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Tsarukian Beats Retreat Amid Government Crackdown


Armenia - Prosperous Armenia Party leader Gagik Tsarukian addresses an opposition conference near Abovian, 5Feb2015.

Armenia - Prosperous Armenia Party leader Gagik Tsarukian addresses an opposition conference near Abovian, 5Feb2015.

Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) leader Gagik Tsarukian has signaled his readiness to settle problems “through peaceful, lawful and political means” after reportedly meeting with President Serzh Sarkisian on Tuesday in a bid to mend fences following an acrimonious exchange of accusations over the past few days.

Sarkisian, apparently enraged by Tsarukian’s “ultimatum” to give up the constitutional reform process or face large-scale street protests, lashed out at the BHK leader at a meeting of senior members of his ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) on February 12. In a speech full of derogatory descriptions of Tsarukian, including his infamous “Dodi Gago” nickname, Sarkisian described the man as “evil” for the country and effectively ordered his exclusion from the local political process.

Dozens of Tsarukian loyalists were detained and their businesses were inspected in the following days in what the BHK and its opposition allies, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and Heritage, said amounted to political reprisals. Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian, meanwhile, ordered officials to probe allegations that Tsarukian, who owns large companies in Armenia, owes large sums to the state budget in back taxes.

The three opposition parties known as the trio responded by scheduling a joint rally for February 20 to demand Sarkisian’s resignation.

Given the degree of antagonism existing between the government and opposition camps, many observers in Armenia did not exclude the possibility of political upheavals if the government, on the one hand, continued its crackdown on the opposition and the opposition, on the other hand, pressed ahead with its plans for “nonstop” rallies.

Amid the tensions on Tuesday news came about the Sarkisian-Tsarukian meeting during which, according to some sources, the two decided to deescalate the situation. But, judging from statements by senior HHK members, Sarkisian still appears to be uncompromising as far as Tsarukian’s political future is concerned.

In a statement disseminated by his spokesperson on Wednesday, the BHK leader indicated that he wanted things to return to the political domain.

“We need not wage wars against each other in order to solve problems that exist in our country, what we need is to work calmly without insulting each other, to point out all existing shortcomings, to find solutions and implement them,” Tsarukian said. “Only this way it is possible to end the situation that we have in our country today.”

The BHK leader also voiced concern about possible “bloody” scenarios, stressing that “no goal can justify the blood of a single innocent person”.

“It is the task of both the government and the opposition not to cross the reasonable limits. All issues should be resolved through peaceful, legal and political means,” Tsarukyan concluded.

Meanwhile, citing the “tense emotional state of society”, the BHK political council said today that in avoidance of “possible provocations and clashes” it had decided to call off the opposition rally slated for February 20. Earlier, the Yerevan municipality refused to approve the holding of the gathering.

Meanwhile, the HAK today issued a statement, saying that it treated the decision of its embattled ally to call off the February 20 rally with “understanding”. The opposition party again condemned the government crackdown against the BHK. At the same time, it urged its supporters to gather for a rally in Yerevan on March 1.

Heritage leader Raffi Hovannisian told reporters today that his party will make a decision on further actions later this week. In any case, he invited everyone, including media, to Yerevan’s Liberty Square where he plans to present the decision on Friday. Hovannisian again criticized President Sarkisian’s policies and demanded his resignation.

Talking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun) today, Tsarukian’s spokesperson Iveta Tonoyan said that the BHK leader does not intend to quit politics or give up his seat in parliament. She was vague on whether Tsarukian will continue to demand a change of government.

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