By Anna Saghabalian
An Armenian opposition party led by former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian claimed on Tuesday that it is unable to prepare for next spring’s parliamentary elections due to its continuing inability to access important party documents kept in its government-seized headquarters.
The Zharangutyun (Heritage) party was last March controversially locked out of its office located in a building in downtown Yerevan housing a state-run comedy theater. It briefly reclaimed the premises in July after winning a court battle with the theater management. Officials from the Armenian Justice Ministry’s Service for Mandatory Execution of Judicial Acts (SMEJA) were quick to again force the party out, offering a differing interpretation of the court ruling that effectively annulled the lockout.
Hovannisian and his associates are unable to not only enter the Zharangutyun office but also retrieve the party property and documents kept there. “That means paralyzing the party,” said Vartan Khachatrian, Zharangutyun nominal chairman. “The party is deprived of its seal, its database which is used for putting pressure on our members.”
Khachatrian repeated Zharangutyun allegations that government agents illegally entered the sealed premises to access the computerized database of the party’s activists and rank-and-file members across Armenia. He said many of them have for months been harassed by government and law-enforcement bodies. Some have lost their public sector jobs as a result, he claimed.
The Office of the Prosecutor-General refused last week to launch a criminal investigation into the Zharangutyun allegations that have been repeatedly dismissed by the Armenian authorities. The party condemned the decision, saying that it shows the “criminal intent of the ruling regime.”
Zharangutyun leaders maintain that they were forced out of their headquarters in retaliation against Hovannisian’s scathing attacks on President Robert Kocharian and his intention to challenge the latter in the 2007 elections.
(Photolur photo: Raffi Hovannisian.)