By Astghik Bedevian
Opposition leader Stepan Demirchian was named on Monday to represent his Artarutyun bloc in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), replacing a veteran lawmaker who has refused to campaign against constitutional amendments enacted by the Armenian authorities.
Shavarsh Kocharian, one of the members of the 13-strong Artarutyun faction in parliament, has refused to endorse or reject the amendments put to the November 27 referendum. He pointedly avoided any participation in the opposition’s pre-referendum “No” campaign and ensued street protests in Yerevan. His allies found this tantamount to siding with the ruling regime.
The decision to bar Kocharian from the Strasbourg-based assembly was taken at a meeting of the Artarutyun faction. “Shavarsh Kocharian did not take part in the vote, while everyone else voted for [his replacement],” the bloc’s spokeswoman, Ruzan Khachatrian, said.
Demirchian claimed that he was against the move and agreed to it at the insistence of his colleagues. “They found it expedient,” he told reporters.
Another Artarutyun deputy, Grigor Harutiunian, denied that Kocharian was ousted in retaliation for his equivocal stance. “We didn’t assess Shavarsh Kocharian’s work. We just thought that Stepan Demirchian will do a better job,” he said.
But another member of the faction, Arshak Sadoyan, charged that Kocharian “misled” the Council of Europe about the political situation in Armenia. “Naturally, the opposition couldn’t tolerate that,” he said.
But Kocharian, who leads a small party aligned in Artarutyun, deplored the opposition bloc’s decision.. He said that instead of boycotting the referendum, Artarutyun should have worked with Council of Europe experts on further improving the proposed constitutional draft. “We believe that the Artarutyun alliance should have stood by positive achievements resulting from the [June 2005] Strasbourg agreements and … ensured popular trust in the referendum with pressure from the European structures,” he said.
Kocharian (no relation to Armenia’s president) refused to take any questions from journalists and it remained unclear whether he plans to leave the Artarutyun faction.
Armenia has four seats in the PACE. One of them is reserved for Artarutyun, while the three others are controlled by representatives of the pro-government parliament majority.