A group of members of the Prosperous Party of Armenia (BHK) led by embattled tycoon Gagik Tsarukian recently met with the Armenian prime minister to discuss “problems related to small and medium-sized enterprises”, a senior party member confirmed on Wednesday.
Talking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun), Naira Zohrabian, the secretary of the BHK parliamentary faction, declined to elaborate on the agenda of the meeting with Hovik Abrahamian or name the party members who participated in it.
The meeting with Prime Minister Abrahamian, a senior member of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) who is also in-laws with Tsarukian, took place against the backdrop of a government crackdown against the BHK that included detentions of several members and inspections of some of the businesses belonging to Tsarukian loyalists. Earlier this month Abrahamian himself ordered members of his government to look into “unverified reports” implicating Tsarukian in large-scale tax evasion.
What many BHK members described as political reprisals followed an angry speech by President Serzh Sarkisian at the meeting of senior members of his ruling HHK on February 12 when he described Tsarukian as a man of low intellectual ability who was “evil” for the country and had to be excluded from the political process. Sarkisian was apparently irked by Tsarukian’s earlier “ultimatum” to give up a planned constitutional reform or face large-scale street protests. Many in the opposition camp in Armenia believe Sarkisian plans the reform to be able to stay in power after leaving his presidential post in 2018. Sarkisian himself has repeatedly denied the assumption, stressing that the reform is needed for the further democratization of Armenia and strengthening of its political system.
After several days of a tense standoff, Tsarukian reportedly met with Sarkisian and shortly after that unconfirmed meeting he came up with a statement advocating a “peaceful way” of settling disputes.
After those conciliatory remarks the BHK has been vague on its further opposition to the Sarkisian government that appears to be adamant in its demand that Tsarukian quit politics.
The BHK plans to hold its “extraordinary” convention on March 5 and, according to Zohrabian, Tsarukian, who has not been seen in public in recent days, is going to attend the event. Neither Zohrabian nor other representatives of the BHK have disclosed any details of the agenda of the upcoming convention.
Earlier, some Armenian media alleged that Tsarukian may step down as BHK leader soon, becoming “honorary chairman” of the party with no real instruments to influence its policies.