Critics of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) accused it on Friday of following in the footsteps of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party (KPSS) after it announced plans to set up a “political school” for its members.
“In a number of European countries, progressive parties have political schools and the HHK has decided to open one as well,” HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov said late on Thursday. He said it will bear the name of the late Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, who headed the party from 2000 until his death in 2007.
Opposition politicians and civil society members were quick to draw parallels with the KPSS’s Higher Party Schools (VPSh) that trained Communist functionaries aspiring to high-ranking positions in the Soviet government hierarchy.
Levon Zurabian, a leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), claimed that President Serzh Sarkisian’s party has been consistently “reviving KPSS traditions” in order to cement its hold on power. “The appointment of HHK members as school principals and university rectors has been part of this effort,” he said. “Now they are planning a new feat: the restoration of VPShs.”
“The VPShs were a very important channel for Communist party functionaries on the path to occupying more high-ranking posts,” said Vartan Harutiunian, a human rights activist who had spent 8 years in Soviet prisons for political dissent. The HHK is now trying to do the same, he said.
Harutiunian too claimed that just like the KPSS, Sarkisian’s party is seeking to control all governmental, economic and educational institutions.
But Armen Ashotian, an HHK deputy chairman who served as education minister until this month, dismissed these claims. He said that major political parties in the West also operate such schools and the HHK plans to replicate them, rather than the defunct KPSS institution.
“If you think that our public will have concerns about a purely educational initiative, then you don’t have a favorable opinion of our public,” Ashotian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
The planned HHK school was welcomed by the Armenian Communist Party, the successor to the Soviet Armenian branch of the KPSS. “Better late than never,” its leader, Tachat Sargsian, said, proudly showing his VPSh graduation certificate issued in Soviet times.
Sargsian at the same time warned the Armenian ruling party against monopolizing power in the country. “The Communist Party’s example is enough of a reason for me to think that that would be wrong and inappropriate,” he said.