By Margarit Yesayan
Rival factions in the divided National Democratic Union (AZhM) are preparing to hold separate conventions which they hope will legitimize their claim to the leadership of the once largest opposition party in Armenia. With either side branding the other’s gatherings as illegitimate, judicial interference increasingly appears to be the only way of ending the deadlock.
The AZhM’s pro-government wing, which is at odds with its chairman Vazgen Manukian, is scheduled to hold a congress on October 6 in a bid to reassert its control of the center-right party. The planned meeting was on Saturday dismissed as “illegal” by Manukian’s allies who are less supportive of the current authorities. They claim to enjoy the support of the overwhelming majority of the AZhM’s governing council.
“They don’t have the right to call it a congress,” said one of them, Aleksandr Butaev. He told reporters that the real 13th congress of the AZhM will be held on November 13 by the Manukian camp. Butaev added that those party members that will not fall in line by October 5 will be subject to dismissal.
The long simmering differences between the two wings flared up into an overt confrontation in July when several AZhM leaders advocating closer cooperation with President Robert Kocharian moved to abolish the post of party chairman. Among those who staged the revolt were three out of four AZhM deputies of the parliament.
Manukian’s supporters allege that the revolt was actively encouraged by some senior government officials, including David Vartanian, the minister for state property and a veteran AZhM member. But Vartanian has denied any involvement in the turmoil.
The AZhM has already lost a considerable part of its activists who left it earlier this year, protesting Manukian’s reluctance to continue to challenge the authorities. The ongoing wrangling is another devastating blow to the party.