BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
In what amounted to a pot calling the kettle black scenario, President Serzh Sarkisian on Thursday night lashed out at one of his one-time close political allies, the head of the Prosperous Armenia Party, Gagik Tsarukian.
Speaking at his Republican Party of Armenia Council meeting, Sarkisian used unusually harsh words to describe Tsarukian–also known as “Doddy Gago”—often referring to him as “stupid” and “a detriment to Armenian society.”
The president also fired Tsarukian from Armenia’s National Security Council; called on his party members, who comprise the majority in parliament, to launch an investigation into Tsarukian’s absence from National Assembly sessions (according to Sarkisian of the 145 parliamentary sessions, Tsarukian has been present to only four); tasked the prime minister to launch inquiries into Tsarukian’s financial dealings and alleged evading of “billions” in taxes; and tasked the judicial structures to begin probes into alleged criminal conduct by Tsarukian, which he said have been “common knowledge” in Armenia.
The growing wedge between the two one-time allies widened earlier this week when a member of Tsarukian’s Prosperous Party of Armenia was severely beaten, kidnapped and then dumped on a street near his residence. The beating of PAP parliament member Artak Khachatrian prompted Tsarukian and other prominent PAP members, including former foreign minister Vartan Oskanian, who is a PAP member of parliament, to turn up the volume on their criticism of the current regime.
In a statement issued on Monday, the Prosperous Armenia Party condemned the attack on Khachatrian, saying that it was politically motivated and was a form of intimation by the regime directed at forces who were challenging the Sarkisian administration.
“We believe that the country’s supreme political leadership is primarily to blame for the atmosphere of hooliganism and lawlessness,” the party said in a statement.
Last Thursday, during a conference of non-ruling parties convened at his initiative, Tsarukian said: “with the help of a nationwide movement gaining strength with every passing day we will force the authorities to feel responsibility for the current situation and replace the current regime in the next elections.”
In his remarks Thursday night, Sarkisian referred to Tsarukian-initiated rallies and events as a “circus,” saying that the PAP leader probably did not understand the meaning of the words that he was reading.
Sarkisian’s speech was uncharacteristic of a leader of a country, both in its tenor and the vernacular used to attack. In conclusion, the president clarified that “my entire speech was about a political or rather a pseudo-political phenomenon called Gagik Tsarukian.”
In explaining his decision to relieve Tsarukian of his seat in the NSC, Sarkisian said: “The supreme security body of the country is not a movie theater, where one come and go as they please,” adding that Tsarukian’s consistent absence from National Assembly sessions was an affront to his constituents who had entrusted him with that responsibility.
A significant portion of Sarkisian’s remarks focused on the pending reforms to Armenia’s Constitution, which opposition forces, including Tsarukian contend are being advanced by the regime and the ruling party to ensure their continued rule over Armenia.
(The Armenian Revolutionary Federation Supreme Council of Armenia has opted to support the Constitutional reforms process, by presenting its own amendments and position, thus distancing itself from other political forces that oppose the reforms process).
The president’s full-throttle attack on Tsarukian, the leader of the second largest political party in Armenia, comes at a tenuous time for Armenia, which is reeling from a violent outburst by law enforcement personnel on a convoy of opposition members who were headed to Karabakh late last month.
In his remarks, however, Sarkisian did not address the upsurge in beatings of political activists, which seem to have become commonplace in Armenia, nor did he address mechanisms through which his administration would deal with the blatant disregard for rule of law.
In a rather surprising turn, the president said a mea culpa, bearing all responsibility for containing past criticism of Tsarukian and urging his backers to refrain from verbal attacks against the PAP leader, saying that he was demonstrating restrain toward the leader of the second largest political party in Armenia.
Apparently the cup runneth over for Sarkisian. Or, perhaps, by lashing out at Tsarukian he was challenging other political forces to fall in line.