By Ruzanna Stepanian
Opening a regular congress of Dashnaktsutyun in Yerevan, Hrant Markarian, the de facto head of the influential party’s governing Bureau, said the use of lethal force against Ter-Petrosian supporters protesting against alleged vote rigging was therefore justified. He also defended Dashnaktsutyun’s decision to join President Serzh Sarkisian’s governing coalition following the February 19 presidential election.
“What happened in the country [in the wake of the election] was an attempt at a color revolution,” Markarian said in a speech before hundreds of congress delegates, many of them representing Dashnaktsutyun structures in the worldwide Armenian Diaspora. “Under our noses there was formed an organized mechanism or, as they like to say, a network similar to [the ones created in] other states: Georgia, Serbia, Ukraine. It was formed with foreign orders and funding.”
In all three nations mentioned by Markarian, opposition forces toppled the ruling regimes with sustained anti-government demonstrations sparked by reputedly rigged elections. The uprisings were welcomed by Western powers and the United States in particular.
Markarian spoke of an unspecified world power that “seeks to subordinate the causes of all peoples to its interests and aims” by means of “various international NGOs and foundations.” Speaking to journalists, he said the New York-based human rights group Freedom House and the U.S. National Democratic Institution are among those organizations. Asked which concrete foreign government is keen to foment a “color revolution” in Armenia, he said, “It’s not hard guess. I think you know it.”
“The network was formed by the foreign power,” Markarian said in his speech. “The opposition presidential candidate [Ter-Petrosian] was placed and dressed on the network.”
The Iranian-born politician, who spent more than three years in prison during Ter-Petrosian’s rule, further charged that the former Armenian president is primarily responsible for the March 1 clashes in Yerevan between riot police and his supporters, which left at least ten people dead. “March 1 was beneficial for neither the country, nor for the people or the government,” he said. “It was beneficial only for [Ter-Petrosian,] and unfortunately he got it. Those who still believe him must think about that. Especially the youth.”
Markarian echoed the Armenian government’s justification of the bloody suppression of the post-election opposition protests. “If I was attacked I too would use firearms too,” he told reporters. “Who would want his head to be chopped?”
Addressing the party conference, Markarian also commented on his party’s poor showing in the presidential election. According to the Central Election Commission, the Dashnaktsutyun candidate, Vahan Hovannisian, won only 6 percent of the vote. During the election campaign Hovannisian urged Armenians to reject their current and former leaders, saying that they are both to blame for the country’s problems.
Markarian blamed Hovannisian’s failure to live up to the party’s expectations on the government camp and Ter-Petrosian. “Fear of other candidates’ success was the reason why our candidate’s performance did not match his real popularity,” he said.
The Dashnaktsutyun leader was particularly scathing about Ter-Petrosian’s harsh anti-government rhetoric that earned the ex-president unexpectedly strong voter support. “He didn’t come to wage a program-based and ideological struggle,” said Markarian. “Rallying the headless opposition masses around him, he created an atmosphere in which ethical norms of struggle gave way to destruction, slander, hatred and demagoguery.”
Markarian went on to defend Dashnaktsutyun’s decision to remain part of a government which it strongly criticized during the election campaign. He cited the need to help the Sarkisian administration cope with external challenges facing Armenia. “As long as that danger is there, our being in the coalition is justified,” he said.