By Astghik Bedevian
The acrimonious war of words between outgoing parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and opposition leader Artashes Geghamian continued on Thursday as senior members of their parties publicly questioned each other’s opposition credentials.
The row broke out last week after Geghamian suggested that Baghdasarian’s decision to resign as speaker and pull his Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law) party out of the ruling coalition was part of a government conspiracy to weaken the Armenian opposition. In an interview with RFE/RL, he alleged that Baghdasarian is tasked with stealing votes from the opposition in next year’s parliamentary elections, citing the latter’s history of cooperation with President Robert Kocharian.
Baghdasarian hit back hard, implying that Geghamian had been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to withhold support from Kocharian’s main opposition challenger in the 2003 presidential ballot, Stepan Demirchian, and is maintaining secret ties with Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
The two men engaged in a shouting match on the parliament floor on Monday and traded fresh accusations in a live televised debate broadcast late Wednesday. Geghamian was on the defensive throughout the one-hour debate, insisting in a characteristic emotional manner that he never accepted cash from the ruling regime. The leader of the National Unity Party (AMK) was also forced to provide explanations for his past praise of Sarkisian and reasons why one of his loyalists has been granted lucrative Defense Ministry contracts.
Still, he managed to get Baghdasarian to state that Kocharian was behind the mass defections from the Orinats Yerkir faction in parliament that forced the party to leave the governing coalition. Geghamian argued that Baghdasarian’s assurances that Orinats Yerkir is now an opposition party should not be taken at face value because of the latter’s reluctance to publicly attack Kocharian and Sarkisian.
Aghasi Arshakian, a parliament deputy from the AMK, made the same argument as he debated with an Orinats Yerkir lawmaker, Hovannes Markarian, in front of journalists on Thursday. “The National Unity Party only wanted to hear the answer to a single question when it entered into this debate: Why are things so bad in our country and who are primarily to blame for that?” he said. Orinats Yerkir will not be considered to be in opposition unless it singles out Kocharian and Sarkisian for blame, he added.
“It is the people who decide whether to let Orinats Yerkir into the opposition field?” responded Markarian. “It is the people who own that field.”