By Ruzanna Stepanian
Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian praised Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and urged him to “clean up” the government on Friday as they jointly attended a congress of the only opposition party represented in Armenia’s parliament.
Ter-Petrosian received a standing ovation as he made his way into a government conference hall where hundreds of activists of the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party led by Raffi Hovannisian discussed the political situation in the country and their next steps.
Addressing them moments later, Ter-Petrosian lavished praise on Zharangutyun for supporting his Popular Movement before and after the recent presidential election. He was particularly appreciative of Hovannisian and the six other parliament deputies affiliated with Zharangutyun. In a customary attack on the authorities, he “commiserated” with them for having to work in a parliament which he said is “mostly composed of criminal elements.”
Ter-Petrosian extended a similar commiseration to Prime Minister Sarkisian seated in the front row of the conference hall. “You have inherited a very bad legacy,” he, sparking rapturous applause. “I’m sure you are conscious of that. It is your duty to clean up the government’s Augius stables in the first instance.”
“I am saying with all the frankness that as a professional, a serious economist, the prime minister understands this country’s problems,” continued Ter-Petrosian. “This is not a provocation, Tigran. What I’m saying is true. You have many things to do, especially within the institution headed by you.”
Ter-Petrosian sounded more skeptical about Sarkisian’s ambitious reform agenda when he spoke at an opposition rally in Gyumri late last month. He said that while the prime minister and some members of his cabinet “may have honest goals” they will fail to make a difference because “the system will strangle them.”
Ter-Petrosian and Sarkisian have known each other since their active involvement in the 1988 popular movement for Nagorno-Karabakh’s unification with Armenia. They both were elected to the country’s first post-Communist parliament in 1990 on the ticket of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh). Sarkisian chaired one of the parliament’s standing committees and subsequently moved into opposition to the Ter-Petrosian administration along with several other prominent HHSh figures.
The two men shook hands before Ter-Petrosian took the floor. The ex-president also greeted Hrant Markarian, the top leader of the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation also present at the congress.
In his speech that was also applauded by delegates, Sarkisian urged Zharangutyun to work together with the government in meeting challenges facing Armenia. “I have not come here to say that there are issues on which we have differing views,” he said. “I have come here to build bridges. I am proposing to put the emphases on points uniting, and not dividing, us.”
“Let us not pulverize our goals in the noises of struggle. The doors of cooperation are always open to you,” he said.
The Armenian premier also stated that President Serzh Sarkisian’s post-election offer of dialogue with all opposition groups remains in force.