A group of prominent dissident members of the Armenian National Congress (HAK) have set up a new political party that will seek to position itself as an alternative to both the government and the opposition alliance led by Levon Ter-Petrosian.
The Free Democrats party held its founding congress and elected a governing board late last month. The board is headed by Khachatur Kokobelian and comprises several other former senior members of the Armenian National Movement (HHSh), a key party aligned in the HAK. The HHSh’s former chairman, Ararat Zurabian, is also expected to join the party.
Zurabian and Kokobelian resigned from the HHSh leadership in June last year in still unclear circumstances. Ter-Petrosian, who maintains a strong influence on the former ruling party, was rumored to have accused them of secretly cooperating with the government.
Another, even more prominent member of Free Democrats is Alexander Arzumanian, a former foreign minister who managed Ter-Petrosian’s campaign for the February 2008 presidential election. Like many other Ter-Petrosian loyalists, Arzumanian was arrested in the wake of the disputed vote and spent more than a year in prison.
Also sitting on the new party’s board are three other former HHSh figures that were controversially imprisoned following the March 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan.
“The fact that those people, who had revolted and suffered, decided to continue their struggle with new forces means they still have that rebellious spirit but lack faith in the existing opposition structures,” Anush Sedrakian, the deputy chairwoman of Free Democrats told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Wednesday.
According Sedrakian, the party’s creation was necessitated by what she called a lack of transparency within the HAK and in its ongoing dialogue with the government. She claimed that the Armenian authorities are now more tolerant of dissent than Ter-Petrosian and his entourage.
“In a sense, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) should reconsider its actions,” she said. “If it wants to continue to retain the electorate that it had, it must reconsider its tactics.”
“It must not apply the authoritarian system existing within HAK to the society. Unfortunately, both the Armenian authorities and opposition are guided by authoritarian principles,” added Sedrakian.
Free Democrats claim to already have 1,200 members. Sedrakian, who is also a well-known political commentator, also said that the party will contest next year’s parliamentary elections if the number of its members and supporters continues to grow “with the same intensity.”
Sedrakian further dismissed media speculation that the party is supported by the United States. The speculation was fuelled by the outgoing U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch’s Monday visit to the party headquarters in Yerevan during which she met with the Free Democrats leaders.
A short statement issued by the party gave few details of that meeting. Sedrakian also declined to elaborate on it.