Former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian joined Armenia’s leadership on Tuesday in blaming former President Levon Ter-Petrosian for the post-election unrest that has left at least eight people dead.
In a joint statement with Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) leader Gagik Tsarukian, Baghdasarian said Saturday’s deadly clashes in Yerevan between security forces and opposition supporters had been “methodically and cruelly” planned by Ter-Petrosian beforehand as part of his plan to illegally seize power.
“The [presidential] election became an occasion for Levon Ter-Petrosian and a group of his supporters to manifest, in the most cynical manner, their hatred, vengeance and malice towards their people and state accumulated for ten years,” the statement said, adding that Ter-Petrosian and his allies “bear full responsibility for the acts of vandalism and tragedy.”
Baghdasarian, who was a major opposition candidate in the election, also endorsed government allegations that the radical opposition leaders stashed weapons and even drugs in Yerevan’s Liberty Square. Thousands of their supporters remained camped there for 11 days until being forcibly dispersed by riot police on Saturday morning.
Baghdasarian’s move was quite extraordinary given the fact that he was close to withdrawing his candidacy in Ter-Petrosian’s favor just days before the February 19 vote. The leader of the Orinats Yerkir Party eventually chose to stay in the race, prompting allegations of “treason” from Ter-Petrosian. He went on to recognize Sarkisian’s victory in the disputed vote after being offered to join a new coalition government which the president-elect plans to form in the coming weeks.
“Had we joined Ter-Petrosian … there would have been more victims as a result of these mass riots,” Baghdasarian told a joint news conference with Sarkisian and Tsarukian.
Sarkisian said the Armenian authorities will track down all organizers and participants of what they see as a coup attempt. “They all must appear before the court and we must put an end to such attempts in Armenia once and for all,” he said. He would not say if he thinks Ter-Petrosian too should be prosecuted.
“Ter-Petrosian and his supporters must realize that they bear full responsibility for these events, including the deaths,” Victor Soghomonian, a spokesman for outgoing President Robert Kocharian, said at a separate news conference. Soghomonian also defended the use of force against opposition protesters in Yerevan, saying that some of them were armed and opened fire at security forces.
Ter-Petrosian rejected the official version of events on Sunday, saying that the police themselves provoked riots by firing at protesters and killing at least seven of them. He said the use of force was aimed at derailing his bid to have the Constitutional Court annul the official election results.