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Armenian Opposition Party In Turmoil


Armenia -- Raffi Hovannisian (L) and other members of the opposition Zharangutyun party's faction in parliament.

Armenia -- Raffi Hovannisian (L) and other members of the opposition Zharangutyun party's faction in parliament.

A major Armenian opposition party, Zharangutyun (Heritage), has been thrust into turmoil and is facing an uncertain future following the still mysterious decision by its top leader, Raffi Hovannisian, to resign his parliament seat.

Zharangutyun’s governing board, of which Hovannisian is not formally a member, met late on Wednesday to expel three senior figures from the party tanks, accusing them of secretly collaborating with Armenia’s largest opposition force led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.

The expelled individuals are Movses Aristakesian, deputy chairman of the board, the party’s political secretary Vartan Khachatrian and Zoya Tadevosian, a member of Armenia’s Central Election Commission (CEC) representing Zharangutyun. They refused to accept their ouster, saying that the board did not have a quorum and its decisions were therefore illegal.

The extraordinary expulsions followed a report in a pro-Ter-Petrosian newspaper accusing Armen Martirosian, Zharangutyun’s parliamentary leader elected board chairman on Wednesday, of trying to rig the board’s election during the last party congress held in July 2008. The “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily claimed that Martirosian sought to ensure the presence of government agents in Zharangutyun’s leadership. It said Hovannisian renounced his parliament mandate because of the board’s failure to investigate the matter.

Martirosian and his allies angrily denied the report on Wednesday. While admitting a fraud attempt during the 2008 congress, they insisted that Martirosian had nothing to do with it.

“Some members of the board tried to cooperate with and execute orders of another political force and at the same time remain members of Zharangutyun,” Martirosian told RFE/RL on Thursday, commenting on the expulsions. “They were also trying to drive Zharangutyun members out of the party.”

When asked whether that force is Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) alliance, he said: “Not only.”

Armenia -- Zoya Tadevosian, a member of the Central Election Commission expelled from the opposition Zharangutyun party.
The dissidents, meanwhile, blamed Martirosian for the rift, saying that he is acting on government orders to take over the party and subordinate it to President Serzh Sarkisian. “You will soon witness very noteworthy developments,” Tadevosian told journalists. “I think Zharangutyun will serve the highest bidder.”

Tadevosian pledged to collect signatures among rank-and-file party members demanding the Zharangutyun board’s resignation. She also made clear that she will not step down as CEC member.

Under Armenian law, Aristakesian is next in line to replace Hovannisian as a member of the National Assembly by virtue of his position on Zharangutyun’s list of candidates in the 2007 parliamentary elections. Aristakesian said on Thursday that he will take up the parliament seat. The third dissident, Khachatrian, is already a member of Zharangutyun’s 7-strong faction in the 131-seat assembly.

Hovannisian, who founded Zharangutyun in 2002 and is still regarded as its top leader, is reportedly not in Armenia at the moment. He has not yet commented on the bitter infighting that could significantly weaken his party and ultimately damage his own political career. Nor has the U.S.-born politician explained why he decided to quit the parliament.

Zharangutyun decided to back Ter-Petrosian in the February 2008 presidential election after Hovannisian was controversially disqualified from the race. Relations between the two opposition forces have grown increasingly frosty this year. In an early July statement, Zharangutyun said it will act more independently in the political arena from now on.
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