By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The two rival leaders of one of Armenia’s oldest opposition parties were detained and spent several hours in police custody on Tuesday after again coming to blows at the party offices in Yerevan.
Witnesses said Hrant Khachatrian and Hayk Babukhanian clashed moments after the police helped the latter and several of his loyalists re-occupy their rooms at the headquarters of the Union for Constitutional Rights (SIM). Khachatrian has refused to let them in ever since was reinstated as the small party’s chairman by a court ruling in January last year.
The SIM, which is not represented in parliament, has been in turmoil since a September 2006 congress during which Babukhanian controversially succeeded in unseating Khachatrian. An Armenian court subsequently invalidated the leadership change, enabling Khachatrian to reclaim control of the party.
Babukhanian and his loyalists say they remain senior members of the party and must therefore have access to the rooms reserved for them. The Yerevan police department accepted these arguments, instructing its officers to help the dissident faction re-enter the premises. Faced with Khachatrian’s refusal to comply with the police order, they spent on Tuesday four hours trying to break the main entrance door of the SIM offices in the city center. They succeeding in breaking into the offices only after calling in Rescue Service workers.
Both opposition politicians were set free later in the day. The police said they have yet to decide whether to launch criminal proceedings against any of them. The two men as well as dozens of their supporters had already brawled in the same place in February last year.
The latest incident occurred just days after Babukhanian rejected as “illegal” Khachatrian’s decision to endorse Vazgen Manukian, one of the opposition candidates in next month’s presidential election, on behalf of the SIM. Babukhanian said only a party congress may make such decisions. He indicated that he and his allies may well choose to endorse Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian.
Incidentally, Babukhanian was spotted talking to Sarkisian’s campaign spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, by phone while he stood outside the SIM headquarters and waited for the police to break its door. “Mr. Sharmazanov is worried about the situation,” he told RFE/RL.
Manukian also expressed concern at the incident. In a statement, his campaign headquarters said it is closely following the developments and hopes that they “have nothing to do with presidential race.”
(Photolur photo: Babukhanian pictured during the office siege.)