Better Red than Dead: Communist party makes efforts to regain status

Each spring Armenian Communists regroup for "May Day" parade
After years of political feud and mutual accusations the scattered groups of the once popular Communist Party gathered this week in a last-ditch attempt to strike a reconciliation deal before next year’s parliamentary elections.

The ranks of Armenian communists have shrunk dramatically since 1999 when the party gained a robust 12.1 percent of vote in parliamentary elections (finishing second after the bloc led by the charismatic duo of Vazgen Sargsyan and Karen Demirchyan).

Differences among party activists aggravated following the sudden death of their undisputed leader Sergey Badalyan in late 1999 and after several splits the party completely lost its popularity and political clout and failed by far to clear the five percent hurdle to enter the legislative body in 2003.

On Tuesday, the leaders of Armenia’s splinter communist parties - called United, Renewed and Progressive – as well as three expelled members who claim to be the real governing members of the Communist Party of Armenia (CPA) gathered to discuss the prospect of participating together in the next parliamentary elections in a bid to recover communist seats in the National Assembly.

Former Komsomol leader and second secretary of the CPA Central Committee Sanatruk Sahakyan, who was expelled from the party along with his comrades Khoren Sargsyan and Norair Petrosyan in 2004 purportedly for having failed the 2003 election campaign, stated on Tuesday that time has come for the communists of Armenia to unite no matter what differences or difficult relations they had in the past.

“There should be one party embracing all communists no matter whether they once were the first or second secretaries of the central committee, bureau member or rank-and-file members. Everyone should now be under one banner,” said Sahakyan, who was left without a deputy’s mandate after the communists entered the parliament with 10 members in 1999, and has been known for his parliamentary ambitions ever since.

Yuri Manukyan, now leader of the United Communist Party (in 2002, he was expelled from the main party by Sanatruk Sahakyan for his alleged secret government connections) shared this opinion: “Armenia needs a united communist party today and nothing else.”

Meanwhile, the current first secretary of the CPA Central Committee Ruben Tovmasyan said that he would not make it up with the dissenters despite their offer to leave the differences behind.

“We can not march with people who were expelled from the Communist Party,” Tovmasyan told RFE/RL responding to the gathering of the splinter groups to which he had also been invited but didn’t show up.

“They care not about the strengthening of the Communist Party but their opportunistic interests,” he added.

Earlier, on several occasions Tovmasyan stated that the Communists would participate in the next elections alone and would not form a bloc with other parties.

On Thursday, the CPA Central Committee Bureau issued a fresh statement categorically denying any possibility of unification. But CPA Yerevan City Committee First Secretary Tachat Sargsyan added that officially they did not receive any offer of unification.

“The Communist Party has not fallen into pieces. Simply people who broke the party’s statutes and did not follow the decisions of its governing body were expelled from the party,” he said.

Despite the official membership figure of about 50,000, the real number of communist party members today is believed to be much lower. According to recent opinion polls, only a fraction of Armenia’s population, particularly representing the elder generation nostalgic for Soviet times, feels sympathy for communists. Meanwhile, communists continue to constitute a considerable force in many other CIS countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova.

“One of the reasons why communist leaders in Armenia are so unpopular is that they themselves do not believe in the ideas they advocate,” said a former CPA member, who did not want his name to be published.

“If they were sincere in their struggle, they would have a great following now,” said the 34-year-old man, who was expelled as a rank-and-file from the party for his dissident views in 2002.