In a fresh interview with the Mediamax news agency, Kocharian again defended his handling of the 2008 post-election protests in Yerevan and blamed HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosian for the resulting deaths of ten people.
In another dig at President Serzh Sarkisian, he also claimed that Armenians are starting to become nostalgic about his decade-long rule.
“If the dialogue concerns establishment of civilized rules of political struggle and renouncement of its radicalization, of course, my assessment is positive,” Kocharian said, arguing that political stability is good for economic development and the conduct of democratic elections.
“But if the dialogue concerns parameters of imitation of political struggle (for corresponding bonuses), this is most likely a collusion behind the voters’ back,” he warned. “This, by the way, is a direct path to standstill and growth of corruption, since the opposition immediately stops fulfilling its main function, namely prompting the authorities to work better and restraining their appetite. People would be the ones to pay for that collusion with their already scanty resources.”
“What exactly happens between the authorities and the opposition now, I don’t know. I do not participate in that process, thank God … Both variants are possible in our reality,” he said.
Sarkisian, who succeeded Kocharian as president in April 2008, has paved the way for such a dialogue with a number of concessions demanded by the HAK. Late last month, he praised the Ter-Petrosian-led alliance for being ready to negotiate with his administration.
Ter-Petrosian, who served as Armenia first president from 1991-1998, has reciprocated these overtures. Speaking at an HAK rally on April 28, he made a case against another “physical confrontation” with the government. He spoke last week of an “open dialogue” already going between the rival camps.
One of the concessions made to the HAK relates to the official criminal investigation into the March 2008 street clashes in Yerevan between security forces and thousands of Ter-Petrosian supporters demanding the rerun of a disputed presidential election which formalized the handover of power from Kocharian to Sarkisian.
The Armenian president ordered law-enforcement authorities on April 20 to investigate the deadly unrest anew. This sparked media speculation that Sarkisian might be ready to go as far as to blame his predecessor for the bloodshed in an effort to placate the country’s largest opposition force.
Armenia -- President Robert Kocharian speaks at a press conference in Yerevan, 20Mar2008
Kocharian spent most of his interview with Mediamax commenting on this speculation and defending his actions on the night from March 1-2,2008. He suggested that the new probe will focus on identifying and punishing individuals personally responsible for the deaths of eight protesters and two security personnel.
“The problem is that the investigation is failing to reveal all the circumstances of the death of people in order to bring particular people to charge or justify their actions by the motives of self defense,” said Kocharian. “This circumstance, of course, makes the authorities’ positions vulnerable in the eyes of both the domestic public and international organizations. I assume that this explains the recent orders by the president.”
Kocharian defended his decision to order troops and call emergency rule in Yerevan, saying that it was necessary to stop some protesters looting shops and burning cars. “Nobody really controlled the situation there: neither the police, or the opposition leaders,” he said.
Kocharian went on to insist that neither he, nor other officials ordered security forces to fire live rounds at the protesters. He stressed the fact that all eight civilian casualties of the unrest were killed hundreds of meters away from a section of downtown Yerevan that was barricaded by the opposition on March 1, 2008.
“Four of them died from bullet wounds,” said the ex-president. “But who needed to shoot them deliberately? It is either a tragic concurrence of circumstances, or someone’s deliberate actions in order to discredit the authorities.
Ter-Petrosian and his allies have said all along that the Kocharian government deliberately used deadly force against demonstrators to enforce what they consider fraudulent election results. The government’s response to the protests has also been criticized by the Council of Europe and international human rights groups.
Kocharian’s latest comments are a further indication of his deepening rift with Sarkisian, his longtime partner and ally. The ex-president, who governed Armenia from 1998-2008, first publicly highlighted it last February with a verbal attack on Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
The attack stoked lingering speculation about Kocharian’s alleged desire to return to active politics with the help of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a junior partner in Armenia’s three-party governing coalition. The BHK seriously complicated the possibility of such a comeback later in February when it reluctantly agreed to pledge support for Sarkisian’s reelection in 2013.
Kocharian asserted on Tuesday that Armenians were considerably better off during his presidency, which ended shortly before the onset of the global economic crisis. “It is obvious that in recent years people’s living standards have significantly deteriorated, and irrespective of objective or subjective factors behind that deterioration, people are inclined to make comparisons,” he said. “And the more ordinary people compare, the harder my hired opponents try to discredit me.”