By Astghik Bedevian
The Orinats Yerkir party of former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian has been forced to disband one of its local chapters after the defection of its leader and most senior members.
Levon Mikaelian, head of an Orinats Yerkir branch in the central town of Hrazdan, and 16 out of 26 members of its governing board have left the party, following the example of a dozen parliamentarians that defected from Orinats Yerkir last month. The government-orchestrated exodus, which caused the Orinats Yerkir faction in parliament to shrink by half, resulted in Baghdasarian’s resignation and his party’s ouster from Armenia’s governing coalition.
The defectors, all of them wealthy businessmen dependent on the government, say they quit because they disagreed with Baghdasarian’s increasingly opposition-style discourse. Mikaelian, who is also deputy governor of the Kotayk province of which Hrazdan is the capital, cited similar motives as he spoke to RFE/RL on Friday.
“I can’t be in opposition,” Mikaelian said. “I’m a hard working individual. I have a family, friends who are also hard-working individuals.” The Armenian opposition is “not sound,” he added.
Many of the other government officials affiliated with Orinats Yerkir have similarly withdrawn from the party, which claims to be the largest in Armenia, in order to retain their posts.
The exodus led Baghdasarian to dissolve the party structure and incorporate its remaining members into a second Orinats Yerkir chapter operating in Hrazdan. According to its secretary, Artur Minasian, some rank-and-file members of the disbanded structure are now reconsidering their decision to leave Orinats Yerkir.
“After the departure of so many board members people initially thought that there is regional branch anymore,” Minasian told RFE/RL “But after our explanatory work, some of them withdrew their [resignation] letters.”
Baghdasarian aides in Yerevan insist that no other Orinats Yerkir branch has been restructured over the past month and that the party continues to have more than 60,000 members across the country. The ambitious ex-speaker has declared his party an “opposition force” and has not ruled out the possibility of forming an electoral alliance with political groups that have long been in opposition to President Robert Kocharian.