Tigran Karapetian again rallied supporters the day before his ALM channel was due to end broadcasts in line with a controversial decision made by the National Commission on Television and Radio (HRAH) last month.
Karapetian, who leads a small political party, made little mention of what he considers an unfair decision as he addressed the crowd of several thousand mostly middle-aged and elderly people. Instead, he issued the Armenian authorities with a long list of mainly socioeconomic demands.
Those include the release of all “political prisoners,” the doubling of the national minimum wage, pensions and poverty benefits, sharp tax cuts, and a 7 percent cap on commercial bank lending rates. Karapetian also said that Armenian small businesses must pay a single fixed tax of no more than 10,000 drams ($27) a month.
“If there is no agreement with us [over these demands,] if they don’t show that they are taking steps by February 28, we will gather here on February 28 and will say ‘no’ to these authorities in pre-term elections,” he declared.
“I am in a resolute mood because I have your go-ahead,” the ALM chief told the crowd.
It was not clear if the date is somehow connected with the March 1 third anniversary of deadly post-election violence in Yerevan. Armenia’s largest opposition force led by Levon Ter-Petrosian will likely mark it with a rally in the same location in central Yerevan.
In his most blistering attack yet on the government, Karapetian spoke of unnamed individuals “making money day and night at the expense of working people.” “Their activities can not continue indefinitely,” he said. “They will run away from this country.”
Despite his political ambitions, Karapetian has until now refrained from threatening or calling for leadership change in the country. He has also been careful not to personally attack Armenia’s current and previous presidents in his daily talk shows and televised monologues aired by ALM on a virtually daily basis.
“I’m going for presidential elections and will become president of the republic,” Karapetian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service after his speech. The claim prompted cries of encouragement from ALM fans surrounding him.
Karapetian also denied rumors that he has been offered to buy a 50 percent stake in Yerevan TV, a small pro-government broadcaster that defeated ALM in a controversial tender for a new broadcasting license that was administered by the HRAH. “God forbid,” he sighed, crossing himself. “Believe me, I’m not going to take anything from the authorities.”
This and other tenders held late last year stemmed from Armenia’s ongoing transition to mandatory broadcasting. Armenian media associations and opposition groups say that the administration of President Serzh Sarkisian is using the digitalization process to maintain and even tighten its grip on the political news coverage of just about every Armenian broadcaster. The HRAH denies this.
Also in December, the regulatory body refused to grant a digital frequency to A1+, the country’s leading independent TV station that was forced off the air in 2002. It also refused to renew the license of GALA, another independent broadcaster based in Gyumri, which expires in 2015.
Karapetian set up ALM about a decade ago, after making a fortune in Russia. His populist appeal and folksy demeanor quickly earned the TV channel, accessible to the vast majority of Armenians, a large viewership among mostly working-class people and rural residents.