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Opposition Parties Trade Accusations


Armenia -- Raffi Hovannisian, the founding leader of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party.

Armenia -- Raffi Hovannisian, the founding leader of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party.

Leaders of the two opposition parties represented in Armenia’s parliament exchanged on Monday bitter recriminations stemming from a controversial change in the composition of the Armenian delegation in the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE).


Raffi Hovannisian, the top leader of the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, criticised the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) for backing Zharangutyun deputy Zaruhi Postanjian’s removal from the delegation. A leading Dashnaktsutyun member, meanwhile, rounded on Postanjian for questioning his party’s opposition credentials.

Parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian decided last month to replace Postanjian by a pro-government deputy in the PACE on the grounds that Dashnaktsutyun left the country’s governing coalition in April and is now in opposition to President Serzh Sarkisian. Abrahamian argued that the presence of two opposition deputies in the delegation does not reflect the balance of forces in the National Assembly.

Like fellow party figures, Hovannisian rejected the explanation, saying that the authorities are simply keen to prevent more criticism of their policies in the Council of Europe. He accused Dashnaktsutyun and its PACE delegate Armen Rustamian in particular of complicity in what he called an act of “cowardice” committed by the Armenian authorities.

“If Dashnaktsutyun and Zharangutyun are mature political forces -- and I hope they are, for all their mistakes and failings -- they should have found a solution to this issue,” Hovannisian told RFE/RL. “But unfortunately, Armenia’s parliament with its leadership and delegation members opted for a complicit deal and did not keep channels of communication open.”

For his part, Rustamian, who is also the de facto head of Dashnaktsutyun’s governing body in Armenia, rejected as “baseless” Postanjian’s claims that Dashnaktsutyun can not be viewed as a genuine opposition force because it has largely defended the authorities’ bloody 2008 crackdown on Armenia’s largest opposition alliance led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.

Armenia -- Armen Rustamian, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, addresses a rally in Yerevan on January 11, 2010.
He complained that Postanjian focused on attacking his party during a meeting of the PACE’s Monitoring Committee held in Strasbourg last week. The outspoken opposition lawmaker was allowed to attend the meeting despite being forced out of the Armenian delegation.

“The same vocabulary is used by [Ter-Petrosian’s] Armenian National Congress (HHK),” Rustamian told a joint news conference with the delegation’s pro-government members. “I was surprised to hear that Ms. Postanjian is guided by the same vocabulary.”

Rustamian also dismissed her argument that Dashnaktsutyun was part of the country’s governing coalition during the crackdown. “It’s natural for a political force to be in government at one point and in opposition at another,” he said.

The mutual accusations raised more questions about continued cooperation between the two parties. Zharangutyun was among over a dozen mostly small opposition groups that teamed up with Dashnaktsutyun last fall to campaign against the implementation of Armenia’s controversial agreements with Turkey. Some of its senior members have already voiced serious misgivings about Dashnaktsutyun’s tactic of blocking the implementation of those agreements.

While admitting the existence of different “tactical approaches,” Hovannisian asserted that his party is willing to continue to cooperate with Dashnaktsutyun and other opposition forces, including the HAK. “Cooperation is possible,” he said. “I have always believed that this is not just a Zharangutyun-Dashnaktsutyun or Zharangutyun-HAK matter. There has to be broader cooperation on values and concrete issues. I hope we will find that path.”

“But as things stand now, I’m saying that what happened in Strasbourg was extreme, criminal and militant cowardice,” added the Zharangutyun leader.
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