Friday, May 26, 2006

Dashnak Leader Blasts Chief Armenian Prosecutor

RFE/RL Armenia Report - 05/26/2006
By Emil Danielyan

A top leader of the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) has lashed out at Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian for reportedly creating a political party which he believes is intent on bribing its way into Armenia's next parliament.

The attack by Hrant Markarian, a key member of Dashnaktsutyun's governing Bureau, is the latest salvo in the nationalist party's intensifying confrontation with Hovsepian. Observers attribute it to unfolding preparations for next year's parliamentary election in which the ambitious prosecutor intends to play a major part.

`The current prosecutor of the Republic of Armenia has no right to create a party. Neither directly, nor indirectly,' Markarian said in an interview with the `Iravunk' newspaper published on Friday.

`Woe betide the people, woe betide the state whose [chief] prosecutor is creating a party in a direct or indirect way,' he added. `This is the end of everything.'

Markarian was clearly referring to the recently created Assembly for Armenia party which is rapidly opening branches across the country. Levon Khachatrian, one of the party's founding leaders and a close friend of Hovsepian's, told RFE/RL earlier this month that it managed to recruit 11,500 members in less than three weeks and plans to almost double its membership in the coming weeks. Khachatrian expressed confidence that the Assembly for Armenia `will have a majority in parliament and form the government' as a result of the 2007 election.

Hovsepian and his loyalists have repeatedly insisted that he has no connection with the party that comprises over a dozen wealthy parliamentarians with close ties to the Armenian government. But many politicians and commentators think otherwise.

Markarian claimed that the Assembly for Armenia and other pro-establishment groups set up in recent months will primarily rely on vote bribes during the legislative polls. He complained that `the criminal underworld is also given a role during elections' held in Armenia.

The harsh criticism came after a series of reports in the Dashnaktsutyun-controlled media implicating the Prosecutor-General's Office in allegedly illegal activities in the central Aragatsotn region governed by a senior member of Dashnaktsutyun. The Yerkir-Media television station reported last week that prosecutors have raided public schools in the regional capital Ashtarak to inspect their financial and other activities. The channel condemned the action as politically motivated.

And on Friday the Dashnaktsutyun weekly `Yerkir' published an article accusing regional prosecutors of illegally meddling in a long-running dispute over the ownership of a local restaurant. The property is claimed by a U.S. citizen of Armenian descent who has won several court rulings in his favor.

One of the Aragatsotn districts, Aparan, is known as the stronghold of Hovsepian, who is the unofficial leader of the influential Nig-Aparan organization uniting prominent natives of the area.

The bespectacled soft-spoken prosecutor, who has been linked with a number of large businesses, underlined his political clout in May 2005 when he organized a huge circle dance around Armenia's highest mountain. The event, attended by hundreds of thousands of Armenians, fueled speculation that Hovsepian is ready to challenge Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian for the right to succeed President Robert Kocharian in 2008.

Incidentally, Markarian indicated in the `Iravunk' interview that Dashnaktsutyun will not endorse Sarkisian if he runs for president and will likely field its own candidate instead. The Iranian-born politician further reiterated his critical assessment of the state of affairs in Armenia, singling out endemic government corruption. He claimed that the country's `entire state apparatus' has made sure that officials affiliated with Dashnaktsutyun have no `real possibility' to tackle the problem.

`We are a minority inside a government which we are trying to convince to launch a fight against itself,' said Markarian.

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