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Armenia: Three Parties To Merge In Opposition

By Anna Saghabalian and Liz Fuller (RFE/RL) August 22, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The Dashink (Alliance) party led by Samvel Babayan, who from 1993-99 commanded the armed forces of the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, confirmed on August 21 reports that it is set to merge with two other political groups ahead of the presidential election due in early 2008.

According to the Yerevan daily "Haykakan Zhamanak," Dashink together with the diaspora-linked Ramkavar Azatakan Party of Armenia (HRAK) and the opposition National Revival party are holding negotiations on the merger and are close to agreement. The paper said the new organization will bear the HRAK's name and be led by Babayan.

Representatives of the three parties essentially confirmed that report, although they cautioned that the talks are still going on. But National Revival head Albert Bazeyan stressed that "at this point there is only an intention, a desire to see political forces in Armenia unite on the basis of ideological similarities." "We have not yet taken any concrete steps in that direction," he added.

Consolidating The Opposition

A former member of the Yerkrapah fighters who took up arms in 1989 to defend Karabakh and then formed an influential political group, Bazeyan later joined former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian's Hanrapetutiun party, but left it in late 2005 after Sargsian abandoned his traditional pro-Russian stance for a more pro-Western orientation.

Less than two years ago, Bazeyan ruled out any cooperation with Dashink, despite what he termed his "friendly relations" with Babayan personally, Noyan Tapan reported on January 30, 2006.

Senior Dashink member Gnel Ghlechian said his party will probably hold an extraordinary congress in late September to formally endorse the merger with the HRAK.

He explained the planned merger in terms of the conviction, shared by Babayan and his allies, that the Armenian opposition is currently too fragmented to pose a serious threat to the government, and must therefore consolidate. "This unification, which I hope will materialize, is the way to go for all parties," Ghlechian told RFE/RL.

None of the three parties cleared the 5 percent vote threshold to win seats in parliament under the system of proportional representation in the May 12 elections. Dashink won a single parliament seat in a constituency in northwestern Armenia, while the two other parties are not represented in the current National Assembly at all.

Ghlechian would not say whether Babayan expects to become the chairman of the new, combined party. "It is too early to speculate who will head it," he said. But HRAK Chairman Harutiun Arakelian has indicated that he would not object to Babayan taking over the new party.

"I personally would not take such a development painfully," he told RFE/RL. "My task is to make the party stronger and to double or triple the number of its members and structures."

The HRAK, which has an eponymous sister organization in the Armenian diaspora, has been loyal to President Robert Kocharian throughout his nearly decadelong rule. Dashink and National Revival, by contrast, claim to be in opposition to Kocharian.

It is not clear whether the three parties plan to field a single candidate in next year's presidential election. Ghlechian was quoted by the independent daily "Aravot" on August 2 as saying that Babayan has no intention of participating in that ballot.

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

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