Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian defended over the weekend his decision not to join post-election demonstrations held by rival opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian, saying that they never posed a serious threat to Armenia’s government.
Speaking at the founding congress of a new opposition party founded by him, Ter-Petrosian also again defended his controversial strategy of seeking cooperation with the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) of Gagik Tsarukian. He said turning “oligarchs” like Tsarukian against President Serzh Sarkisian is vital for regime change in the country.
“Everyone must understand once and for all that we are a political party, a political force and we join and support solely political processes. In these post-election events we have seen everything but a political process,” Ter-Petrosian said, referring to the anti-government street protests staged by Hovannisian since the February 18 presidential election.
“What should I have joined [Hovannisian’s] campaign for? To pray with [national police chief] Vova Gasparian? Believe it or not, praying with Vova was not my childhood dream,” he added in a scathing attack on Hovannisian’s behavior during an April 9 demonstration against Sarkisian’s inauguration, which ended in clashes with riot police.
Gasparian escorted Hovannisian and some of the protesters to the Armenian Genocide Memorial in the capital immediately after the violence. The two men prayed at the memorial before walking back to the city center together. Their joint appearance angered some Hovannisian supporters and other opposition activists.
Hovannisian declared himself the legitimate election winner immediately after the presidential ballot, the official results of which gave victory to President Sarkisian. Ter-Petrosian, who was Sarkisian’s main challenger in the previous Armenian presidential race, was quick to recognize that “victory.” But he avoided any involvement in the post-election protests, saying that Hovannisian lacks a clear plan of actions.
Hovannisian and his Zharangutyun backed Ter-Petrosian’s 2008 presidential bid. But their relationship with the ex-president and his Armenian National Congress (HAK) alliance seriously deteriorated in the following years.
Ter-Petrosian insisted on Saturday the HAK, Zharangutyun as well as other opposition could and should cooperate in the upcoming municipal elections in Yerevan. He said an opposition victory in the May 5 polls would pave the way for Sarkisian’s removal from power.
HAK representatives insisted as recently as two months ago that changing the government through elections is not possible in Armenia anymore because of a deeply entrenched culture of electoral fraud. They said this is the reason why their opposition bloc did not field any presidential candidates.
Ter-Petrosian delivered a keynote speech on Saturday before being unanimously elected chairman of his newly established party also called the Armenian National Congress (HAK). It mainly comprises members of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), a formerly Ter-Petrosian-led party that governed Armenia from 1990-1998.
Ter-Petrosian and his inner circle decided to set up a new, more closely-knit structure earlier this year after a series of rifts within the HAK alliance. Several parties and prominent opposition figures officially or unofficially quit the bloc last year, protesting against Ter-Petrosian’s desire to form an anti-government alliance with Tsarukian’s BHK. The latter was a key member of Armenia’s coalition government until June 2012.
In his speech, Ter-Petrosian strongly defended his courtship of Tsarukian, insisting that one of the country’s richest men is keen to sever his remaining ties to the ruling establishment. “As long as the rich bourgeoisie and the authorities are closely interconnected, there will be no chance of changing anything in this country,” he declared. “And do not think that we have reached no successes in this endeavor.”
Ter-Petrosian went on to cite the example of Khachatur Sukiasian, a tycoon who backed his 2008 attempt to return to power and lost some of his businesses in an ensuing government crackdown. “Imagine if there are several people [like Sukiasian] or if all of them act like that,” he told more than 1,000 delegates at the HAK party congress. “The authorities will be powerless to fight against them.”
“Gagik Tsarukian has chosen the same path and that person has taken no step that raised doubts about his desire to get away from the authorities,” continued Ter-Petrosian. “He pulled out of the [governing] coalition, didn’t back Serzh Sarkisian in the [presidential] elections, participated in the  parliamentary elections separately, didn’t attend Serzh’s inauguration, and is ready to put up a fight in the municipal elections. How can we repel a force that is contributing to the fight against evil and its weakening?”
Opposition critics of this strategy say that Tsarukian is simply furthering the political agenda of Robert Kocharian, Sarkisian’s predecessor who ordered a deadly crackdown on Ter-Petrosian’s 2008 opposition movement.
Tsarukian, who made much of his fortune during Kocharian’s 1998-2008 rule, was widely expected to challenge Sarkisian in the February 2013 election. However, he unexpectedly pulled out of the presidential race following a confidential meeting with the president in December. The reasons for the move remain unknown.