By Astghik Bedevian
Marble floors, expensive furniture, computerized rooms and a jazz club are the last thing one would associate with the headquarters of an Armenian opposition party. Yet the Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law) party of former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian ignored this fact when it moved into its newly built and tightly guarded offices in downtown Yerevan earlier this month.
They are a far cry from cramped and poorly furnished rooms that normally house political groups opposed to the administration of Robert Kocharian, of which Orinats Yerkir was a part until recently. Its leaders insists that there is no contradiction between claiming to be in opposition to the government and operating in conditions that seem a bit too luxurious for a country like Armenia.
“I think every party has two or three floors of office space, but somehow only Orinats Yerkir is being singled out [for criticism],” Heghine Bisharian, a close associate of Baghdasarian, complained as she showed this correspondent around the seven-storey building at the weekend. “Because we are a powerful party, we can afford to have three stories.”
“We want to operate in a more civilized manner, to have decent chairs and desks and receive people properly,” she said. “Look, I’m now talking to you in a nice room. What is wrong with that?”
The Orinats Yerkir leadership inaugurated the building just days after Baghdasarian formally resigned as chairman of the National Assembly, completing his clearly forced exit from Kocharian’s governing coalition. The party, which also claims to be the largest in Armenia, occupies the three upper stories of the building. Bisharian assured RFE/RL that she does not know who owns the rest of the building. Its lower floors are designed and furnished in a very similar style, suggesting that the owner may well be the same person or entity.
The first thing that will strike visitors accustomed to a virtually unrestricted freedom of movement inside most Armenian party headquarters is unusually tight security. Nobody can enter the building without arranging a prior appointment with an Orinats Yerkir leader or parliamentarian. This, according to Bisharian, attests to the importance which Baghdasarian and his loyalists attach to “law and order.” Ensuring the building’s security, she stated proudly, are Baghdasarian’s bodyguards who quit the National Security Service to continue to work for ex-speaker after his resignation.
Orinats Yerkir has refused to reveal the total amount of money it has spent on building, furnishing and equipping the property. But unofficial estimates of its market value vary between $1 million and $1.5 million.
Bisharian, who is a member of the Armenian parliament, denied media reports that most of funding came from the dozen or so wealthy lawmakers who defected from the Orinats Yerkir faction in the National Assembly last month, precipitating its removal from government. “All of us have invested in the construction,” she said without elaborating.
The government-orchestrated defections stripped Orinats Yerkir of most of its wealthy sponsors that helped the party win the second largest number of parliament seats in the last legislative election held three years ago. The next election due in May 2007 will show whether Baghdasarian, who is also known to own a number of lucrative businesses, can do without them. The plush offices may have reassured those Baghdasarian loyalists who feared that Orinats Yerkir will lose its remaining influence and never return to government.
The party faithful can now not only meet but also eat and unwind in the new building. Orinats Yerkir parliamentarians and other activists can have lunch there on a daily basis for a monthly bargain fee of 10,000 drams ($24) and 5,000 drams respectively. The building is also to have an exclusive fitness center and even a jazz club for the party faithful.
(Photolur photo: Artur Baghdasarian.)