Policing as Political Platform: Opposition coalition vows to name “criminals”

Fourteen opposition political parties and two Non Governmental Organizations have signed a declaration vowing to reveal and discourage criminal activity in Armenian politics and government.

Led by New Times Party chairman Aram Karapetyan, the group announced its intentions Thursday in Yerevan.

“Our aim is to inform society and to show that a significant number of authorities have criminal connections, which facilitates criminalization of the political sphere,” Karapetyan said. “Political forces should fight against them, together with mass society and mass media.”

The declaration states that criminal forces among the ruling elite are engaged in large-scale centralized operations with illegal financial means, thus violating the main law of the country – the Constitution, and its major provisions. The group alleges that criminal activity is allowed to flourish because Armenia’s top leaders – President Robert Kocharyan and Minister of Defense Serge Sargsyan – do nothing to discourage it.

Prime Minister Andranik Margaryan had called on Karapetyan to publicly name the criminal elements, if he knew any. Karapetyan accepted the challenge, and has begun a list that he says will continue.

For now, Karapetyan, a former candidate for President, has named Armen “Schwartz” Virabyan, who last week was charged in the death of Shahen Hovasapyan, the head of the tax police.

Karapetyan claims that Virabyan had been engaged in known criminal activity in Moscow, but had been allowed to maintain his place in the Armenian tax department.

“Well aware of the facts, how could a person like him keep his position in the system, change one system with another and be assigned to the tax service?” says Karapetyan, saying that his question is to Margaryan and Sargsyan.

Chairman of the Fatherland and Honor Party Garnik Margaryan, added the name of Hovik Abrahamyan, Minister of Territorial Administration.

According to Garnik Margaryan, Abrahamyan owns more than 50 businesses, more than 10 plants and wineries and more than 5 car services. The Minister also has shares in the privatized Ararat-Cement enterprise. He also has privatized territories in Sevan and Hankavan.

“What job and what salary has allowed someone who was still a car washer or car spare part seller in 1988 and now a minister, to obtain all these things? If he is innocent, let them punish us, if not, let him be responsible,” says Garnik Margaryan.

Maragrit Markaryan, a spokesperson for Abrahamyan’s office told ArmeniaNow that the minister has no official reply, but is planning a press conference to refute Garnik Margaryan’s accusations.

Manuk Gasparyan, chairman of the Democratic Way political party, says he can name some 100 power figures who are criminals but: “Why endanger oneself? I name two of them – Kocharyan and Sargsyan, and if something happens to me, you will know these two are in charge.”

ArmeniaNow attempted to get replies from officials. None has replied officially, some having said that the accusations aren’t worthy of comment.

Karapetyan says the naming will continue during public hearings and discussions.

Hovhannes Hovhannisyan of the Progressive Democratic Party of Armenia says current authorities realize their official reign is ending and are now mobilizing to assure personal gains after leaving office.

“Armenia, with 4,000 years of history, has now become a hostage in the hands of several criminals. But we are also responsible for the country. This country is not anyone’s personal possession, it belongs to the people. We need to create an atmosphere where society trusts, confides in and supports us. Otherwise, we will lose our statehood,” Hovhannisyan said.

The authors of the declaration say people are well aware of who the “criminals” are, but are afraid to speak out. The opposition, they say, is obliged to inform and also ground its statements.

The National Democratic Union and the Heritage parties have not joined the declaration. The Democratic Party of Armenia, the Alliance and Orinats Yerkir parties have stated their commitment to join it.