Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 14

On January 15, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Armenia unanimously elected Vladimir Darbinian as its first secretary. Darbinian replaces Sergey Badalian, who died of a heart attack last November during a visit to Moscow.

Darbinian, 68, was Soviet Armenia’s internal affairs minister from 1969 to 1975, holds the rank of a major-general and is currently the director of the Defense Ministry’s museum and memorial outside Yerevan. He is a political ally of Armenia’s military and of Yerkrapah [Country Defender], the paramilitary organization which forms the base of the governing Republican Party. Those connections place Darbinian, and by implication the Communist Party, in the tow of the military-dominated “party of power” which seeks to bring down President Robert Kocharian.

At his first news conference in the new capacity, Darbinian called for reducing the president’s powers through constitutional changes, to be followed by a pre-term presidential election and “restoration of political stability” to the country. He thereby endorsed the Republican Party’s and Yerkrapah’s positions on those issues. Darbinian dismissed the objections that have been raised at Chief Military Prosecutor Khachig Jahangirian’s handling of the investigation into the October 27 assassinations of Armenian leaders. Those objections, raised by Kocharian’s sympathizers and the independent press, suggest that the military has turned the investigation into a political weapon against the president (see the Monitor, December 17, 1999 and January 10; the Fortnight in Review, December 3, 1999).

Darbinian announced that the Communists would work with the Republican Party and the latter’s coalition partner, the People’s Party, to strengthen Armenia’s political, military and economic relationship with Russia. He reaffirmed the Communist Party goal of bringing Armenia into the Russia-Belarus Union and renewed the claim that the party had assembled more than 1 million signatures last year on an appeal to that end. This claim has, however, never been seriously verified, and Armenia’s accession to the Russia-Belarus Union does not figure on the agenda of either the Armenian or the Russian government.

The party supports Russian Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov’s presidential candidacy “for reasons of ideological kinship” and will campaign for Zyuganov amid the large Armenian diaspora in Russia. The party will, under Darbinian’s leadership, remain in “radical opposition” to the Armenian government on economic and social affairs and will pursue a “revival of socialism.” Those remarks suggest that Darbinian will seek to maintain and strengthen the party’s grip on the social protest vote, without seeking to expand into the political mainstream. The communists usually command about 10 percent of the votes cast in Armenian elections. That social base makes them a potentially valuable adjunct to an anti-Kocharian coalition (Noyan-Tapan, Snark, Armenian Television, January 15, 17).