By Astghik Bedevian
A top leader of the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) criticized on Tuesday former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s latest public speech, saying that it was too radical and lacked self-criticism.
Hrant Markarian, the de facto head of the nationalist party’s worldwide governing body, also insisted that Ter-Petrosian stands no chance of winning next year’s presidential election. He said Armenians are unhappy with their current and former rulers and only trust third forces like Dashnaktsutyun.
Dashnaktsutyun has pointedly refused to endorse Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s presidential bid and will nominate its own candidate instead, despite being represented in his coalition cabinet.
“I very much want Levon Ter-Petrosian to stand in the elections,” Markarian told RFE/RL in an interview. “If the past 17 years have not been enough to make him a realist, then let him run and find his real place in this society.”
Ter-Petrosian announced his decision to run for president on Friday in a 90-minute speech at a Yerevan rally attended by more than 20,000 people. He reiterated his harsh criticism of Armenia’s current leadership, describing it as a “kleptocracy” which is disinterested in rule of law and controls the most lucrative forms of economic activity.
Markarian stressed that while his party agrees that the Armenian government’s “policy of economic monopolization has reached its climax” it believes that the root causes of this and other fundamental problems facing the country date back to Ter-Petrosian’s 1991-1998 presidency. “That speech could have been somewhat convincing if he had started it by evaluating his years [in power,]” he said.
Dashnaktsutyun was bitterly opposed to Ter-Petrosian throughout that period, resenting his liberal economic policies and what it saw as a soft line on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and relations with Turkey. Ter-Petrosian controversially banned the party in 1994, accusing it violating Armenia’s laws and running a secret death squad. The ban was lifted shortly after his dramatic resignation in 1998. Dashnaktsutyun has since been among the most loyal allies of his successor, Robert Kocharian.
Markarian, who was among Dashnaktsutyun leaders jailed by the Ter-Petrosian administration, claimed that the ex-president suggested no remedies to right the wrongs mentioned in his speech. “His speech contained [words like] destroy, break up, eliminate,” he said. “But there was nothing on what to create.”
“Only a person detached from reality for ten years could make such a speech. You can’t change anything in this country by means of extremism,” he added.
The Dashnaktsutyun leader went on to condemn Ter-Petrosian for effectively implicating Kocharian in the organization of the October 1999 terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament and the resulting assassination of then Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and parliamentary speaker Karen Demirchian.
“October 27 was the tragedy and even the shame of our nation,” he said. “But it must not be a subject of political exploitation. Only an unsavory person can use October 27 for furthering his career and winning [political] dividends.”
Ter-Petrosian said that the parliament killings enabled Kocharian to assert his supremacy in the country’s leadership and tighten his grip on power. He charged that the Armenian president only deepened lingering suspicions about his involvement in the shock attack by “scuttling” the search for its possible masterminds.
Markarian argued, however, that the criminal investigation into the killings was initially led by “members of Vazgen’s team” who never came up with compelling evidence of Kocharian’s possible involvement.
(Photolur photo: Markarian, left, and another Dashnaktsutyun leader, Armen Rustamian pictured during their surprise September 29 meeting with Ter-Petrosian.)