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Armenia’s Leadership ‘Not Committed To Democracy’


Armenia - Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian takes part in the virtual "Summit for Democracy" organized by U.S. President Joe Biden, December 9, 2021.

Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and his political team are not committed to turning Armenia into an established democracy, according to a top aide to former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.

In an interview with RFE/RL’s Armenian Service, Levon Zurabian, the deputy chairman of Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) party, singled out ongoing crackdowns on opposition groups that did well in local elections held in December.

“Although the opposition won [in some local communities,] they don’t let it form its [local] governments, using police pressure and hoping that … they can coopt a few people and form their own government,” said Zurabian. “We saw what happened in Vartenis, Parakar and other places.”

“Everywhere it’s clear that these people [ruling Armenia] are not prepared for democracy,” he claimed.

Armenia - Levon Zurabian, deputy chairman of the Armenian National Congress, at a news conference in Yerevan, May 27, 2021.
Armenia - Levon Zurabian, deputy chairman of the Armenian National Congress, at a news conference in Yerevan, May 27, 2021.

In Vartenis, a small town 160 kilometers east of Yerevan, two opposition groups won 14 of the 27 seats in the local council, enough to install their joint candidate as head of the community that also comprises two dozen nearby villages.

The 14 opposition members of the new Vartenis council elected the candidate, Aharon Khachatrian, as community head on December 30. However, police did not allow Khachatrian to take office on January 4, citing a lawsuit filed by the ruling Civil Contract Party.

Another opposition figure in Vartenis was arrested on corruption charges last month. Opposition politicians and human rights campaigners in Yerevan condemned his arrest, saying that it is part of a government crackdown on political figures who defeated Pashinian’s party in some of the three dozen communities that elected their local councils on December 5.

Civil Contract suffered its biggest election setback in Vanadzor, Armenia’s third largest city. It won only 25 percent of the vote there, compared with 39 percent polled by a local bloc led by former Vanadzor Mayor Mamikon Aslanian.

Aslanian was thus well-placed to regain his post. But he was arrested on December 15 on corruption charges rejected by him as politically motivated.

Zurabian also condemned Aslanian’s arrest. “That is not justice. They are punishing him for defeating them,” he said.

Pashinian was among more than 100 world leaders invited to the virtual “Summit for Democracy” organized by U.S. President Joe Biden in December. Addressing the gathering, he pledged to “consolidate democracy” in Armenia.

Armenia - Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian at a press conference in Yerevan, June 10, 2021.
Armenia - Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian at a press conference in Yerevan, June 10, 2021.

In written comments released over the weekend, Ter-Petrosian charged that “Pashinian’s regime” is trying to “hold on to power at all costs.”

The 77-year-old former president also hit out at Armenia’s leading opposition alliances led by two other ex-presidents, Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian. He said that they are doing everything to “seize power” in the country.

Unlike those alliances, Ter-Petrosian’s HAK failed to win any seats in the Armenian parliament in snap elections held in June.

All three ex-presidents hold Pashinian responsible for Armenia’s defeat in the 2020 war with Azerbaijan.

Zurabian insisted on Tuesday that Pashinian and his team lost the “moral right” to govern the country after the six-week war.

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