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Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian on Monday dismissed his predecessor Seyran Ohanian’s increasingly harsh criticism of Armenia’s government voiced during the ongoing parliamentary election campaign.

Ohanian began criticizing the government shortly after he was replaced by Sargsian in October. He went on to team up with opposition parties led by former Foreign Ministers Vartan Oskanian and Raffi Hovannisian to run in the April 2 parliamentary elections. Their alliance claimed late last week that regime change is imminent because Armenians are fed up with “systemic corruption” and injustice in their country.

“I am following [Ohanian’s] election campaign a little and am very surprised by many things,” Sargsian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in an interview. “I am surprised by the overt fight against the Republican Party. Mr. Ohanian has personally stated that they are going to fight against the Republican Party.”

“I am surprised by his readiness for a warm dialogue with a number of forces as I am aware of his past relationships with them,” he said, refusing to name those opposition groups.

“Frankly, I am very surprised by his claim that he built the army practically from scratch,” Sargsian went on. “I served in the army before he became [defense] minister. I remember very well the evolutionary development of our army at different stages.

“But if that helps him win votes and look stronger in the public’s eyes, it’s his choice. I would not do that.”

Armenia - Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian (L) and Vigen Sargsian, the chief of the presidential staff, inspect Armenian troops, 11Sep2015.
Armenia - Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian (L) and Vigen Sargsian, the chief of the presidential staff, inspect Armenian troops, 11Sep2015.

The 41-year-old minister stressed at the same time that Ohanian’s opposition activities are “normal” because “it’s not the first case of differences between the current and former defense ministers” of Armenia.

“It is every citizen’s constitutional right to run and fight [in an election.] Every person has the right take different sides depending on whether or not they hold a government position today,” Sargsian added in another jibe at his predecessor.

Some Armenian opposition leaders have dismissed Ohanian’s current rhetoric as disingenuous, saying that he served as a key member of President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration for more than eight years and never spoke out against the state of affairs in Armenia deplored by him now.

Sargsian, who previously ran the presidential staff, tops the list of election candidates nominated by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). This fact has led some to speculate that he was handpicked to eventually succeed Serzh Sarkisian as the country’s most powerful man.

Asked whether he is ready to be the president’s successor, Sargsian said: “Thank God, in the last 25 years we have managed to form a society and a system where successors are elected by the people. I think that in that sense it is premature to try to understand now who could be a more effective leader some time later.”

Armenia - Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian is interviewed by RFE/RL, 20 March 2017.
Armenia - Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian is interviewed by RFE/RL, 20 March 2017.

Sargsian insisted that he would like to stay on as defense minister if the HHK wins the upcoming elections. “If I succeed in this position I will consider myself a very happy person,” he said. “If I fail, nothing else will interest or tempt me.”

The U.S.-educated defense chief further reaffirmed President Sarkisian’s statements that Prime Minister Karen Karapetian will retain his post in case of an HHK victory in the polls.

Karapetian is leading the HHK’s election campaign despite not being on its list of candidates. Sargsian is one of the few senior party figures who regularly accompany him on campaign trips.

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