A key member of Armenia’s three-party governing coalition has spoken of possible retributions over allegedly breaking ranks after a series of recent arrests of its supporters on drug-related charges.
Despite suspecting a pattern behind the arrests, the second largest ruling Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) has conspicuously stopped short of jumping to conclusions until clear evidence emerges to substantiate its suspicion.
The acknowledgement by the party comes in the wake of reported prosecution of its local chapter’s head in a central Armenian town on illegal drug possession charges.
According to a police report, Armen Hovannisian, a BHK local leader in Jermuk, was arrested on November 28 on suspicion of illegally possessing and using drugs. The police said a subsequent search of the suspect and his personal car revealed a total of 12.6 grams (some 0.4 oz) of marihuana-like narcotics.
Earlier, Armenian media reported two other arrests of suspected drug dealers as part of separate criminal investigations alleging their affiliation with the BHK. A party spokesman later denied their being members of the party, but not their being affiliated otherwise.
One of the arrested, Armen Muradian, nicknamed Shlam, works closely with a cement factory that belongs to Gagik Tsarukian, a tycoon who leads the BHK.
Tsarukian’s spokesperson Khachik Galstian on Wednesday did not exclude that the arrests may amount to some sort of political ‘pressure’ on the BHK which is said to be increasingly on competitive terms with President Serzh Sarkisian’s main ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) ahead of parliamentary elections due next May.
Speculations about possible rifts between the two coalition partners intensified after Levon Ter-Petrosian, the leader of the Armenian National Congress (HAK), expressed his readiness last week to cooperate with the BHK if it leaves the ruling coalition and openly challenges President Sarkisian.
Tsarukian, who left Armenia on vacation earlier last week, has so far been noncommittal over the proposal. His spokesman Galstian earlier said the BHK could not give a formal response in the leader’s absence.
Meanwhile, other senior members of the party have left no indications that the BHK might be considering breaking its commitment to the power-sharing deal with the HHK and the other junior coalition partner, Orinats Yerkir (Rule of Law Party) signed in 2008 and renewed earlier this year.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on Wednesday, Galstian said the party will continue to monitor the situation, but suggested it was still early to draw conclusions regarding a deliberate campaign against the party activists.
Armenia -- Naira Zohrabian, MP from the Prosperous Armenia party at a press conference, 29Jun2009
The spokesman said the developments would be discussed after Tsarukian’s return to Armenia and the party will issue a relevant statement. He did not specify when the BHK leader planned to return from his vacation in the United Arab Emirates.
Earlier, on Tuesday, a senior BHK lawmaker issued a statement warning against an inquisition-style ‘witch-hunt’ against the party. She said the “unhealthy stir” within the country’s political circles following the opposition leader’s offer of cooperation to the BHK contrasted with declared intentions of “developing political tolerance and establishing a new political culture in Armenia.”
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) on Wednesday, Zohrabian, too, saw a pattern in the recent arrests of people affiliated with the BHK.
“There have been so many similar cases of late that it forces us to speak not about just coincidences, but about some kind of pattern,” said Zohrabian.
Meanwhile, the HHK's deputy head Galust Sahakian spurned the talk that the recent arrests of BHK-affiliated people has anything to do with politics. In an interview with RFE/RL's Armenian Service (Azatutyun.am) Sahakian said that "crime knows no party" and no one - no matter what his or her political affiliation is - is immune from prosecution.