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By Astghik Bedevian
Orinats Yerkir, one of the three parties represented in Armenia’s government, will take at least one month to find a replacement for its disgraced Culture Minister Hovik Hoveyan who resigned last week after reportedly assaulting power utility workers.

One of its senior members, Mher Shahgeldian, told RFE/RL on Monday that Orinats Yerkir is already screening possible candidates to fill the vacant post reserved for the party as part of a June 2003 power-sharing agreement between President Robert Kocharian and his top political allies. “Discussions on the issue are underway now,” he said, adding that the new minister will be chosen no sooner than the beginning of next month.

Hoveyan allegedly attacked and pistol-whipped several employees of a power distribution center in Yerevan last Wednesday after electricity was cut to his apartment. He tended his resignation next day following an emergency meeting of the Orinats Yerkir board headed by parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian. Hoveyan, who developed a controversial reputation with his highly eccentric discourse, is a second culture minister affiliated with Orinats Yerkir to lose his job under embarrassing circumstances in just 18 months. His flamboyant predecessor, Tamara Poghosian, likewise became a liability for the party that has the second largest faction in Armenia’s parliament.

Baghdasarian’s party, which is clearly more responsive to public opinion than its coalition partners, will therefore be particularly careful in the selection of the next culture minister. According to Shahgeldian, it has already drawn up a list of “more than a dozen” potential candidates for the job. He refused to give any names.

But other Orinats Yerkir sources said most of those individuals are poets and fiction writers not affiliated with the party. Hoveyan, himself a poet, joined the party a few days before being named culture minister in April 2004. Whispers suggest that Vigen Sargsian, Kocharian’s U.S.-educated interpreter and increasingly influential adviser, is also considered for the post.

Incidentally, Kocharian and leaders of Orinats Yerkir and the two other coalition parties held an unpublicized meeting on Sunday. The presidential press service issued no written statements and it is not known what was discussed at the meeting.

Shahgeldian insisted that the Hoveyan scandal was not on its agenda. He also said Orinats Yerkir will retain its control of the Armenian Ministry of Culture and Youth Affairs. The party also controls the ministries of education and urban development.

(Photolur photo: Artur Baghdasarian.)
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