President Serzh Sarkisian inaugurated together with Gagik Tsarukian a new entertainment complex in Yerevan on Monday less than four months after branding the ambitious tycoon as “evil” and forcing him out of politics.
In their first joint public appearance since a bitter row that reshaped the Armenian political scene, the two men smiled and applauded at the official opening of the property apparently owned by Tsarukian.
Independent media were not informed about the ceremony beforehand, having to rely on an official statement and photographs released by the presidential press service. The statement detailed $8 million investments made in the center but made no mention of Tsarukian.
The ceremony took place almost three months after Tsarukian publicly announced that he is resigning as leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the largest opposition force in parliament, and retiring from politics altogether. He cited the need to avoid “bloodshed” in the country.
The move was the result of Tsarukian’s capitulation in the standoff with Sarkisian. It resulted from BHK threats to topple the president with street protests if he pressed ahead with a controversial constitutional reform. Sarkisian lashed out at the tycoon, reputedly close to his predecessor Robert Kocharian, at a February 12 meeting with senior members of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
In his speech full of derogatory descriptions of Tsarukian, including his infamous “Dodi Gago” nickname, Sarkisian charged that the BHK leader’s political activities pose a “real danger” to Armenia’s national security. He also ordered tax audits of Tsarukian’s numerous businesses and inquiries into other “crimes” possibly committed by him. Sarkisian implied at the same time that the tycoon will face no government crackdowns in he focuses only on economic activities.
Tsarukian responded the next day by calling on his supporters to take to the streets and topple “this government of evil.” He said the president and his cronies have “stolen billions of dollars from the people” during their seven-year rule.
Nevertheless, the BHK leader bowed to the pressure several days later after reportedly holding confidential talks with Sarkisian mediated by a Russian-Armenian billionaire. In return for the political retirement, Sarkisian appears to have allowed Tsarukian to retain his strong influence in Armenia’s central Kotayk province.
In early April, Tsarukian’s son-in-law Karapet Guloyan, until then the mayor of the provincial town of Abovian, was appointed as Kotayk governor. Also, the ruling HHK has endorsed a Tsarukian-backed candidate in an upcoming mayoral election in Abovian.
Tsarukian ruled out a political comeback when he spoke to RFE/RL’s Armenian service there on April 28.