A prominent member of the Armenian National Congress (HAK) on Thursday strongly objected to its possible cooperation with Gagik Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), which has been repeatedly advocated by the opposition bloc’s top leader, Levon Ter-Petrosian.
Nikol Pashinian claimed that Levon Zurabian, one of Ter-Petrosian’s closest associates, expressed his personal opinion when he said Tuesday that the HAK and the BHK should join forces to unseat President Serzh Sarkisian in the upcoming presidential election. “According to the constitution, every citizen of the Republic of Armenia is free to express their opinions,” he said.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Zurabian said BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian and his reputed political patron, former President Robert Kocharian, will be forced to leave the political arena and lose their “vast financial resources” if Sarkisian wins reelection. The BHK should therefore be interested in cooperating with Ter-Petrosian’s bloc, he said.
Zurabian is the leader of the HAK’s 7-member faction in Armenia’s 131-seat parliament. He is widely regarded as Ter-Petrosian’s right-hand man.
Pashinian, who is a member of that faction, insisted that Zurabian’s remarks do not reflect the HAK’s official position. “The positions of a political force are determined by its decisions,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “The Armenian National Congress (HAK) has made no decisions yet on the format of its participation in the presidential elections.”
Ter-Petrosian has repeatedly advocated close cooperation with the BHK over the past year amid Tsarukian’s growing tensions with Sarkisian, which led to his party’s withdrawal from the ruling coalition in June. Some of his prominent loyalists, including a major opposition party, quit the HAK earlier this year in protest against this stance.
The dissenters say that the BHK was part of Armenia’s government until recently and therefore cannot be interested in the country’s democratization. They also point to Tsarukian’s’ reputedly close ties to Kocharian, the man who ordered a deadly crackdown on Ter-Petrosian’s opposition movement in the wake of the February 2008 presidential election.
Ten people were killed and more than 100 others injured as security forces dispersed opposition protesters who barricaded themselves in downtown Yerevan on March 1, 2008. Pashinian was the main speaker at the opposition rally held on that day. He went into hiding afterwards but subsequently surrendered to law-enforcement authorities and spent nearly two years in prison on controversial charges stemming from the unrest.
Pashinian, who is popular with many opposition supporters for his tough anti-government rhetoric, made clear on Thursday that he is also against close collaboration with Tsarukian’s party. “As I did before, I will say now that I do not find a compromise with March 1 criminals possible,” he said, in a clear reference to Kocharian.
The Armenian media has been rife with speculation that the HAK might go as far as to back a presidential candidate nominated by the BHK. Zurabian’s latest remarks have fuelled more such suggestions.
According to Pashinian, such a decision would require the unanimous approval of the HAK’s Political Council comprising leaders of more than a dozen opposition groups aligned in the bloc. “As a member of the HAK, I am convinced that the HAK’s Political Council cannot make such a decision [by consensus,]” he said. “I don’t want us to even seriously discuss that issue.”
Ter-Petrosian has still not announced whether he will stand as a candidate in the presidential election due in February. Pashinian claimed that the HAK leader, who had served as Armenia’s first president, will again run for president after all.
“All possible efforts must be made to defeat Serzh Sarkisian in the upcoming presidential elections,” said the outspoken oppositionist. “In this context, I believe that Armenia’s first President Levon Ter-Petrosian will nominate his candidacy in the upcoming elections. And all those who want to defeat Serzh Sarkisian can defend Levon Ter-Petrosian’s candidacy.”