Former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian voiced support for opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian’s continuing street protests and criticized President Serzh Sarkisian’s response to last month’s disputed presidential election on Wednesday.
In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Oskanian also said he is looking forward to leading the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) in the upcoming mayoral elections in Yerevan.
“Six hundred thousand people expressed their protest against the current authorities and demanded changes of persons, approaches and policy, and right now the carrier of those changes is Raffi Hovannisian,” he said. “He has the moral right to that and it is up to him to decide what to do with those votes.
“As a citizen of Armenia, I would really like to see some manifestation of the people’s will somewhere. How can that happen? What solutions can there be? It’s hard to tell.”
Oskanian revealed that like many other politicians and public figures critical of the government he has visited Hovannisian in Yerevan Liberty Square where the main opposition presidential candidate has been on hunger strike since March 10. “I believe that what he is doing is totally justified and legitimate,” he added in remarks which he said reflect his personal opinion and may not reflect the official BHK stance.
One week before starting his hunger strike Hovannisian visited the BHK headquarters in Yerevan to meet with the party’s top leader Gagik Tsarukian and discuss the possibility of their post-election cooperation. No concrete agreements were apparently reached at that meeting also attended by Oskanian.
In an earlier written statement, the BHK, which did not field or endorse any presidential candidates, reacted ambiguously to the Armenian authorities’ handling of the February 18 election. While seemingly justifying post-election street protests staged by Hovannisian, Tsarukian’s party did not say whether it accepts official vote results that gave victory to President Serzh Sarkisian.
Oskanian on Wednesday criticized Sarkisian for indicating that he will make no sweeping changes in the government as a result of the presidential ballot. The ex-minister said even the official vote results should have prompted the president to take “drastic actions” to address popular disaffection with his rule.
“If there is no solution on the street, in effect the country will draw no benefits from all this and this stagnation will continue for the next five years,” Oskanian claimed grimly. “I think this is very worrisome.”
Sarkisian argued on Monday that there is no need to significantly change the make-up of his cabinet because it succeeded in meeting a 7 percent economic growth target set by him for last year. He said the government will be sacked only if it fails to ensure that the Armenian economy continues expanding just as rapidly.
Oskanian questioned the credibility of the official GDP growth figures. He said that Sarkisian should have set instead concrete targets for poverty reduction and higher tax revenues and foreign investment.
The Syrian-born ex-minister has strongly criticized the government’s economic record since leaving office in 2008. He stepped up that criticism after joining the BHK a year ago. He advocated the party’s subsequent withdrawal from Sarkisian’s coalition government.
Later in 2012, Armenian law-enforcement authorities launched controversial criminal proceedings against Oskanian connected with the Civilitas Foundation, a Yerevan think-tank founded by him in 2008. Oskanian was stripped of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution and charged with money laundering last fall. He has strongly denied the charges as baseless and politically motivated.
The BHK announced last week that Oskanian will top its list of candidates for the May 5 elections of Yerevan’s municipal assembly empowered to appoint the city’s mayors. Oskanian referred to those polls as another opportunity to end the ruling Republican Party’s “political monopoly.” “The mayor is a president within the republic and Yerevan is a state within a state,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.