A prominent Armenian businessman sympathetic to the opposition on Thursday offered a grim assessment of the economic situation in Armenia and said that it will not improve without a “change of the political system.”
Khachatur Sukiasian claimed that the existing system precludes a breakup of de facto economic monopolies which he said is needed for the country’s sustainable economic development.
“The Armenian economy is in crisis,” Sukiasian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “I don’t trust in this 4.1 percent growth and other growth figures [reported by the government.]”
“The monopolies are certainly having a very bad impact,” he said in an interview. “I think that is one of the main problems. First of all, in terms of creating an atmosphere. Secondly, in terms of confidence. You need a lot of confidence to invest in a country.
“Thirdly, local manufacturers have some fears and think twice. Their cautious approach also hampers development.”
The tycoon referred to the fact that some lucrative sectors of the Armenian economy are controlled by a handful of fellow entrepreneurs close to President Serzh Sarkisian. While denying the existence of economic monopolies, successive governments formed by Sarkisian have pledged to create a level playing field for all businesses. They have claimed to have made progress in improving the domestic business environment.
Sukiasian said there is no evidence of such an improvement because the authorities lack the “political will” to break up the monopolies. “I think that it will be absent until there is a change of the political system,” he said.
Sukiasian, who controls diverse businesses through his SIL Group holding company, is known as a staunch supporter of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, having made his fortune during the latter’s 1991-1998 rule. He openly backed Ter-Petrosian in the February 2008 presidential election in which the ex-president was the main opposition candidate.
Sukiasian’s political affiliation was widely linked with a crackdown on his businesses launched by tax authorities in late 2007. One of those businesses, a mineral water bottling plant, was controversially confiscated by the government, ostensibly because of tax evasion.
Sukiasian was among several Ter-Petrosian associates who fled Armenia in March 2008 to escape arrest following deadly post-election clashes between security forces and opposition protesters. He returned to the country in 2009 to face criminal charges stemming from the unrest.
Although the charges were dropped in 2011 Sukiasian was controversially barred from running in the May 2012 parliamentary elections on the ticket of Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress. He has kept a low profile since then.