In a last-minute U-turn, opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian said on Wednesday that he is withdrawing his unexpected resignation from Armenia’s parliament which has sown discord within his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party.
The announcement came on the last day of a 15-day period set by Armenian law for the entry into force of resignations tendered by parliament deputies. They can reconsider their decision during that time.
In a written statement, Hovannisian confirmed his associates’ claims that he decided to quit the National Assembly in protest against President Serzh Sarkisian’s conciliatory policy on Turkey. He said he “felt betrayed by the actions of this administration” relating to the normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations.
“Since that moment, however, I have been urged by compatriots both in Armenia and in our broad Diaspora to take up the challenge and use the limited forum that the National Assembly offers to speak in the name of truth and justice no matter what the odds,” added Hovannisian. “Hence, in deference to this strong groundswell of support and urgency, I am withdrawing my resignation and will resume my responsibilities as a member of the Zharangutyun faction.”
Zaruhi Postanjian, another member of that faction, welcomed the move and confirmed reports that she and other senior Zharangutyun members appealed to their leader not resign his parliament seat. “Our calls and pleas also played a role in Raffi Hovannisian’s decision to withdraw his resignation,” Postanjian told RFE/RL. “We believe that his presence in the National Assembly is a more effective means of struggle at this point.”
But a spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), Eduard Sharmazanov, found Hovannisian’s behavior erratic and “unserious.” “If the people give you a mandate, you must keep it,” he said. “But if you decide to resign, you must resign. Changing your mind is very unserious. We’re not in a kindergarten.”
Hovannisian founded Zharangutyun in 2002 and remains its de facto top leader despite holding no formal leadership positions in what is now a major opposition force. He has increasingly detached himself from the party’s day-to-day affairs in recent years.
His intention to give up his parliament mandate, revealed to the media on September 7, was followed by the expulsion from the party ranks of three senior Zharangutyun figures, including a parliament deputy and a member of the Central Election Commission. The latter accused the party’s nominal chairman, Armen Martirosian, of foul play and secret collaboration with the Armenian authorities. Martirosian and his allies, which dominate Zharangutyun’s decision-making board, have rejected the accusations.
In a statement circulated last week, Hovannisian refrained from taking sides in the row, seemingly blaming both factions for the “mudslinging” and castigating unnamed individuals motivated by “petty personal interests.” The U.S.-born politician is expected to explain his position in greater detail at a news conference scheduled for Friday.