By Ruzanna Khachatrian
A top leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) rounded on former President Levon Ter-Petrosian Friday for saying that he is Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s sole “real” election challenger.
Campaigning in the southeastern Syunik region on Thursday, Ter-Petrosian claimed that other presidential candidates, including Dashnaktsutyun’s Vahan Hovannisian, are in fact helping Sarkisian win next week’s election.
“Why did he attack us?” said Hrant Markarian, the de facto head of Dashnaktsutyun’s governing Bureau. “He came to our office [in September] and said, ‘Your are right to nominate your candidate because you are not our rival, because he who votes for you will never vote for me.’ Now he is saying that all other candidates are serving Serzh.”
He was referring to Ter-Petrosian’s sensational September 30 visit to Dashnaktsutyun’s headquarters in Yerevan during which he met with Markarian and another Dashnaktsutyun leader, Armen Rustamian. It was the first time that the former president set foot in the offices of a party which he had accused of terrorist activity and banned during his rule. Markarian said after that meeting that the two sides agreed to “stay within the bounds of a political, ideological struggle” and strive for an “atmosphere of tolerance and solidarity in the country.”
Criticism of Armenia’s current and former leaders has been a major point of Dashnaktsutyun’s election campaign, with Hovannisian trying to portray himself as a viable alternative to the two mutually hostile camps. Ter-Petrosian, by contrast, avoided any references to Dashnaktsutyun until his controversial statements in Syunik.
“They were fallen for ten years and we didn’t hit them, we spared them,” an angry Markarian told a news conference, referring to the former Armenian leadership. “We never spoke out [against them.] On the contrary, we invited them to all of our events.”
“Against all odds we let him come to our office and, in a sense, repent his past, hoping that we are making a fresh start, a civilized start. But once a few thousand people rallied around him and he adopted the same stance and is again saying the same things,” complained the Iranian-born politician.
Markarian also condemned Ter-Petrosian’s remark that failure by the other major opposition candidate, Artur Baghdasarian, to endorse the ex-president is tantamount to “treason.” “If Artur Baghdasarian joins him, he is a god guy,” he said. “If not, he is a traitor. How can he say that?”
The Dashnaktsutyun leader hit out at the government camp as well. “The authorities have made every effort to ensure that this [presidential] struggle takes place in an apolitical atmosphere, in the dark, at the level of slogans and rallies,” he said.
Markarian claimed in particular that they have deliberately thwarted a “clash of political views, ideas and platforms” during the election campaign by restricting its coverage by the country’s main TV stations loyal to the government and forcing them not to broadcast campaign ads in prime time.