By Hovannes Shoghikian
Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian said on Friday that he still hopes to win the backing of Artur Baghdasarian despite mounting tensions between the two main opposition presidential candidates.
Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party said on Thursday that he will not after all urge supporters to vote for Ter-Petrosian in next Tuesday’s presidential election. The move came as Ter-Petrosian loyalists accused the former parliament speaker of cutting a deal with Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
Ter-Petrosian warned that Baghdasarian’s failure drop out of the race before the first round of voting would be tantamount to “treason.” The Orinats Yerkir angrily rebutted the claims.
“Today he must understand one thing,” Ter-Petrosian said of Baghdasarian during a campaign rally in the southern town of Masis on Friday. “Whatever he says, no matter how many votes he gets, those votes will not be his. Those votes will simply be added to Serzh Sarkisian’s tally.”
“We must not let Artur Baghdasarian obstruct the real expression of your will,” he told local residents. “There may be still be hope that he will correctly assess the situation and stand by the people. If he doesn’t do that, he will betray the popular cause.”
Both in Masis and the nearby town of Echmiadzin, where thousands turned out to listen to the former president’s speech, Ter-Petrosian claimed at the same time that he will win the election anyway. He also alleged that Armenian leaders and businessmen loyal to them have been transferring “huge sums” of money to their bank accounts abroad of late. “Those people have realized that they have already been defeated and that power is being passed on to the people,” he said.
Ter-Petrosian further repeated his claims that President Robert Kocharian had agreed in 1999 to a land swap with Azerbaijan that would have stripped Armenia of its vital border with Iran. He said Kocharian tried to get then Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian (no relation to Serzh) to accept the idea in the presence of then U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott on October 27, 1999, just hours before Sarkisian and seven other officials were assassinated in parliament. He said Sarkisian rejected the proposed peace deal with Azerbaijan and stormed out of the meeting.
Both Kocharian and Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian have strongly denied Ter-Petrosian’s claims. Oskanian admitted this week that the U.S. and other mediators did come up with the idea of Armenia ceding its Meghri district to Azerbaijan in return for international recognition of Armenian control over Nagorno-Karabakh. But he said Yerevan rejected it out of hand.