By Astghik Bedevian
A leading Armenian newspaper said on Monday that it is indefinitely suspending publication, alleging threats to its staff stemming from a bitter leadership dispute within an opposition party that controls it.
Hayk Babukhanian, editor-in-chief of “Iravunk,” told RFE/RL that he made the decision after being threatened by several unidentified callers and a man who allegedly visited the newspaper office in the morning. “He told us that our end will come soon,” Babukhanian said. “He left before we could understand who he is.”
“Iravunk” is owned by the Union for Constitutional Rights (SIM), a small opposition party that has been in turmoil ever since a September congress during which Babukhanian and his supporters staged a successful revolt against its longtime leader, Hrant Khachatrian. The latter is refusing to concede defeat, saying that the congress was marred by serious procedural violations.
On February 8 Khachatrian and dozens of his supporters unsuccessfully stormed the SIM’s headquarters in Yerevan that also houses the “Iravunk” offices. The violence ended only after police intervention.
Babukhanian claimed that the party and its paper, which is published three times a week and boasts one of the highest circulation figures in Armenia, have since been facing “political persecution.” “The newspaper will resume publication only if the security of its employees is ensured and if political persecution of its founder ends,” he said.
“Our numerous appeals to prosecutors and other law-enforcement bodies remain unanswered. We were told [by other sources] that such attacks will continue because they were organized by the country’s top leaders,” Babukhanian claimed, again accusing Khachatrian of acting on government orders.
Khachatrian has strongly denied such accusations and questioned his rivals’ opposition credentials.