Faded Red: Splinters from Communist Party align with “pro-West” group

A communist splinter group has announced it is joining the embattled Orinats Yerkir party, as the group’s leader says they have “common goals."

Sanatruk Sahakyan, the leader of about 700 communists who withdrew their membership in the Communist Party of Armenia (CPA) following a major split in 2004, announced this week the establishment of a union called “Social Justice” that he said had integrated into Orinats Yerkir.

“We see the field where we can continue our struggle,” Sahakyan, a former Armenian Komsomol leader, said. “Unfortunately, ideology is now pushed into the tenth background.”

Sahakyan says he considers Orinats Yerkir (“Country of Law”), a party that quit the ruling coalition following a major policy disagreement last spring, to be a “powerful force concerned over issues of social justice.” He added that that integration rather than forming a bloc with Orinats Yerkir is a more effective means for them to work against the authorities.

Orinats Yerkir’s doors are open to all forces that reject the things the party struggles against, the party’s representative said.

“Perhaps some of our views are different, but as a result of our general discussions, they [the communists] came to the conclusion that Orinats Yerkir’s programs and goals coincide with theirs,” said Heghine Bisharyan, a senior Orinats Yerkir member who was present at the group’s meeting on Monday.

The apparent endorsement by the disenfranchised communist has drawn criticism from hardliners.

Ruben Tovmasyan, the leader of the main Communist Party, ridiculed the move, saying that it once again shows that the dissenters have lost their image as communists and lack principles.

Some might call the match an odd political pairing. Sahakyan, who is known for his pro-Russian position, in particular for his calls for Armenia to join the Russia-Belarus union, is now cooperating with a force whose leader, former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasaryan, is perceived as a pro-western figure noted for his anti-Russian rhetoric.

Interestingly, Yuri Manukyan, the leader of another communist splinter group, the United Communist Party, is known for his more pro-government position. In particular, recently he, along with four other small parties, publicly supported Defense Minister Serzh Sargsyan’s presidential bid.

Several months ago the call of Sahakyan and some other former members of the Communist Party that established their own communist parties, including Manukyan, to reunite was rejected by the self-titled “true communists’” leader Tovmasyan. Later, Tovmasyan announced that the CPA will contest next May’s parliamentary elections alone, and stressed that they don’t want ‘to share their loss or victory’ with any other political force.

The communists lost their political clout after several rifts believed to be orchestrated by the authorities damaged their credibility. As a result, they lost their large following and electorate that remained solid still in the late 1990s. Four years after the party gained 12 percent of the vote in the 1999 parliamentary elections (finishing second after the bloc led by the charismatic duo of Vazgen Sargsyan and Karen Demirchyan) the party failed to win a single seat in the last election, earning only 2 percent of popular support. The differences inside the party had split it into five different groups, with the biggest one led by Tovmasyan considering itself to be the mother party.

Distinctively, Communists stand for the restoration of state control of the economy. Armenia’s joining the Russia-Belarus Union features high on the parties’ foreign policy agenda. Recent opinion polls show that these ideas attract few Armenians, mainly those representing the elder generation nostalgic for Soviet times.