YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Prime Minister Tigran Sargsyan bemoaned Armenia’s culture of political intolerance on Thursday, warning that failure to “radically change this atmosphere” could lead to fresh politically motivated assassinations in the country.
Sargsyan issued the stark warning as he commented on the 50th birth anniversary of Vazgen Sarkisian, one of his predecessors gunned down in the October 1999 armed attack on the Armenian parliament. Then parliament speaker Karen Demirchian and six other officials were also shot dead by five obscure gunmen who burst into the National Assembly during its regular question-and-answer session with the government.
“Today is probably an occasion to reflect,” Sargsyan said, opening a weekly session of his cabinet. “Have we learned lessons since the death of Vazgen Sarkisian and the comrades killed with him? Do we realize that intolerance, hatred and malice prepare the ground for new killings? Do we feel responsible for forming an atmosphere of tolerance in the Republic of Armenia?”
“It is the government and the authorities that are primarily responsible for the formation of an atmosphere of solidarity and cooperation for the simple reason that we have serious state levers to form that atmosphere,” he told ministers. “We must be tolerant. We must not burn bridges of cooperation,” added the prime minister.
Sargsyan did not specify just how the Armenian authorities should go about ending their year-long standoff with the country’s main opposition alliance led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian. He recalled that he himself was a “representative of the radical opposition” during Ter-Petrosian’s presidency.
“I consider myself guilty of many things and I ask our political opponents to forgive our mistakes, my personal mistakes,” he said without elaboration.
Sargsyan also acknowledged that “criticism” and “freedom of expression” are essential for ensuring government accountability. “But when that criticism transcends all limits, when we open newspapers and see not criticism but slanderous, mean accusations, extreme evaluations that have nothing to do with reality and are only aimed at offending someone, we understand that we still have a long way to go,” he said.