laws, illegally influencing courts and restricting press freedom.
Reacting to the speech, Vahan Hovannisian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader and deputy parliament speaker, said Ter-Petrosian has no moral right to make such accusations because his eight-year rule was also marked by fraudulent elections, human rights abuses and other serious shortcomings.
“He spoke as if the population has already forgotten Levon Ter-Petrosian’s days in power -- political repressions, the severe economic crisis that must not be linked with the war [with Azerbaijan,] and the terrible atmosphere that led to a massive emigration,” Hovannisian told RFE/RL.
“There are definitely vicious phenomena existing in the country now, and Dashnaktsutyun has always been the first to talk about them without hysteria characteristic of some opposition circles,” he said. “We are conscious at the same time that the roots of those problems date back to Levon Ter-Petrosian’s rule.”
Dashnaktsutyun, which is a junior partner in the ruling coalition, was in strong opposition to Ter-Petrosian and his Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) throughout his presidency, which began in 1991 and ended in 1998. The nationalist party was controversially banned in 1994 for allegedly violating Armenian law and operating a secret death squad. The ban also led to the forcible closure of newspapers controlled by Dashnaktsutyun.
Hovannisian was among senior party figures who were arrested in 1995 and subsequently handed long prison sentences on charges of plotting a coup d’etat. All of them were set free following Ter-Petrosian’s 1998 resignation engineered by his key ministers, including then Prime Minister Kocharian and Interior Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
While reaffirming Dashnaktsutyun’s highly negative attitude towards Ter-Petrosian, Hovannisian said he and his party would welcome the ex-president’s participation in the forthcoming presidential elections as it would add “an ideological element” to the race.
“It wouldn’t be bad if he nominated his candidacy because the HHSh and Dashnaktsutyun poles will be very visible. It would be interesting to see how others will position themselves in between those poles,” he said.
Still, Hovannisian predicted Ter-Petrosian will decided not to run for president, saying that the latter realizes that his chances of winning the vote are slim. “He is a very self-admiring man and doesn’t like losing,” claimed the vice-speaker.
Ter-Petrosian said on Friday that he has still not decided whether or not to enter the fray.