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Opposition Leader Reasserts Party Authority


Armenia -- Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian speaks at a congress of his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, 10July 2010.

Armenia -- Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian speaks at a congress of his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, 10July 2010.

Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian reasserted formal control over his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party and took a swipe at former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, while also calling for leadership change in Armenia at the weekend.


Addressing an emergency congress of Zharangutyun in Yerevan, Hovannisian said the top leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) shares responsibility for Armenia’s fundamental problems with his successor Robert Kocharian and the current President Serzh Sarkisian.

“We all share responsibility for the many tragedies, rigged elections and corruption, but Armenia’s three presidents [are responsible for them] in the first instance, to varying degrees,” he declared.

“How can we tell the whole truth … when the second, then third and then first presidents of the Republic of Armenia have still not been questioned or given testimony?” he added in remarks that could deepen a rift between Zharangutyun and the more influential opposition alliance led by Ter-Petrosian.

Hovannisian appeared to refer to Sarkisian’s, Kocharian’s and Ter-Petrosian’s role in Armenia’s 2008 post-election unrest that left ten people dead. He had already implied previously that he thinks all three men are to blame for the deadly street clashes between security forces and Ter-Petrosian supporters demanding a re-run of a disputed presidential election.

The HAK regards those events as a “massacre” of peaceful demonstrators orchestrated by Kocharian and Sarkisian. The Armenian authorities, for their part, say they were the result of an opposition coup attempt.

A separate resolution adopted by the Zharangutyun congress also seems to equate Ter-Petrosian with his most bitter political foes. It says the current and former presidents as well as all other Armenian state officials must “stand equally before the rule of law.”

“The territories, properties, enterprises, opportunities, and human lives heretofore privatized, expropriated, or sacrificed by their abuse of power must be accounted for to the fullest extent of the very same law,” reads the resolution.

Armenia -- The opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party holds a congress in Yerevan, 10July 2010.
The congress, which formed the party’s new governing board, also stressed the need for “urgent” presidential and parliamentary elections in the country. But it did not specify whether Zharangutyun will actively campaign for snap polls. Hovannisian, whom the board swiftly elected as board chairman, noted that it is ready to cooperate with the Sarkisian administration on key challenges facing Armenia.

HAK representatives were conspicuously absent from the Zharangutyun congress. The Ter-Petrosian-led bloc on Monday refused to comment on the statements made during the gathering.

Zharangutyun, which holds six seats in Armenia’s 131-member parliament, supported Ter-Petrosian in the February 2008 presidential election and his ensuing standoff with the Kocharian-Sarkisian duo. But the party declined to join the HAK when it was formed later in 2008. It has steadily drifted away from the alliance of about two dozen opposition groups loyal to the ex-president bloc since then.

The process may well continue under the new Zharangutyun board. Its newly elected deputy chairman, Ruben Hakobian, is a veteran politician who staunchly opposed Ter-Petrosian when the latter was in power and remains critical of the ex-president. In a speech at the congress, Hakobian spoke of unnamed “some oppositionists” which he said are bent on creating “a totalitarian opposition regime.”

A former U.S. citizen who had served as Armenia’s first foreign minister in 1992, Hovannisian founded Zharangutyun in 2002 and has always been considered its de facto top leader, despite holding no formal leadership positions the party in recent years. His decision to regain party chairmanship reflected his dissatisfaction with Zharangutyun’s previous board that was dominated by members of its parliament faction. Only one of them, Stepan Safarian, was elected to the new board.

Zharangutyun was beset last September by bitter infighting between the former board majority and four other senior party figures. The latter were expelled from the party ranks as a result.

Hovannisian has blamed both factions for the row and pledged to overhaul the party leadership. Speaking at the congress on Saturday, he said the expelled party members were not treated fairly and offered to reinstate them.

But at least one of them dismissed the offer. Zoya Tadevosian, who is now affiliated with Ter-Petrosian’s HAK, pointed Hovannisian’s readiness, in principle, to work together with the authorities.

“They must rule out any cooperation with the current authorities,” Tadevosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “The current authorities have ruined this country.”
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