The Social Democratic Hnchakian Party (SDHK), the oldest in the country, has effectively split into two mutually antagonistic since a bitter dispute that broke out within its leadership last December.
A group of senior party members openly revolted against its chairwoman, Lyudmila Sargsian, accusing her of ignoring dissent and violating party statutes. They held what they called an emergency party congress and elected a new governing board. The dissidents led by Vahan Shirkhanian won the backing of SDHK structures in major Armenian Diaspora communities abroad.
The HAK and its top leader, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, sided with Sargsian in the row. In a further boost to the SDHK chairwoman, a Yerevan court upheld the legitimacy of her leadership earlier this year. The Shirkhanian faction, which is far less critical of the Armenian government, appealed against the ruling.
In a written statement, the faction said the SDHK is leaving the HAK because it does not want to be “an appendage to any alliance.” It also blamed the Ter-Petrosian-led bloc for the party rift.
Arrmenia -- Lyudmila Sargsian, the embattled chairwoman of the opposition Social-Democratic Hnchakian Party at a news conference on December 17, 2009.
Sargsian shrugged off the statement, saying that it was engineered by the Armenian authorities with the aim of splitting the HAK. She claimed that they are keen to create a “pocket opposition.”
“The accusations directed at the Congress are unfounded,” HAK spokesman Arman Musinian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “That is why I don’t want to comment on them.”
“After this statement, we won’t be surprised if Armenia’s judicial system decides to overturn the decision by the lower court,” said Musinian. The alliance continues to view Sargsian as the rightful leader of the once influential party that was set up in the Ottoman Empire more than a century ago.
Shirkhanian, who held senior government positions in the 1990s, confirmed that unlike the HAK, he and his allies do not regard leadership change in Armenia as a priority. “I believe that it is wrong to be confined to demands for regime change today,” he told a news conference. “That won’t bring the country out of crisis. It’s the system that must change.”