By Ruzanna Stepanian
A district court in Yerevan offered opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian on Friday to settle his bitter dispute with the owner of offices from which his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party was controversially evicted three months ago.
The court gave Hovannisian and the management of a state-run theater, from which he has long leased office space, until Monday to try to find an out-of-court solution to the row.
Zharangutyun, which is becoming major opposition force, was locked out of its Yerevan headquarters on March 4 ostensibly for its failure to sign a new lease agreement with a government department managing state property. The party denounced the move as an illegal government retribution for its leader’s hard-hitting attacks on President Robert Kocharian and sued the theater management. It secured a court injunction in April that effectively reversed the eviction pending a final court ruling on the case.
The Justice Ministry bailiffs took more than 40 days to enforce the order and allow Hovannisian and his associates to re-enter their offices on May 29. However, they again forced the oppositionists out of the premises the next morning, claiming that the latter were only supposed to briefly inspect their offices and then leave them. Hovannisian insists that the bailiffs’ actions were illegal.
Court hearings on his lawsuit against the theater opened last week and continued on Friday. Incidentally, the idea of trying to settle the case was floated by Hovannisian’s legal counsel, Vahagn Grigorian. The presiding judge, Eduard Avetisian, approved it.
The settlement offer took Zharangutyun activists present in the courtroom by surprise. “A settlement is out of question,” one of them, Vartan Khachatrian, told RFE/RL. “We have been illegally deprived of our right to manage our property and office space.”
Hovannisian clarified in a statement issued later in the day that he is simply seeking a “sincere confession” by the theater management that Zharangutyun’s ouster was ordered by senior government officials. “The theater management must acknowledge that it became a tool in the hands of some forces for taking illegal actions against Zharangutyun and me personally,” he said.
However the theater director, Karo Shahbazian, is unlikely do that. Shahbazian insisted last week that he did not carry out any government orders. “I am not in politics, I run a theater,” he told RFE/RL.
Hovannisian indicated that Shahbazian should also sign a new lease agreement with Zharangutyun. The previous agreement had already expired this year, making it even easier for the authorities to keep the offices in question off limits for the opposition party.
(Photolur photo: Raffi Hovannisian.)