By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian rejected on Tuesday grave accusations leveled against him by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian and warned his predecessor against seeking to return to power.
Breaking his nearly decade-long silence with a speech on Friday, Ter-Petrosian lashed out at the current government in Yerevan which he described as “corrupt and criminal” and accused of turning Armenia into a “third world” nation. He claimed that the Kocharian administration’s failure to cut a peace deal with Azerbaijan is increasingly putting the country’s future at risk.
In his first public reaction to the Ter-Petrosian speech, Kocharian dismissed the accusations by pointing to Armenia’s robust economic growth that has averaged 13 percent per annum since 2002. “Today Armenia is one of the fastest developing countries in the world,” he said in remarks broadcast by state television. “The most effective reforms are being implemented in Armenia. And if those characterizations [made by Ter-Petrosian] really applied to Armenia, we would never have such success.”
Kocharian also cited a substantial increase in government spending over the past decade. “I became prime minister of Armenia in March 1997 and inherited a $300 million [state] budget with a deficit of about $40 million,” he said. “Next year, Armenia will have a budget worth about $2.5 billion. Just compare [the two figures].”
“One has to be extremely self-isolated in order not to see what has happened in the country,” he added in a jibe at the extremely low profile kept by Ter-Petrosian since his resignation in 1998.
Kocharian went on to emphasize that he has until now avoided publicly attacking his predecessor out of respect for independent Armenia’s first president. He indicated that he will no longer restrain himself if Ter-Petrosian decides to contest the forthcoming presidential elections.
“If the first president enters political struggle, then he will become an ordinary opposition figure with all the consequences stemming from that, and we will have to remind [Armenians] of many things,” warned Kocharian. “For example, how many streets were lit in Yerevan in 1996 and so on. There were only three [such streets.]”
Kocharian and his chief lieutenant, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, have already capitalized on painful popular memories of Armenia’s economic collapse and severe energy crisis of the early 1990s to keep Ter-Petrosian and loyalists at bay. Political groups and electronic media loyal to the two men have for years blamed the latter for persisting socioeconomic problems facing many Armenians.
The government-controlled Armenian Public Television reacted to Ter-Petrosian’s speech at the weekend with a scathing report that accused the country’s former leadership of mismanaging the economy, rigging elections and being responsible for several high-profile killings of the early 1990s. Some pro-Ter-Petrosian papers hit back on Tuesday by a citing an even longer list of such killings, including the October 1999 terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament, committed during Kocharian’s rule.
Ter-Petrosian’s speech at an indoor reception organized by his party, the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), came as a possible prelude to his presidential run sought by his supporters. He told hundreds of them that he has not yet decided whether to enter the fray despite touring Armenia for the past few weeks to gauge popular support for his comeback.
The HHSh and other opposition groups sympathetic to Ter-Petrosian say that the ex-president is the only opposition politician capable of defeating Sarkisian, the presumed election favorite. The claim is disputed by other opposition leaders.
Both Kocharian and Sarkisian became the wartime leaders of Nagorno-Karabakh in 1992 thanks to their warm ties with Armenia’s HHSh-led government and Ter-Petrosian in particular. Those ties catapulted the two men to high-ranking positions in Yerevan later in the 1990s. They were key players in a subsequent power struggle that ended in Ter-Petrosian’s dramatic resignation in 1998.