Former President Serzh Sarkisian branded Armenia’s current leaders “irresponsible populists” and said he is not afraid of being by arrested by them in rare public remarks publicized late on Wednesday.
A short video circulated by several media outlets showed Sarkisian talking to young members of his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) at its headquarters in Yerevan. One of those activists accused the authorities of persecuting their political opponents and wondered if he fears arrest.
Sarkisian laughed before answering the question. “If have been afraid since 1988,” he said, recalling his role in the war with Azerbaijan. “I was afraid of losing a part of our homeland, Nagorno-Karabakh …But together with tens of thousands of patriots, looking that fear in the eyes, we have managed overcome that fear with the results of the war known to you.”
“I am also afraid now, I am afraid of irresponsible populists’ policy ruinous for our country,” he went on. “But I have no fears regarding myself. If my arrest makes the people glad and happy, if [the killings of] March 1 [2008 and October 27  are deemed fully solved through my arrest, if my arrest neutralizes dangers threatening our country and puts Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations back on the right track, then let them arrest me.”
“If my absence from the society helps the economic revolution gain strong momentum and the flow of repatriates to Armenia intensifies so much that we will be proud of that, then let them arrest me,” added the ex-president who ruled the country from 2008-2018.
A senior member of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s My Step alliance, Alen Simonian, rebutted the verbal attack on Thursday. “Serzh Sarkisian is a chronic liar,” he charged. “He has lied for years, for decades.”
“Let him speak up more often,” Simonian told RFE/RL’s Armenians service. “Let him remind all people of who he was and what kind of government he headed.”
He also brushed aside Sarkisian’s claim that unlike the country’s current rulers he “never changed by decisions” while in power. Simonian argued in particular that Sarkisian broke his pledges not to stay in power after completing his second presidential term in April 2018.
Sarkisian’s attempt to extend his rule by becoming prime minister after turning Armenia into a parliamentary republic sparked nationwide mass street protests led by Pashinian. The protests known as the “Velvet Revolution” forced him to resign on April 23, 2018.
The 65-year-old ex-president, who remains the leader of the former ruling HHK, has kept a low profile since his resignation. The videotaped remarks are his longest public statement made to date.
Some of Sarkisian’s relatives, cronies and political allies were prosecuted on corruption charges following the dramatic regime change. Also, his predecessor and erstwhile ally, Robert Kocharian, was arrested in July 2018 on coup and bribery charges which he rejects as politically motivated.
The HHK has also alleged political motives behind most of these high-profile cases. The authorities deny that.
Senior HHK representatives as well as Sarkisian’s formerly influential son-in-law, Mikael Minasian, claimed in September that the authorities are planning to arrest Sarkisian as well. The latter has not been charged with any crimes so far.