By Ruzanna Stepanian
President Serzh Sarkisian dismissed opposition criticism of his domestic and foreign policies on Thursday as he addressed a congress of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) represented in his government.
The congress unanimously reelected businessman Gagik Tsarukian as party chairman, ending speculation about the BHK’s takeover by former President Robert Kocharian.
In a keynote address to hundreds of BHK delegates, Sarkisian defended his diplomatic overtures to Turkey and Azerbaijan as well as his government’s response to the global economic crisis.
“Karabakh can not be a part of Azerbaijan,” he said, reaffirming Yerevan’s long-standing position on the unresolved conflict. “There are neither legal nor historical grounds for that, and, most importantly, the citizens of Karabakh have no such desire.”
In Sarkisian’s words, Armenia’s key objective in the ongoing peace talks is to have Azerbaijan and the international community recognize “Nagorno-Karabakh’s right to self-determination.” “The Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, our land, has no price. If it has no price, you can’t haggle [over it,]” he said, condemning allegations by some opposition politicians and media commentators that he is ready to trade Karabakh for greater international economic assistance to Armenia.
Sarkisian also defended his administration’s policy towards Turkey, saying that Yerevan continues to stand for an unconditional normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations and will continue its “dialogue” with Ankara. “Today there is a good possibility for normalizing Turkish-Armenian relations and we must use it,” he said. “And on this issue the opinion of our people will be decisive.”
Sarkisian further insisted that the Armenian government is “on the right track” in its efforts to mitigate the effects of the global economic downturn. “Our objective now is to minimize upheavals for our people,” he said, adding that the government has already confounded gloomy predictions made by its critics.
Tsarukian, whose party holds three ministerial portfolios, disagreed with some of the government’s economic policies and, in particular, its crackdown on tax evasion among small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs). He said the government should scrap the recent introduction of cash registers for all market traders and even “freeze” taxes collected from SMEs. “We are concerned because those people can barely support their families with their work,” he said.
Speaking to journalists after his reelection, the tycoon also downplayed Kocharian’s absence from the congress attended by leaders of the other Armenian parliamentary parties as well as representatives of Russia’s and China’s ruling party and Ukraine’s main opposition party.
“What is Robert Kocharian to do with the party congress?” said Tsarukian. “The man has retired. When he wishes to return to politics he will deliver a corresponding speech and come up with his program. He is having a rest.”