By Ruzanna Khachatrian
A representative of the opposition Heritage party led by prominent politician Raffi Hovannisian stated today that the controversial closure of their office earlier this month has paralyzed the party’s activities.
Political secretary Vartan Khachatrian told RFE/RL that “the ties between chapters and the center have in fact been severed”, as all database systems and even the party’s seal remain beyond their reach.
The party’s leader, Armenia’s ex-foreign minister Raffi Hovannisian asked law-enforcement authorities shortly after the office was sealed on March 4 to intervene in what he called an illegal act.
The party, which is expected to be a major opposition contender in next year’s Armenian parliamentary election, was locked out of the premises, which belong to a state-run theater and have been leased by Hovannisian has for more than a decade. Workers who put new locks on their external doors cited orders from the Paronian theater management which in turn pointed to Heritage failure to sign a new lease agreement with the Armenian government.
The Prosecutor-General’s Office spokesman Gurgen Hambarian told RFE/RF on Friday that a reply has already been sent to Raffi Hovannisian’s application, but declined to reveal its contents.
Meanwhile, Heritage representatives say they have not yet received any reply from the Prosecutor’s Office.
According to the information available as of yet, the Prosecutor’s Office has not opened a case in connection with Heritage’s claim and the party’s office still remains sealed.
Khachatrian regards the whole case as a link in one chain of political pressure on the party and Raffi Hovannisian personally. “This situation remains unclear for us. In any case we must try to assert our rights within the limits of law,” he said.
He considers this pressure to be the result of the party’s active political and civil position.
In mid-February Armenian Public TV H1 aired a report during its prime-time Haylur news program, alleging that the funds of the U.S. education charity, Junior Achievements of Armenia, led by Raffi Hovhannisian’s wife, Armine Hovannisian, had been diverted to the financing of opposition rallies organized by Raffi Hovannisian and collection of signatures in support of the latter’s presidential ambitions. Armine Hovannisian later denied the allegations as slander.
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, with whom Raffi Hovannisian raised the matter of the premises, recently told the media: “The party never had a two-year contract. When they officially want to have new premises we will consider that. ”
Responding to this, Khachatrian said: “The only possible option is to settle this dispute in court.”
The Heritage representative said it is the management of the Paronian Theater whose premises they rent that first of all should apply to court.
Meanwhile, theater director Karo Shahbazian later told RFE/RL that they have not applied to court or to any other body in connection with this matter.