In an interview with the Mediamax news agency released on Tuesday, Kocharian rejected a widespread view, shared by pro-government politicians, that the Armenian economy contracted sharply last year because it had grown too dependent on the once booming construction sector.
He insisted that the construction boom, which came to an end in late 2008, was driven by objective factors. Kocharian also claimed that the government could have averted the 2009 slump in construction had it maintained “huge” demand in new housing and office space.
Armen Rustamian, the de facto head of Dashnaktsutyun’s governing body in Armenia, said Kocharian presented “irrefutable facts” and suggested a correct remedy for bringing the country out of the economic crisis. “He is telling the truth,” Rustamian told RFE/RL. “Those are the real figures. Are the current authorities denying that? No.”
“True, not every person can afford to buy an apartment. But there was demand and it was used,” he said. Kocharian is right to urge the administration of President Serzh Sarkisian to support housing demand and take other measures that would boost the construction sector, added Rustamian.
The sector was a key driving force behind Armenia’s double-digit economic growth that preceded the crisis. The current government, opposition forces other than Dashnaktsutyun as well as Western donors believe that its renewed robust growth hinges on, among other things, a greater diversification of the Armenian economy.
Hrant Bagratian, a former prime minister and senior member of the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), reaffirmed on Thursday his rejection of Kocharian’s statements. “The economic crisis in 2009 was so acute because of his irresponsible, needless and unnecessary construction,” Bagratian told a news conference.
Bagratian argued that the pre-crisis construction boom was concentrated in the center of Yerevan and mainly resulted in luxury apartments and expensive office space which he said cost a total of $3 billion. “That $3 billion has not served to spur the country’s development,” he said, again alleging that Kocharian personally benefited from that through secret ownership of local construction firms.
The HAK leader again claimed that as many as 12,000 newly apartments have yet to find buyers. “Judging from the interview, Kocharian’s main concern is to sell them,” he said.
Kocharian’s remarks have stoked speculation about that the ex-president’s political comeback. Newspapers sympathetic to the HAK have for months claimed that he has set his sights on the post of prime minister and that Dashnaktsutyun strongly supports his return to power.
The nationalist party was one of Kocharian’s staunchest political allies throughout is decade-long presidency. It pulled out of Armenia’s current governing coalition in April last year in protest against President Serzh Sarkisian’s conciliatory policy on Turkey.
Rustamian insisted that Dashnaktsutyun is not plotting to return to government together with Kocharian. “We absolutely don’t condition our policy and our steps with that,” he said. “It is up to Kocharian to decide what to do. We decide our actions on our own and will carry them out on our own.”