A millionaire businessman connected to the Armenian National Congress (HAK) on Tuesday heaped praise on Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian blamed by this and other opposition groups for the country’s economic woes.
“Among the persons I know there is nobody with the kind of experience and background that Tigran Sarkisian has,” Khachatur Sukiasian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in an interview. “He has very serious experience in this country. He knows every sector of this country.”
“His tenure coincided with years of crisis. But we all know that he is a reformer,” said Sukiasian.
The tycoon agreed that Sarkisian’s economic reform record leaves much to be desired. But he attributed that to Armenia’s flawed “political system.”
Sukiasian’s comments are remarkable given the HAK’s negative attitude to the Armenian premier. HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosian and his associates have repeatedly accused him of mismanaging the economy. One of them, Levon Zurabian, said last month that Sarkisian’s reappointment as prime minister means “nothing will change” in the next few years.
Sukiasian was the only wealthy businessman that openly backed Ter-Petrosian’s bid to return to power in the February 2008 presidential election. He was among several Ter-Petrosian allies who fled Armenia in March 2008 to escape arrest following deadly post-election clashes between security forces and opposition protesters demanding a rerun of the disputed vote. Sukiasian returned to Armenia in 2009 to face controversial criminal charges stemming from the unrest. The case against him was eventually dropped for lack of evidence.
Tax officials raided companies owned by Sukiasian shortly after he voiced support for Ter-Petrosian in September 2007. One of those businesses, a mineral water plant, was accused of tax evasion and confiscated by the government.
Sukiasian, who has always denied any tax evasion, said on Tuesday that the crackdown was aimed at discouraging other tycoons from backing the opposition. “I think they thereby wanted to restrain businesspeople,” he said.
Ter-Petrosian cited Sukiasian’s example in a speech last month in which the opposition leader made a case for winning over other “oligarchs.” He said securing their support is vital for the Armenian opposition. The HAK leader also declared that Gagik Tsarukian, one of the country’s richest men leading the opposition-leaning Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), is now following in Sukiasian’s footsteps.
Sukiasian rejected any parallels between Tsarukian and himself, however. “I see no similarities at all,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.