Former President Robert Kocharian gave a bleak assessment of the state of affairs in Armenia as he lambasted Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian in unusually strong terms on Monday.
In his first public statement in almost a year that will rekindle speculation about his possible political comeback, Kocharian again accused the current government of mismanaging the Armenian economy.
The verbal attack came in response to Sarkisian’s latest comments on a continuing crisis in Armenia’s construction sector, the driving force behind robust economic growth registered during Kocharian’s decade-long rule. Speaking at a yearend news conference on Friday, the premier again stated that the Armenian economy had grown excessively dependent on the sector in that period. He described the construction boom as a “bubble” that burst with the onset of the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.
In a statement posted on his unofficial website, 2rd.am, Kocharian said those explanations “have nothing in common with reality.” He blamed the construction slump on a mass out-migration of people from Armenia, high mortgage lending rates resulting from slower growth and “the mood of our citizens.”
“Apathy, a sense of hopelessness, and the absence of faith in the country’s future have reached a point where they are becoming a factor steadily influencing people’s behavior and motivation,” said the man who governed the country from 1998-2008. “Surveys show that as much as 40 percent of Armenia’s population intends to move to other countries for good at the first opportunity. A person inclined to emigrate never acquires real estate in a country or city he wants to leave. The same is true for setting up a business.”
Kocharian went on to assert that the current government is therefore solely responsible for the construction crisis. “If the prime minister does not understand this, then he has experienced a mental degradation. If he knowingly lies and tries to lay the blame on [the late Prime Minister] Andranik Markarian and me, then that is a moral degradation. We are apparently seeing a full combination of mental and moral degradations,” he charged.
“In any case, an inferior prime minister is an inadmissible luxury for the country,” the ex-president added in remarks that will also be construed by many as an attack on his successor, President Serzh Sarkisian.
Tigran Sarkisian was quick to respond to the criticism with thinly veiled sarcasm. “I am very happy that my almost four-hour-long yearend news conference attracted Mr. Kocharian’s attention,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “The more so because I am deeply convinced that more important developments could have also attracted his attention and prompted his evaluations. For example, the presidential and Yerevan municipal elections, Armenia’s Customs Union membership bid, the pension reform and so on.”
“As for his professional assessments of mortgage volumes and the construction sector, I will once again discuss them in a separate analysis later on,” Sarkisian said.
The premier further declared that Armenia’s current leadership had for years served as Kocharian’s “political team and support base.” “I will add that our team, crystalized by Serzh Sarkisian’s efforts, also bears responsibility for what was done and not done during the second president’s tenure,” he said in another jibe a the ex-president.
Kocharian has repeatedly criticized the government’s economic track record in the last three years, signaling his desire to return to the political arena. The 59-year-old native and former leader of the Nagorno-Karabakh is regarded by commentators as the political patron of Gagik Tsarukian, a wealthy businessman leading the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the second largest in parliament. Some of them speculated that the BHK would serve as a platform for Kocharian’s possible comeback.
However, neither Kocharian nor Tsarukian chose to challenge President Serzh Sarkisian in the February 2013 presidential election. “I myself had designated the current president as my successor, and his desire to get reelected is understandable,” Kocharian said in a January 2013 interview with the Mediamax news agency.
The ex-president was among dignitaries who attended Sarkisian’s inauguration for a second term in April. The ceremony was boycotted by the Armenian opposition as well as Tsarukian and some BHK lawmakers. Still, the BHK leader said afterwards that his party is not in opposition to the Sarkisian administration despite regularly criticizing government policies.
Kocharian made a rare public appearance on December 26 at a ceremony outside Yerevan which Tsarukian organized in his capacity as chairman of the Armenian National Olympic Committee. Tsarukian handed awards to prominent Armenian athletes as well as Kocharian. Underscoring the ambiguous status of his party, the tycoon raised a toast to President Sarkisian during the event.