Sargsyan Forms New Ruling Party

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–At a highest level gathering of his supporters–the powerful Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan announced on Saturday the establishment of a new ruling party in Armenia which he said will serve as the main support base for the country’s president and consolidate its all "centrist" forces.

"Among all political forces that have backed up President Robert Kocharian this should be the one upon which he will lean the most," Sargsyan told hundreds of activists of the embryonic Republican Party of Armenia–which has been taken over by his Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh war veterans. The meeting was called to prepare for the founding congress of the Republican Party a hitherto small nationalist group.

"The president sees the Republican Party as the force … on which he is going to particularly rely for support. I’m saying this on the president’s behalf," Sargsyan said. He added that the new Republicans are committed to the implementation of President Kocharian’s agenda and must "assume responsibility" for his policies.

Sargsyan and his Yerkrapah Union have played a crucial role in Kocharian’s rise to power in February after the forced resignation of Levon Ter-Petrosyan. Yerkrapah currently controls the parliament and many local authorities and is represented with several ministers in the cabinet of Prime Minister Armen Darbinian.

Sargsyan said the Republican Party will adopt a "centrist" ideology and reject "wild liberalism," which he said has been espoused by Armenia’s post-Communist authorities since 1990. "Having ridden ourselves from the Communist socialism–we threw ourselves into the abyss of wild liberalism. You all know what the result has been," he claimed.

Sargsyan further said the new ruling party should fill up the "empty centrist field" in Armenia by consolidating all supporters. He said the Republican Party will also contribute to the development of the country’s political spectrum–which should mean the existence of "three to four" big political parties. "We can’t afford the luxury of having dozens of [small] parties," he explained.

In Sargsyan’s words–the Yerkrapah Union will remain as a separate non-governmental organization protecting interests of the war veterans. He said the union’s "politicized part," some 1000 out of its roughly 6000 members–have already joined the Republican Party. "The Republican Party thereby legitimizes their politicization," he argued.

In another significant development–the defense minister hailed new international proposals to end the decade-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The new plan put forward earlier this month by Russian–American and French mediators from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe calls for the formation of a "common state" between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. Sargsyan said the plan represents a "serious opportunity to resume the [deadlocked] peace process."

Sargsyan was among those Armenian leaders who defied ex-president Ter-Petrosyan by rejecting the OSCE’s previous plan–which implied the ultimate restoration of Azeri sovereignty over the Armenian-populated disputed enclave. The inner-government differences over that plan were the main reason for Ter-Petrosyan’s resignation.

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