By Irina Hovannisian
Levon Ter-Petrosian, Armenia’s reclusive former president, made a rare public appearance on Sunday, but again refused to make any statements. One of his top loyalists, meanwhile, claimed that he will contest the presidential election due early next year.
Ter-Petrosian received a prolonged standing ovation as he walked into a conference room packed with hundreds of members of his Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) who gathered for an annual congress of the former ruling party. Ararat Zurabian, the HHSh chairman who presided over the gathering, warmly welcomed Ter-Petrosian, saying that he will eventually return to power.
“I am convinced that Ter-Petrosian will definitely participate in the presidential election,” Zurabian told reporters afterwards.
It was not possible to get a first-hand confirmation or denial of the claim. As always, the ex-president was in no mood to answer questions from journalists. “Thank you,” he snapped when approached and addressed by an RFE/RL correspondent. He vaguely promised to talk to journalists “later” before holding a separate meeting with HHSh leaders behind the closed doors.
Ter-Petrosian, who led Armenia to independence from the Soviet Union, has rarely spoken in public ever since he was forced to resign in February 1998. His divided and unpopular allies still hope that he will make a political comeback.
Zurabian said Ter-Petrosian can again win over Armenians with “a few speeches.” He also claimed that the HHSh will win at least 10 percent of the vote if the May 12 parliamentary elections are free and fair.
Many Armenians continue to associate the HHSh with the economic collapse and sever energy crisis of the early 1990s. Speakers at the HHSh sought to justify the hardship, saying that it was the inevitable result of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. They also emphasized the fact that the Armenian victory in the war was achieved during Ter-Petrosian’s rule.
Zurabian further blamed some key members of the current government for the culture of electoral fraud that took hold in Armenia during the HHSh rule. In particular, he implicated Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and Minister for Local Government Hovik Abrahamian in the reported falsification of the results of the September 1996 presidential election.