Businessman Gagik Tsarukian made clear on Tuesday that his Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the second largest in parliament, will not declare itself an opposition force despite regularly criticizing government policies.
“The BHK cannot be in opposition because there are already three or four opposition parties and there cannot be five or six such parties,” Tsarukian told journalists during the high-profile consecration of a big church built by him in Abovian, a town 15 kilometers north of Yerevan.
“The BHK fully stands for what is good for the country and the people. We have been guided by that principle … I entered politics not for personal gain or flattery but for strengthening the country and making it prosperous,” he said.
The BHK has referred to itself as an “alternative” to Armenia’s current government ever since leaving President Serzh Sarkisian’s ruling coalition a year ago. Following that exit, it increasingly criticized the government’s economic record in what was widely seen as a prelude to Tsarukian’s participation in the February 2013 presidential election. However, the tycoon unexpectedly dropped out of the presidential race in December, raising more questions about his party’s status and objectives.
Some senior BHK figures, notably former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, have recently called for the party to officially declare that it is in opposition to the Sarkisian administration. Oskanian complained late last month that the party’s equivocal stance has “created hurdles for us.”
Tsarukian underlined that ambiguity by inviting both Sarkisian and his mutually antagonistic predecessors, Robert Kocharian and Levon Ter-Petrosian, to the church ceremony led by Catholicos Garegin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Aleksandr Lukashenko, the autocratic president of Belarus and a friend of Tsarukian’s, was also in attendance together with his young son.
Kocharian, who is widely regarded as the BHK leader’s political patron, accepted the invitation. He was reluctant to answer journalists’ questions outside the newly built Church of Surp Hovannes (St. John the Baptist). Asked whether he plans to return to active politics, Kocharian smiled, “Do you want that?”
Ter-Petrosian did not show up, sending his wife Lyudmila and two senior members of his opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) to the ceremony instead.
Ter-Petrosian has actively courted the BHK over the past year, hoping to capitalize on Tsarukian’s apparent rift with Sarkisian. The HAK leader defended that strategy, which has alienated many of his loyalists, as recently as on April 15. He insisted that Tsarukian is keen to sever his remaining ties to the ruling establishment.
The beefy tycoon, who holds sway in Abovian and surrounding towns and villages, gave no such indications on Tuesday. He made a point of publicly hugging Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian, a frequent target of BHK criticism, during the ceremony. Tsarukian also said that his invitations sent to the leaders of all major Armenian factions were aimed at promoting national unity.
In a speech at the ceremony, Tsarukian expressed hope that the consecration of the Abovian cathedral will be a “great signal for kindness, tolerance, honesty and mutual love” in the country. “This will be my first request to God in this church,” he said.