By Karine Kalantarian
The opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party of former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian regained access to its state-owned headquarters in Yerevan on Thursday more than four months after it was controversially sealed off by the Armenian authorities.
The development followed a court ruling which invalidated a March 4 eviction order issued by the management of the state-run theater from which Hovannisian has leased the offices for more than 15 years.
Zharangutyun was locked out of the offices on the grounds that it refused to sign a new lease agreement with an Armenian government agency managing state property. The theater management has claimed all along that its actions were legal and not politically motivated.
Zharangutyun leaders, however, have claimed the opposite, saying that they were evicted in retaliation against Hovannisian’s scathing attacks on President Robert Kocharian and his intention to challenge the ruling regime in the approaching national elections. They argue that the party and the theater are legally bound by a five-year lease that expires in September 2007.
A court in Yerevan, acting on a lawsuit filed by Hovannisian, backed this argument in a verdict that was handed down on June 26 and took effect last week. The ruling said the party can continue to occupy the premises for at least 15 more months.
This means Hovannisian will be able to use them for his party’s campaign for next spring’s parliamentary elections. Zharangutyun is expected to be one of the main opposition contenders of the polls. Its leadership is reportedly considering teaming up with other major opposition groups.
The same Yerevan court appeared to have suspended Zharangutyun’s politically charged eviction when it issued an injunction on April 14 that banned any restrictive action against the property in question pending a ruling on Hovannisian’s lawsuit. Hovannisian and his loyalists were allowed to reenter it on May 29 only to be forced out by Justice Ministry officials the next day.
Zharangutyun leaders charged afterwards that they found their main office computer, which contained confidential data on party members, to have been illegally accessed by government agents. They said scores of party activists across Armenia were rounded up and harassed by law-enforcement officials following the office closure. In a May 30 letter to top Armenian law-enforcement officials, Hovannisian demanded a criminal investigation into the allegations.
Zaruhi Postanjian, a Zharangutyun lawyer, told reporters on Thursday that the computer has been taken to a police station in central Yerevan for forensic examination.