By Ruzanna Stepanian
The Armenian Communist Party (HKK), once a major political force, formalized yet another split within its ranks over the weekend with the ouster of several prominent activists that accuse its leadership of secretly collaborating with the government.
Ruben Tovmasian, the HKK first secretary, was controversially reelected at a party congress marred by violence against journalists covering it and scuffles between his supporters and foes.
The Communist dissenters led by the party’s former second secretary, Sanatruk Sahakian, were barred from attending the congress and refused to recognize its legitimacy, pledging to set up their own political organization. Dozens of their angry supporters rallied outside the conference hall tightly guarded by police, chanting “Tovmasian traitor!” and demanding his resignation.
“We accuse Tovmasian of cooperating with and being bribed by the authorities,” Sahakian bellowed through a megaphone. “Tovmasian doesn’t like us because we are in radical opposition to the authorities.”
The police made sure that the protesters do not break into the hall and intervened when they clashed with some delegates loyal to Tovmasian. Several people were detained on the spot. Less than one third of 316 delegates representing the HKK chapters across Armenia took part in the conference. Those who showed up overwhelmingly voted for Tovmasian.
The elderly leader was reelected despite fainting mid-way through his speech. He regained consciousness shortly afterward but was taken away from the building. Doctors said he suffered a sharp fluctuation in blood pressure.
As Tovmasian collapsed to the rostrum several of his diehard loyalists, among them women, assaulted photojournalists, demanding that they stop filming their frail leader. One cameraman was hit particularly hard.
The turmoil was a further blow to the credibility of the HKK that has seen its influence in Armenian politics decline dramatically due to a series of inner-party rifts in recent years. The staunchly pro-Russian party, which stands for the restoration of the Soviet-era command economy, polled a solid 10 percent of the vote in the parliamentary and presidential elections held between 1995 and 1999. However, it fielded no candidate in last year’s presidential election and failed to win a single parliament seat in the May 2003 polls.
(Photolur photo: Police officers detaining a protester.)