Former President Robert Kocharian has launched a fresh scathing attack on Armenia’s current leadership, saying that it is deeply unpopular at home and ready to make “disproportionate” concessions to Azerbaijan.
In a weekend interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), Kocharian again accused President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration of economic mismanagement. He claimed that that most Armenians backed radical opposition gunmen that seized a police station in Yerevan in July to demand Sarkisian’s resignation.
“I have been primarily concerned by our public’s reaction to what happened,” he said. “Despite a casualty [suffered by the police,] just one day after [the attack] the armed group’s perception as rebels challenging the ruling regime became dominant within the society.”
“This testifies to people’s mood, their attitude towards the authorities and the pressure exerted on the public consciousness by chronic political, economic and social problems,” added Kocharian. “This is a stern warning to the country’s political system.”
In order to stave off even more serious unrest in the country, he went on, the Sarkisian administration must embark on “radical reforms” that would demonstrate to Armenians that it is possible to effect change through a “legitimate electoral process,” rather than violence.
Thousands of people demonstrated in Yerevan in support of the gunmen during their two-week standoff with law-enforcement authorities, which left three police officers dead. Attendance at those protests declined dramatically after the gunmen laid down their arms on July 31.
Throughout his 1998-2008 presidency, Kocharian himself was accused by his political opponents of rigging elections, jailing opposition activists or ordering violent attacks on them and tolerating widespread government corruption. Western observers reported serious fraud during virtually all national elections held during his rule.
A disputed 2008 presidential election, which formalized the handover of power from Kocharian to Sarkisian, was followed by a harsh crackdown on supporters of the main opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian, who protested against perceived vote rigging. Eight protesters and two police personnel were killed at the time as security forces broke up post-election protests in Yerevan.
In recent years Kocharian has grown increasingly critical of Sarkisian, his handpicked successor and erstwhile ally. His public statements criticizing the current government’s track record have fueled speculation that the ex-president is keen to return to power.
Kocharian insisted through a spokesman in May that he has still not decided whether to return to active politics. He also denied having ties to a new opposition party set up by former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian.
Oskanian pointedly declined to criticize the armed members of the Founding Parliament radical opposition movement for seizing the police compound in Yerevan’s Erebuni district on July 17. He demanded instead that the government make “political” concessions to them.
Founding Parliament is known for its strong oppositions to any major Armenian concessions to Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In the run-up to the Erebuni attack, the nationalist group accused Sarkisian of planning to ensure soon Armenian withdrawal from districts around Karabakh.
In his comments to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Kocharian similarly charged that Yerevan is now ready to make far more concessions than Baku. “That readiness by the Armenian side is disproportionately accentuated, whereas Azerbaijan is not even hinting at concessions on issues that are vital for us,” he said. “This situation angers the publics in Armenia and Karabakh, generates negative expectations from [peace] negotiations and could spread defeatist sentiments.”
Kocharian said that after last April’s outbreak of unusually heavy fighting in and around Karabakh the Armenian side should on the contrary toughen its position on the conflict’s resolution. He said it should specifically demand corresponding changes in the so-called Madrid Principles, a framework peace accord that was first put forward by the U.S., Russian and French mediators in 2007 and has been repeatedly modified since then.
The proposed accord calls for the liberation of virtually all Armenian-controlled districts around Karabakh in return for a future referendum in Karabakh on the disputed territory’s internationally recognized status. It reportedly does not set any time frames for the conduct of such a vote.
Kocharian implied that none of those districts should be given back to Azerbaijan unless the parties and the mediators set a concrete date for the referendum.