By Shakeh Avoyan and Karine Kalantarian
Aram Sarkisian, an opposition candidate and Armenia’s former prime minister, hit back Wednesday at President Robert Kocharian’s claims that he is using his famous brother Vazgen’s 1999 assassination to further his political agenda.
Sarkisian condemned the accusations as “insolent,” renewing his allegations that the incumbent had a hand in the October 1999 massacre in the Armenian parliament that left Vazgen Sarkisian and seven other officials dead.
“It is inadmissible to seek political dividends from corpses,” Kocharian charged on Tuesday, responding to a Sarkisian-hired lawyer's efforts to link the parliament shootings with the recent murder of state television chief Tigran Naghdalian.
The ex-premier’s reaction was furious. “He himself came to power through the corpses. What else can one expect from this person?” Sarkisian said in remarks during a campaign trip to the central Aragatsotn province.
In Yerevan, meanwhile, the Sarkisian family’s Russian lawyer, Oleg Yunoshev, responded to Kocharian’s remark that he is a “tramp with a lawyer’s document.” Yunoshev stressed that he has previously worked as a federal judge in Russia and received a personal award from the Russia’s prosecutor-general for his subsequent work in the Moscow procuracy.
“I assure that [such an award] is not granted for irresponsible and demagogic gossip,” he said in a statement.
The recriminations marked an acrimonious start of the Armenian presidential election campaign which had already promised to be extremely tense. The theme of the parliament attack is also high on the agenda of Stepan Demirchian, another major presidential candidate who was campaigning in neighboring Lori province on Wednesday. Demirchian, whose late father Karen Demirchian was also among the assassinated officials, has repeatedly accused the authorities of obstructing the attack inquiry.
As he visited the local town of Spitak and surrounding villages Demirchian refrained from making specific promises, advising instead his local supporters to look into his campaign platform. “We have our programs which will soon be published,” he said. “We know what and how to do.”
According to opinion polls, Demirchian is Kocharian’s most popular challenger. Much of that popularity was inherited from his late father who ruled Soviet Armenia from 1974-1988 and served as parliament in the months leading to his assassination.
This fact that again came to light during Demirchian’s meetings with local residents. Many of them have become impoverished since the 1991 Soviet collapse and still hark back to the relative prosperity of the Communist era. “Excuse us, but we don’t know you well. We just remember good things done by your father,” one local villager told him.
Lori was hit hard by the 1988 catastrophic earthquake that killed some 25,000 people and devastated much of northern Armenia. Many of its residents, especially those in rural areas, still live in temporary shelters. Some of them resented on Wednesday government claims that the earthquake zone has largely been rebuilt under Kocharian’s rule.
Demirchian aides, meanwhile, again implicitly expressed hope that Aram Sarkisian will eventually withdraw from the race in favor of the leader of the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK). The HZhK’s campaign manager, Grigor Harutiunian, said: “You will see the successors of Vazgen Sarkisian and Karen Demirchian [running] together.”