By Armen Zakarian
Two senior members of the Armenian parliament on Thursday poured scorn on the head of a government commission regulating broadcasting, in a further indication of discord inside Armenia’s leadership over the wisdom of reopening the A1+ independent television.
Deputy speaker Tigran Torosian and the chairman of the parliament’s foreign relations committee, Armen Rustamian, toughened their criticism of the National Commission on Television and Radio for its refusal to award A1+ a new broadcast license in a tender earlier this month. They said they will push for major amendments to Armenia’s controversial law on broadcasting which mandates such contests.
The chairman of the presidentially appointed commission, Grigor Amalian, scoffed at the criticism on Wednesday, suggesting sarcastically that the parliament pass a special law that would grant A1+ an air frequency without a tender.
The remarks seem to have angered Torosian, who is a leading member of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK). “Amalian was not supposed to accept or not accept what has been said about the last contest,” he told RFE/RL. “If Amalian thinks that he has so much authority that apart from regulating his sphere he can also deal with the work of the National Assembly, he is badly wrong.”
The vice-speaker went on to warn: “People should realize that life is not regulated only by laws. There are political, moral and social issues involved. Those who forget that eventually get punished.”
Rustamian, who is a senior member of another governing party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), also slammed the commission chief. “Judging from his statement, I can now suppose that Mr. Amalian thought until now that the existing law imposes a ban on giving A1+ a frequency,” he said.
The angry verbal exchange between representatives of the ruling establishment raises more questions about the official justification for the April 2002 closure of the independent channel that was often critical of Kocharian. The commission’s refusal to lift the de facto ban led to renewed Western pressure on Yerevan which was already reeling from international criticism of this year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. On Wednesday the head of the Council of Europe, Walter Schwimmer, accused the Armenian authorities of not keeping their promise to reopen A1+ and warned that at stake is Armenia’s “further integration into Europe.”
Rustamian and Torosian, who will represent Armenia at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) this fall, have repeatedly expressed concern about the international implications of the A1+ affair. “To neglect such statements could create a very dangerous situation for us,” Rustamian said of Schwimmer’s reaction.
The PACE leadership threatened earlier to strip the Armenian delegation of voting rights as a punishment for serious vote irregularities reported by Western election observers.
The commission on broadcasting is widely believed to be controlled by President Robert Kocharian and, according to A1+, acts on the latter’s orders. Torosian’s contemptuous reaction to its chairman’s comments suggests he does not regard Amalian as an independent decision-maker. Kocharian, who is currently in France on vacation, has not yet publicly commented on the issue.
Amalian has also caused another controversy by suggesting that international organizations help A1+ with cash and broadcasting equipment instead of criticizing the authorities. Reacting to the idea earlier this week, the outgoing head of the OSCE office in Yerevan, Roy Reeve, said: “That comment is not worth commenting.”
(Photo: Amalian voting to pull the plug on A1+ in April 2002.)