By Armen Zakarian
Stepan Demirchian appeared to have held off on Thursday a serious challenge to his leadership of the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) mounted by several members of its parliament faction. Meeting behind the closed doors for an emergency debate on a policy dispute that threatens to split the party, members of the HZhK’s board were said to have overwhelmingly slammed the rebel deputies supporting continued cooperation with the authorities.
Emotions ran high as the meeting continued late into the evening, participants said. According to them, Demirchian gave an angry rebuttal to the accusations that he is acting against beliefs of his late father and party founder Karen Demirchian by seeking closer ties with radical opposition groups. He was quoted as telling his opponents to stop “using Karen Demirchian’s name” for political aims.
The accusations have been voiced by parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian, his deputy Gagik Aslanian and eight other members of the HZhK faction, one of the biggest in the parliament. Khachatrian formally quit the party on Tuesday in protest. The other lawmakers issued a statement the next day demanding that the board review Demirchian’s policy.
Aslanian reiterated earlier in the day that the HZhK, which forms the Miasnutyun bloc with the governing Republican Party, should remain a “constructive” and “pro-statehood” organization. “Otherwise I won’t imagine myself inside this party,” he told RFE/RL. The vice-speaker was on Wednesday backed by the HZhK branch in central Yerevan, of which he is the chairman.
But Aslanian’s position was denounced by several party activists who are increasingly critical of President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. “Either the rebels will return to the family or will quietly leave the ship as rats,” said one of them, the outspoken parliament deputy Manuk Gasparian. “They must be expelled if they don’t admit their mistakes,” agreed another lawmaker, Aramayis Barseghian.