Nineteen months after being toppled by a popular uprising, former President Serzh Sarkisian has accused Armenia’s current leadership of jeopardizing democracy and stifling dissent in the country.
Sarkisian lambasted Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian’s government as he addressed late on Wednesday a congress of the European People’s Party (EPP), a coalition of Europe’s leading center-right political forces, held in Croatia’s capital Zagreb. It was his first public speech since his dramatic resignation in April 2018.
Sarkisian claimed that Pashinian’s political team has failed to bring about “revolutionary changes” promised by it.
“Furthermore, dangerous developments threatening democracy are taking place in the country,” he said. “The foundations of constitutionality have been undermined, and the principle of separation of powers is not respected. There are many facts of a breach of judicial independence and political persecutions are underway.
“Aggressive actions against opposition media and activists have become periodical. Intolerance and hate speech have reached worrisome levels.”
Sarkisian himself faced similar accusations from his political opponents and media not controlled by him when he ruled Armenia from 2008-2018. They say that he rigged elections, kept a tight rein over courts and enriched himself and his entourage during that time.
Sarkisian’s attempt to extend his decade-long rule after turning the country into a parliamentary republic trigged unprecedented mass protests known as the “Velvet Revolution.” He has kept a low profile since losing power as a result of those protests led by Pashinian.
“Yes, we too were to blame for what happened in Armenia,” Sarkisian said in his speech. He said he chose to quit power “peacefully” to prevent bloodshed and “spare the state dangerous upheavals.”
“Last year I resigned so that my people try to build an even better state, but today the voices of those who accuse him of ceding power to populists are becoming increasingly vocal,” added the 65-year-old ex-president. “And I am here now to voice those concerns to protect the faith and expectations which thousands of people had during the change of government.”
A senior member of Pashinian’s My Step alliance, Alen Simonian, scoffed at these statements. “The very fact that he is not in power anymore and hastily reads out a two-minute speech in an empty hall alone is a revolutionary breakthrough for Armenia,” Simonian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Simonian claimed that Sarkisian’s latest verbal attack on the current government was motivated by his fears of arrest and prosecution.
In rare public remarks made in Yerevan late last month, Sarkisian insisted that he is “not afraid” of being arrested by the authorities.
Some of Sarkisian’s relatives, cronies and political allies have been prosecuted on corruption charges since his ouster. 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 former ruling Republican Party of Armenia, which is still headed by Sarkisian, has also alleged political motives behind most of these high-profile cases. The authorities deny that. They claim to have already eradicated “systemic” government corruption which they say was one of the main foundations of Sarkisian’s regime.