ARF Calls for Calm and National Unity
BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
YEREVAN—The war of words escalated in Armenia Friday as two one-time allies, President Serzh Sarkisian and the Prosperous Armenia Party leader Gagik Tsarukian, publicly attacked each other with the latter calling for immediate regime change after the president lashed out on Thursday and relieved Tsarukian from his post in the National Security Council.
Responding to the president’s unusual remarks during the Republican Party of Armenia’s executive council session on Thursday, during which Sarkisian called Tsarukian’s political activities a “circus,” calling him ignorant and incapable of leading, the Prosperous Armenia Party’s leader called on the citizens of Armenia to mobilize and take to the streets and change the current regime through early presidential elections.
“I am taking up the gauntlet and am going to fight till the victory,” said Tsarukian at an emergency meeting with senior PAP officials. “A new situation has surfaced since yesterday and it requires a solution. I believe that the only solution is a complete regime change through early presidential elections,”
Tsarukian said that his remarks were directed at the people of Armenia and not at one individual. This was in contrast to Sarkisian’s statements Thursday, where he claimed that his remarks were directed at one person: “a pseudo-political phenomenon called Gagik Tsarukian.”
The apparent war declared by the two powerful political figures in Armenia has escalated the political turmoil and threatens the fragile domestic situation in the country, which continues to be threatened by attack from Azerbaijan and aggravated tensions along the border.
In his remarks, Sarkisian leveraged his executive powers to direct various state institutions to investigate alleged tax evasion and criminal conduct by Tsarukian. In his turn, Tsarukian welcomed the investigation and said he would expose the Sarkisian regime’s actions, which have resulted in the growth of Armenia’s foreign debt and has forced Armenian citizens to abandon their homeland. He also accused Sarkisian and his supporters of stealing “billions of dollars” from the people
What sparked this tension was Tsarukian’s remarks last week at a conference of non-ruling party members where he called for regime change and accused Sarkisian of using the upcoming Constitutional reforms as mechanism to continue his rule and ensure that his party remains in power. Earlier this week, Artak Khachatrian, a member of parliament from Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party was beaten, kidnapped and then dumped on the street. PAP officials accused the government of staging the attack.
In his remarks Friday, Tsarukian alleged that Sarkisian had offered him the ceremonial presidency envisioned under the new constitution in return for his and his party’s support of the reforms being advanced by the regime. Tsarukian said that he “categorically” rejected the president’s “anti-state” proposal reiterating his claim that the reform process was a means for the authorities to remain in power.
Following his statement, Tsarukian, who did not specify a date for a public rally, met with former president Levon Ter-Petrosian and the leader of the Heritage party Raffi Hovannisian to discuss next steps in their campaign to overthrow the regime.
Meanwhile, speaking with Yerkir.am Friday, the political representative of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation Bureau Armen Rustamian warned that the recent political tensions have entered a new and dangerous stage and called for national unity in the face of growing tension on Armenia’s borders and the upcoming centennial of the Armenian Genocide.
“The growing political debate is entering a new stage of heightened intolerance, personal attacks, and dangerous confrontations. This greatly undermines the security of both the country and its people,” said Rustamian.
He went on to say that the recent statements of both the Prosperous Armenia Party and the Republican Party confirm the ARF’s grave concerns about the political landscape of the country. He stressed that the separation of business and politics and the proper implementation of the rule of law are necessary in the social and political life of Armenia.
“In these difficult and dangerous times full of both internal and external challenges, socio-economic problems and a tense border situation, each of us has the responsibility to approach these issues in a sober, mutually tolerant, and highly political manner. Today, when our borders are under constant enemy attack and we as a nation prepare to commemorate the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, we are all required to show the world that we are united as a people. We [the ARF-D] are convinced that the present tensions and conflict are not in the best interest of our state and nation. We instead call for wisdom, calm and unity,” concluded Rustamian.
This quickly unfolding scenario in Armenia threatens the tenuous calm in the country. Neither Sarkisian nor Tsarukian have the right to speak about the other’s amassed wealth, because both men, who not long ago drank from the same cup, have leveraged their vast resources to “win” elections and both are responsible for the dire socio-economic situation that is dragging the people of Armenia to ruin.
Rustamian’s call for calm and national unity is prudent and welcome. The ruling regime and the president must understand that they cannot intimidate factions or individuals who are in opposition. At the same time, opposition forces that are seeking change and often speak in the name of Armenia’s population, must abandon the tired rhetoric of demanding regime change and actually put forth viable alternatives that clearly outline their vision for change and set them apart from that of the regime they want to topple.
In the end, the people of Armenia remain the victims of this ongoing power plays. Sarkisian and Tsarukian publically calling each other thieves is not going to provide relief to the lay Armenian citizen who long ago has lost hope for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that the current Constitution of Armenia claims to guarantee.