By Emil Danielyan
Former President Robert Kocharian on Wednesday responded to the latest verbal attacks from opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian and admitted disagreeing with some of the decisions made by his successor Serzh Sarkisian.
Kocharian also said he made a mistake by not imprisoning Ter-Petrosian after forcing Armenia’s first president to resign in 1998.
In an interview with the Mediamax news agency, Kocharian was asked to comment on persistent opposition suggestions that he has continued to pull the government strings since completing his second and final term in office in April.
Opposition politicians and commentators point to the continuing government crackdown on the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition launched by Kocharian following last February’s disputed presidential election. They also cite the presence of key Kocharian loyalists in Sarkisian’s government and security apparatus.
“That is absolute nonsense,” said Kocharian. “If that was the case, Ter-Petrosian would most probably be in prison now for his criminal activities. By the way, I would thereby rectify my 1998 mistake.”
“And, of course, Turkey’s president would definitely not be invited to watch football in Yerevan,” he added in a jibe at Sarkisian.
The new Armenian president officially invited his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul to visit Yerevan and watch the first-ever match between the national football teams of Armenia and Turkey scheduled for September 6. Sarkisian reaffirmed the offer in an article published by the “The Wall Street Journal” on Wednesday. “Thus we will announce a new symbolic start in our relations,” he said, comparing the move to the “ping-pong diplomacy” of the 1970s that ushered in a historic thaw in U.S.-Chinese relations.
Ter-Petrosian echoed the opposition speculation about Kocharian’s continuing influence on government affairs during his most recent rally in Yerevan on Friday. “One is left to presume that either Serzh Sarkisian is not in control of the situation and Robert Kocharian is continuing to govern the country, or … is unable to get rid of the mutual bonds of the kleptocratic system,” he said.
In his speech, Ter-Petrosian also came up with a damning indictment of Kocharian’s ten-year track record in power. He again accused his successor of rigging elections, trampling on human rights, deepening government corruption and orchestrating the March 1 deadly clashes in Yerevan between opposition protesters and security forces.
“The annals of history will remember and characterize him with only one sentence: A certain usurper named Robert Kocharian, having illegally seized the post of president of the republic, began and ended his rule with bloodshed, turned Armenia into a bandit state, and spurned an opportunity for a pro-Armenian solution to the Karabakh problem,” charged Ter-Petrosian.
Kocharian was equally scathing in responding to the attack, denouncing Ter-Petrosian as a “petty, malicious person” who “never had the dignity to lose like a man.” He said he will soon publish a book that will list his achievements contrasting with hardship suffered by Armenia during Ter-Petrosian’s presidency.
“That will be pure statistics without emotions,” Kocharian told Mediamax. “It contains answers to all questions about the efficiency of my work. Any country and any president would be proud of such a pace of development.”
“It would be amusing to publish a similar book based on factual materials of Ter-Petrosian’s years in power,” he said, recalling the first years of Armenia’s independence blighted by the war with Azerbaijan and broader regional turmoil.
Kocharian cited the abundance of cars, restaurants and cafes to stress the contrast between Armenia’s economic situations now and during the turbulent 1990s. “If [Ter-Petrosian] bothers to raise his head, he will see the nice windows of shops, cafes and restaurants and many other interesting things,” he said. “And if he makes a little more efforts he may recall that none of that existed during his rule. The asphalt was potholed and the streets were dark. And I don’t want to mention shops, cafes and restaurant to avoid spoiling the mood of our citizens.”