By Anna Saghabalian

Radio Liberty, Czech Republic
Jan 31 2008

Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian defended himself against a common
line of opposition attack Thursday when he assured voters that he and
President Robert Kocharian never heavily relied on fellow natives of
Nagorno-Karabakh throughout their decade-long rule.

Opposition leaders have accused the country's two top leaders of
placing Karabakh Armenians in key government positions in Yerevan and
giving them lucrative businesses in order to hold on to power. Some
of them have gone as far as to speak of a "Karabakh clan" governing
the country.

Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian picked up such allegations as
he ended his self-imposed political retirement last fall. He has
said in his speeches that privileged treatment allegedly enjoyed by
Karabakh Armenians loyal to the Sarkisian-Kocharian duo is driving
a wedge between the populations of Karabakh and Armenia proper.

Sarkisian laughed off such allegations as he campaigned in Yerevan's
Ajapnyak district. "Wherever I worked, I didn't pick people on the
basis of their place of residence," he told a campaign rally there.

"I picked people by taking into account their knowledge and human

Sarkisian argued that none of his ministers was born in Karabakh and
that only one major government agency, the State Tax Service (STS),
is headed by a Karabakh Armenian. "I think that on the contrary,
Karabakhis have the right to rebuke me, and they do," he said. "But
they are wrong too because it is shameful to talk about these
circumstances in the 21st century."

Ter-Petrosian was not the only opposition presidential candidate
attacked by Sarkisian on Thursday. The prime minister clearly referred
to former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian in his speech at
a campaign rally in another Yerevan district, Davitashen, in which
denounced an unnamed "young candidate" promising to sharply raise
pensions and cut taxes.

"They are not ashamed of looking TV viewers in the eyes and saying
that they will raise pensions and return all [Soviet-era] bank savings
and at the same time cut taxes," Sarkisian told several hundred local
residents. "I don't know who they will do such a magic."