Fotolur photo: Opposition leaders surrounded by supporters demonstrating outside the parliament building in Yerevan
By Armen Zakarian and Shakeh Avoyan
A regular session of the Armenian parliament ended on Monday in chaos after its leadership thwarted opposition attempts to debate the possibility of bringing impeachment proceedings against President Robert Kocharian.
About a dozen angry opposition deputies occupied the main parliament rostrum and refused to leave it, protesting speaker Armen Khachatrian’s refusal to include the issue on the parliament agenda. They said they will not allow the 131-member assembly to resume its work until their demands are met.
Tensions also ran high outside the parliament building where several hundred opposition supporters faced a similar number of riot police wielding truncheons and shields. But the demonstration proceeded peacefully, with leaders of 13 opposition parties spearheading the impeachment challenge urging the crowd to again gather there on Tuesday.
“Robert Kocharian can not always run away from the impeachment process. That issue must be discussed by the National Assembly and sent to the Constitutional Court,” said Albert Bazeyan of the Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party.
Opposition deputies reacted furiously when they learned that a three-day draft agenda proposed by Khachatrian in the morning does not contain their motion to seek the president’s impeachment. The speaker was on Friday asked by his two deputies and the chairmen of the standing committees to decide whether the issue can be debated without the consent of at least one third of the lawmakers.
Opposition factions have argued for the past two weeks that, in accordance with the parliament statutes, they do not need to collect the required number of signatures because they put the motion during recent discussions of a parliament report on the October 1999 assassinations.
The report submitted by an ad hoc parliamentary commission condemned the country’s law-enforcement agencies for not preventing the bloodbath. Explaining his decision, Khachatrian endorsed the pro-government majority’s arguments that the commission’s findings have nothing to do with long-running opposition claims that Kocharian has repeatedly violated the Armenian constitution to tighten his grip on power.
“There is no legal link between the commission’s objectives and the issue of impeaching the president of the republic,” he said.
The remarks provoked heated discussions, with as many as 24 deputies taking the floor to make their case for or against the impeachment debate. The speaker was backed by leaders of Miasnutyun (Unity), the largest parliamentary faction, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and Orinats Yerkir parties as well as two non-partisan groups supporting Kocharian.
But opposition deputies charged that his attempts to thwart their attacks on the president are “illegal” before delivering on their earlier threats to mount the podium and disrupt the session. Khachatrian, who also faced some harsh personal attacks, was forced to interrupt the proceedings until Tuesday.
Opposition supporters demonstrating outside the parliament building listened to them through loud-speakers, cheering pro-impeachment speeches and jeering at pro-government deputies.
Security around the building was unusually tight, with hundreds of police deployed there in full anti-riot gear. They cordoned off a street adjacent to its main entrance.
“They (the authorities) are really worried about possible results of an impeachment debate,” Bazeyan told the crowd, urging it to continue the protests on Tuesday.
Speaking to RFE/RL, he admitted that the opposition coalition had hoped for a stronger attendance for the rally. “Of course, we expected to see more people here today,” he said.
“But that’s no problem,” he added, arguing that the parliament turmoil marked a success for the opposition.
It is not clear how the parliament leadership plans to deal with the minority revolt, the first in its kind in Armenia. The latest tensions are the climax of a two-month opposition campaign against Kocharian. The Armenian president and his allies have shrugged off the challenge, saying that the opposition wants to discredit him ahead of presidential elections due next March.