By Ruzanna Stepanian
Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian on Tuesday heaped praise on one of Armenia’s wealthiest businessmen close to President Robert Kocharian and urged him to defect to the opposition camp.
Ter-Petrosian claimed that Gagik Tsarukian will end up losing his huge fortune if Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian becomes Armenia’s next president as he campaigned in areas north of Yerevan where the influential tycoon holds sway.
“I have come here to preach morality to Gagik Tsarukian because I believe that that person has not acted against his people to date,” he told hundreds of people attending his rally in the town of Abovian. “That person has morality. I will not preach morality to Serzh Sarkisian, Robert Kocharian and their cronies because they have no morality.”
“Dear Mr. Gagik Tsarukian, here are your people,” continued Ter-Petrosian. “Today you will make a choice. Either you will stand alongside your people, or will be doomed to remain a slave and be despised by these people forever. The choice is yours.”
Ter-Petrosian already issued a similar call to Tsarukian and other government-connected tycoons during a December rally in Yerevan. He said they will run the constant risk of losing their assets as long as Kocharian-Sarkisian duo remains in power. The ex-president went further during his subsequent campaign speeches, saying that all of them will become “tramps” if Sarkisian wins the February 19 election.
None of the so-called “oligarchs” has publicly indicated support for his presidential bid, however. Tsarukian is thought to have particularly close ties with Armenia’s leadership and Kocharian in particular. He is also the founding leader of the pro-Kocharian Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), which boasts the second largest faction in parliament.
Several BHK lawmakers on Tuesday joined their colleagues from Sarkisian’s Republican Party (HHK) in voicing support for the prime minister and condemning Ter-Petrosian during a special parliament session during which deputies can read out statements on any issue. Armenian state television is obliged to broadcast those statements in full. The collective verbal assault on Ter-Petrosian launched by more than a dozen BHK and HHK parliamentarians was a further indication that the authorities consider the ex-president their most dangerous foe.
Ter-Petrosian, meanwhile, stuck to his tough anti-government rhetoric both in Abovian and other, smaller local towns. Speaking in Nor Hajn, home to most of Armenia’s diamond-processing plants, he again implicated Sarkisian and Kocharian in the 1999 armed attack on the National Assembly which left its speaker Karen Demirchian, then Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and six other officials dead.
“If you elect Serzh Sarkisian on February 19, you will elect Nairi Hunanian,” Ter-Petrosian declared, referring to the jailed leader of gunmen who sprayed the assembly with bullets. “He who elects Serzh Sarkisian would [thereby] desecrate the holy graves of Karen Demirchian and Vazgen Sarkisian,” he said.