Government officials pointedly declined to invite businessman and opposition leader Gagik Tsarukian to a weekend investment conference in Armenia’s central Kotayk province where he has long been a leading economic player.
The government-organized forum attended by Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian brought together central and local government officials and entrepreneurs. It was aimed at promoting investments in the region north of Yerevan.
Tsarukian, who has dozens of businesses in Kotayk, was conspicuously absent from the event that featured a keynote address by Pashinian. The organizers invited instead his mother Roza, who is involved in more small-scale entrepreneurial activity in the area.
Romanos Petrosian, the Kotayk governor and a senior member of Pashinian’s Civil Contract party, said that he decided not to extend an invitation to Gagik Tsarukian. He said that the forum was primarily meant to present small and medium-sized business owners with investment opportunities in Kotayk.
“Mr. Tsarukian has been well aware of the province’s business attractions for a long time,” Petrosian told reporters. “That is why I didn’t find it expedient to invite him.”
Kotayk has long been the political stronghold of Tsarukian and his Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the largest parliamentary opposition force. The BHK’s relations with Pashinian and his political team have been tense in recent months. Earlier this year, the pro-government majority in the Armenian parliament threatened to strip the tycoon of his parliament seat, saying that he illegally combines his political activities with business.
The tensions were highlighted during a tightly contested mayoral election held in the provincial town of Abovian in early June. The town’s incumbent Mayor Vahagn Gevorgian affiliated with the BHK narrowly defeated his main challenger representing the ruling party.
Incidentally, Gevorgian was also not invited to Saturday’s forum held in the resort town of Tsaghkadzor. Also snubbed was Sevak Mikaelian, the mayor of the provincial capital Hrazdan. Mikaelian’s father Sasun is a prominent political of Pashinian who is at loggerheads with Governor Petrosian.
Petrosian claimed that the two mayors as well as the heads of smaller local communities were not invited to the gathering because there was no room for them in the conference hall.
The conference featured the presentations of 25 investment projects for Kotayk. The governor expressed confidence that they will be put into practice.
For his part, Economy Minister Tigran Khachatrian would not say how many such projects have been launched in Kotayk and other parts of Armenia since the 2018 “Velvet Revolution” that brought Pashinian to power. He said that more time is need for the Pashinian government’s economic policies to produce concrete results.
“The average investment project cannot be implemented within six months,” Khachatrian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “All such projects require at least two or three years of preparation and implementation.”