Saturday, July 01, 2006

Ex-Karabakh Strongman Eyes Seats In Armenian Parliament

RFE/RL Armenia Report - 06/30/2006
By Ruzanna Stepanian

Samvel Babayan, the once powerful ex-commander of Nagorno-Karabakh's army, said on Friday he is confident that his Dashink (Alliance) party will win seats in Armenia's parliament in next year's elections. Babayan also warned that he and his loyalists would not hesitate to use force against those who would try to steal votes from Dashink.

`That our party will be represented [in parliament] is beyond doubt,' he told RFE/RL, attributing his confidence to Dashink's platform and the `young and sound team' surrounding him. He would not be drawn on the number of parliament seats Dashink plans to have in the next National Assembly.

Babayan insisted that he will not form electoral alliances with any other political group, despite claims to the contrary made in the Armenian press over the past year. He also claimed that the Armenian authorities will find it much harder to rig the next elections not least because they will have to deal with Dashink. `There won't be falsifications. There will be a bitter fight,' he said.

`We will resort to all legitimate and illegitimate steps if illegal actions are carried out against us by the government or the opposition,' he added without going into details.

Babayan, who commanded the Karabakh army from 1993-1999, held the founding congress of his party last November just over a year after his unexpected release prison. The 39-year-old retired general was serving a 14-year prison sentence in Karabakh for allegedly masterminding a botched March 2000 attempt on the life of the disputed region's president, Arkady Ghukasian. He never pleaded guilty to the charges.

Political observers have suggested differing explanations for his liberation. Some have speculated that Babayan was set free in return for agreeing to secretly cooperate with President Robert Kocharian and his likely successor, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian. All three men come from Karabakh and led the Armenian-controlled territory during its successful war with Azerbaijan.

Babayan has repeatedly denied such speculation and insists that his party has a neutral stance on the Armenian authorities. He predicted on Friday that the country's main pro-government factions will likely join forces to contest the 2007 elections. `The authorities need to act in a single team because for them divisions will be tantamount to defeat,' he said.

Babayan confirmed the widely held belief that one of the most ambitious pro-government forces, the Prosperous Armenia party of tycoon Gagik Tsarukian, was set up earlier this year to serve as Kocharian's new support base. `The thing is that Gagik Tsarukian and Robert Kocharian's team as a whole are setting up a structure to secure their future,' he said. `This is a fact.'

Babayan further disagreed with those who believe that the Armenian opposition stands no chance of unseating the country's current leadership. `They have that power,' he said. `The results of the 2003 elections show that about 70 percent of the public do not vote for government forces.'

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