Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian accused Armenia’s leadership of presiding over an “incredibly” corrupt political and economic system at a fresh rally held by his Armenian National Congress (HAK) on Friday.
Ter-Petrosian focused on endemic government corruption in an extensive speech before several thousand supporters that gathered in central Yerevan amid heavy rain. He again claimed that leadership change is the only way to save the country from “destruction.”
“Corruption has infected Armenia’s entire government elite, from the regime’s top leaders to ministers, governors, generals, judges, prosecutors, mayors and the majority of National Assembly deputies,” he said. “There is not a single high-ranking state official who does not have his own business … or has not made a huge fortune during his tenure. Nor is there a single business generating even $500 in monthly revenue, from which a representative of the state does not benefit.”
Ter-Petrosian renewed his earlier allegations that President Serzh Sarkisian, his predecessor Robert Kocharian and their cronies control the most lucrative businesses in Armenia and pocket billions of dollars in unpaid taxes and public funds each year. He said they are playing the nationalist card to justify the “plunder.”
“The more they gloat about Turks and Azerbaijanis and the more they talk about state interests and the people’s welfare, the more they steal from the pockets of the same people,” charged Armenia’s first president.
Ter-Petrosian and key members of his administration themselves faced and denied corruption allegations by their political opponents during their 1991-1998 rule. They say that corruption among various-level officials has become far more rampant and systemic under Kocharian and Sarkisian.
The HAK leader said the existing “kleptocratic” system is also a serious hindrance to the establishment of democracy and rule of law in the country. He claimed that the Sarkisian-Kocharian duo used lethal force against his supporters following the February 2008 presidential election to not only cling to power but also to avert “the danger of losing the huge stolen wealth.”
Ter-Petrosian also asserted that only the HAK, civic groups and mass media not controlled by the authorities can fight against graft. “Media disclosures and opposition revelations are an extremely powerful weapon in the fight against corruption,” he said. “The Armenian authorities, no matter how self-confident they pretend to be, are terrified of that.”
It was the second major HAK demonstration in Yerevan in less than a month. The opposition alliance announced a “new wave” of anti-government street protests during the previous rally held on September 17.
The HAK scheduled its next rally for Tuesday. It will be timed to coincide with the start of a high-level international conference on democracy organized by the Council of Europe in Yerevan. Ter-Petrosian’s bloc will use the occasion to protest against the organization’s perceived leniency towards the Sarkisian administration.
Ter-Petrosian on Friday again accused the West of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in his country, saying that amounts to “a crime against the Armenian people.” “Armenia’s noble authorities will never hold fair elections and will not stop plundering the country,” he said. “It is about the time the West understood this simple reality and based its policy towards our country on that.”
The Armenian authorities have assured the Council of Europe that they will improve their conduct of elections and implement other political reforms to prevent a repeat of the 2008 post-election crisis.