By Astghik BedevianThe widow of the late founder of the governing Republican Party (HHK) on Friday expressed dismay at its comprehensive takeover by Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and warned him against rigging Armenia’s upcoming presidential elections.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Hasmik Navasardian complained that the HHK, of which she is a longtime member, has changed beyond recognition since the death of her prominent husband Ashot ten years ago. “Is this the Republican Party Ashot Navasardian dreamed about? Definitely not,” she told RFE/RL in an interview
The HHK was set up in 1989 by Navasardian and several other nationalist dissidents jailed by Soviet authorities in the 1970s and 1980s to campaign for Armenia’s independence and Armenian control over Nagorno-Karabakh. It had few members and played a marginal role in Armenian politics until being taken over in 1998 by then Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian. The party’s ranks were quickly swollen by scores of senior government officials, wealthy businessmen and other loyalists of the powerful minister.
The HHK has been the country’s number one “party of power” ever since it joined forces with Soviet-era leader Karen Demirchian’s People’s Party to win the May 1999 parliamentary elections. It remained in government even after Sarkisian and Demirchian were assassinated in the October 1999 attack on the Armenian parliament. Andranik Markarian, a close Navasardian associate, succeeded Sarkisian as HHK chairman and prime minister after pledging allegiance to President Robert Kocharian.
The HHK went on to controversially win the 2003 and 2007 parliamentary elections after teaming up with Serzh Sarkisian. Sarkisian became its de facto leader in July 2006 as part of his preparations for the 2008 presidential election. The takeover was accompanied by a fresh influx of more “oligarchs” and other Sarkisian loyalists, many of them with dubious reputations. The process was completed after Markarian’s sudden death last March.
“The Republican Party is now a government structure,” lamented Hasmik Navasardian. “When Ashot Navasardian was in charge, there wasn’t a single oligarch in our party.”
“Ashot set up the Republican Party to make life better for everyone. He was not keen to become part of the government, he wanted to help people,” she said.
Navasardian pointedly declined to endorse Sarkisian’s presidential ambitions, saying that she will vote for him only “if I don’t see a more intelligent person around.” “If I see another candidate meeting my criteria I will stand by him,” she said.
Navasardian went on to issue a stark pre-election warning to the Sarkisian-controlled HHK. “If Serzh Sarkisian is elected by fraudulent means, I will revolt,” she said. “Mistakes are inevitable. But I would revolt against blatant fraud.”
“Let God be merciful towards that party. Let it do the right things in the presidential election. Let Ashot not turn in his grave,” she added.
Navasardian also confirmed media reports that the party is increasingly riven by disagreements between so-called “old Republicans” and Sarkisian-connected newcomers who often have scant knowledge of the party’s ideology and history.
But Razmik Zohrabian, an HHK deputy chairman and one of the members of its old guard, denied this. He said it was natural for Sarkisian to enter the party with his own “team.”
Karen Karapetian, one of the newcomers who now leads the HHK faction in parliament, also denied any rifts within the party leadership. “That is simply impossible under a single leader,” he told RFE/RL. “The party is united by one aim. To contest and win the presidential elections.”