By Karine KalantarianSeveral senior members of the Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party have left Armenia’s most radical opposition organization in protest against its leader Aram Sarkisian’s increasingly pro-Western orientation and uncompromising stance against the authorities.
Albert Bazeyan, the party’s former chairman, confirmed on Friday reports that he and six other members of the 15-strong Hanrapetutyun board offered their resignation this week. Among them is Vagharshak Harutiunian, Armenia’s pro-Russian former defense minister.
“Our differences have to do with tactics,” Bazeyan told RFE/RL. “I was always against unprepared statements and uncontrolled assessments of our opposition partners.”
“They also declared themselves 100 percent pro-Western and have burned all bridges with Russia. We consider that approach one-sided,” he said, adding that the dissenters favor a more “balanced” foreign policy agenda.
Sarkisian regretted the split but made it clear that he will not try to persuade the dissenters to change their decision. “It is their right to express their views. I’m a democrat, I have no problem with that,” he told RFE/RL.
“Unfortunately, such things do not happen in the Republic of Armenia by chance. We are not the first or last [party to face a split]. On behalf of the Hanrapetutyun party I apologize to all those who see something unpleasant in this affair,” Sarkisian said. He did not specify if he suspects the authorities of having a hand in the split.
The rift within Hanrapetutyun began last year following the failure of the Armenian opposition’s attempts to force President Robert Kocharian to resign with a campaign of demonstrations. Sarkisian and his associates believe that one of the reasons for the fiasco was the opposition’s failure to offer Armenians a pro-Western alternative to domestic and foreign policies pursued by Kocharian. They also accuse Russia of being disinterested in the democratization of Armenia’s political system.
“I am a strong advocate of the Western way of life,” said Sarkisian. “I want my people live like that and will do everything I can to achieve that.”
Bazeyan did not rule out the possibility that he and Harutiunian will set up their own party. But he said they will not urge other Hanrapetutyun members to follow their example and quit the party.
Sarkisian, who briefly served as prime minister in 1999-2000, appeared to enjoy the overwhelming support of party activists at the last Hanrapetutyun congress in April. Bazeyan and his allies chose not to challenge him at the gathering.
(Photolur photo: Bazeyan addressing an opposition rally in Yerevan in June 2004.)