The businessmen, Khachatur Sukiasian and Gurgen Arsenian, have supported Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian ever since he swept to power in the 2018 “velvet revolution.” They have remained loyal to him even after Armenia’s defeat in last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh which precipitated the snap elections scheduled for June 20.
Sukiasian used to be a staunch supporter of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, having made his fortune during the latter’s 1991-1998 rule. He openly backed Ter-Petrosian in the February 2008 presidential election in which the ex-president was the main opposition candidate.
Sukiasian fled Armenia in March 2008 to escape arrest on charges stemming from post-election violence in Yerevan. He returned to the country in 2009 and rarely criticized then President Serzh Sarkisian in the following years.
Arsenian led a small pro-government party and held a parliament seat in the 2000s when Armenia was ruled by Robert Kocharian, Sarkisian’s predecessor currently challenging Pashinian. He was among a handful of entrepreneurs who imported fuel to the country at the time.
Shortly after coming to power Pashinian repeatedly pledged to separate business from politics. He declared that wealthy Armenian entrepreneurs no longer need to hold parliament seats in order to protect and expand their assets.
Hrachya Hakobian, a senior Civil Contract member and Pashinian’s brother-in-law, on Tuesday denied any contradiction between those pledges and Sukiasian’s and Arsenian’s inclusion on the ruling party’s electoral slate. He said he is not sure that they can now be regarded as businessmen.
“Khachatur Sukiasian has engaged in politics for many years,” Hakobian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “He was even persecuted for his political views during the 2008 post-election processes. In my view, it’s now hard to tell whether Khachatur Sukiasian is a politician or businessman.”
Edmon Marukian, the leader of the opposition Bright Armenia Party, dismissed this explanation. “If businesspeople are again brought to the parliament it will mean that yet another promise given during the revolution has been broken,” he said.
As recently as in November 2020, the pro-government leadership of the current Armenian parliament accused Gagik Tsarukian, a tycoon leading the opposition Prosperous Armenia Party, of violating a constitutional provision that bars lawmakers from engaging in entrepreneurial activity. It asked the Constitutional Court to strip Tsarukian of his parliament seat. The court refused to do that.