President Serzh Sarkisian has pointedly declined to deny one of his ministers’ claims that he would like to found a second house of Armenia’s parliament where representatives of the worldwide Armenian Diaspora would be able to hold seats.
Diaspora Affairs Minister Hranush Hakobian made the announcement at a meeting with Americans of Armenian descent in California. She reportedly said Sarkisian believes that “certain changes within the governing structure of Armenia are needed to allow Diaspora Armenians to be part of Armenia’s government.”
The Los Angeles-based Armenian daily “Asbarez” quoted her saying Monday that this would take the form of constitutional amendments leading to the establishment of an upper chamber of parliament. Hakobian did not clarify just how its Diaspora members would be elected and whether they would have to be Armenian citizens.
Sarkisian’s press secretary, Armen Arzumanian, did not deny this, saying that the president asked prominent Diaspora Armenians to propose ways of boosting Armenia-Diaspora ties at a meeting in Yerevan last May. “This is one of the possible proposals that deserves consideration along with many others,” Arzumanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service in a written statement sent later on Monday.
Arzumanian did not specify who is the author of that proposal. He stressed instead that Armenia’s constitution can be amended only under “a complex and long procedure.” “Naturally, there would have to be public discussions and detailed professional studies for making such a decision,” added the presidential spokesman.
“It’s a proposal that deserves attention,” Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for Sarkisian’s Republican Party, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Tuesday. “It once again reaffirms the fact that President Sarkisian is the leader of not only the Republic of Armenia but also all Armenians. He is doing everything to ensure that Armenia-Diaspora ties are at a high level.”
“We support the idea,” said Artyusha Shahbazian, a senior member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), an opposition party that has branches in all major Diaspora communities abroad.
“But if it is not put into practice correctly, it could deal a heavy blow to the Diaspora and split it further,” cautioned Shahbazian.
By contrast, top representatives of the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) rejected the idea out of hand. Vladimir Karapetian, the HAK’s foreign policy spokesman, dismissed it as a “ludicrous” bid to woo the Diaspora. He said there are other, more feasible ways of boosting the country’s ties with millions of ethnic Armenians scattered around the world.
“It’s an empty and unrealistic promise that doesn’t make sense,” Aram Manukian, another senior HAK member, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Tuesday. “It’s federal states, confederations and multi-ethnic countries that have bicameral parliaments. We don’t fall into any of those categories.”
“Besides, would be illogical for citizens of other countries to become members of our parliament,” said Manukian.
The Armenian constitution can only be amended through referendums. Changes in its text must be backed by at least one third of Armenia’s 2.4 million eligible voters.
The Armenian authorities already pushed through a long list of constitutional amendments in a 2005 referendum marred by opposition and media allegations of vote rigging. One of those amendments lifted a constitutional ban on dual citizenship. It was meant to strengthen Diaspora Armenians’ links with the country of their ancestors.