By Nane Atshemian
Opposition leader Artashes Geghamian, who was promising to bring Armenia’s closer to Russia as recently as two years ago, described the United States at the weekend as the main guarantor of his country’s independence and democratization.
Geghamian lavished praise on the U.S. and its government in a trademark emotional speech that exposed the most radical change yet in the foreign policy discourse of a popular Armenian politician. It also underscored Geghamian’s hopes for securing American support for his attempts to come to power.
“Today that country (the U.S.) must be the main pillar of the democratization and strengthening of the Republic of Armenia,” he told hundreds of activists of his National Unity Party (AMK). Many of them applauded in response.
The AMK conference coincided with the second anniversary of the first round of voting in Armenia’s disputed 2003 presidential election in which Geghamian was a leading contender. Official election results put him in third place behind incumbent President Robert Kocharian and another opposition leader, Stepan Demirchian. Throughout the election campaign, Geghamian lived up to his image of a staunchly pro-Russian politician, pledging to make Armenia part of the Russia-Belarus union and even replace the Armenian national currency with the Russian ruble.
His extraordinary change of heart is the most vivid manifestation of a pro-Western shift in the foreign policy orientation of Armenia’s leading opposition politicians who have been clearly buoyed by the success of the Western-backed revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia. By casting themselves as a pro-Western alternative to the current Armenian government, they hope to ensure greater international support for their hitherto unsuccessful efforts to topple Kocharian.
Demirchian, who leads Armenia’s biggest opposition alliance, Artarutyun, is currently touring the country in what some of his aides say is a preparation for another anti-Kocharian campaign. Geghamian likewise promised to launch a “popular movement” against the ruling regime, indicating that it will not necessarily be coordinated with Artarutyun.
“Our actions will be more effective and clear than what we did in the past when were restrained by agreements as a result of which an opposition front was created,” he told reporters.
The AMK leader’s chances of gaining Washington’s support were hardly helped by his praise of Armen Avetisian, an ultranationalist and deeply anti-Semitic politician arrested last month after calling the expulsion of all Jews from Armenia. Avetisian, who was personally mentioned in the U.S. State Department’s recent report on global anti-Semitism, also earned notoriety for his repeated pledges to “cleanse” Armenia’s leadership of presumed homosexuals.
In his speech, Geghamian vowed that he “won’t let a single hair drop from Armen’s head.” Appealing to Avetisian, he added: “If you want to be protected, name all the homosexuals regardless of their positions. Name every prostitute, thief and gambler.”
The speech also contained other contradictions. While reiterating his harsh criticism of the Armenian authorities’ track record, Geghamian said he is ready to cooperate with them in fighting against large-scale tax evasion and referred to Kocharian as a “war hero.” He then went on to conclude that a revolution in Armenia is inevitable because “it will not be possible to contain the people’s fury.”