An Armenian opposition lawmaker who posed a question to President Serzh Sarkisian about his alleged gambling habit at the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) earlier this week was greeted as a hero by her supporters as she returned to Yerevan on Saturday.
Scores of people, including politicians, civil activists and other members of the public, came to Yerevan’s Zvartnots Airport to meet Zaruhi Postanjian, a member of the Armenian delegation to the PACE, who has been branded ‘unpatriotic’ by government loyalists at home for her statements at the Strasbourg session on October 2.
News reports said that young members of President Sarkisian’s ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) planned to jeer Postanjian and pelt her with eggs and tomatoes on her return to Yerevan, but the head of state made clear through a spokesman on Friday that he believed his young loyalists should not stage such a protest.
Armen Martirosian, a deputy head of the opposition Heritage party, of which Postanjian is a member, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) at the airport that the youth wing of the HHK must have obeyed the instructions from the Presidential Palace as none of them appeared there to protest against Postanjian.
The opposition lawmaker was greeted with flowers, balloons and Armenian tricolors as she appeared in the arrivals hall of the airport to rapturous applause and people’s chanting her name: “Zara, Zara!”
Looking noticeably overwhelmed by the kind of reception from her supporters, Postanjian said that all she tried to do in Strasbourg was to verbalize the protest that existed “in the hearts of all of us.”
The lawmaker repeated that she had been undaunted even by the prospect of egg-pelting as she considered her actions to be right. “I did what I ought to do. Every citizen should do that in his or her place, we should do it everywhere to make sure there is law and order in Armenia so that all of our compatriots could return home,” said Postanjian in brief remarks to the media.
Postanjian came under fire from senior members of the HHK immediately after she challenged Sarkisian to comment on rumors that he has gambled away 70 million euros (about $95 million) at a European casino. The president flatly denied that. Meanwhile, HHK lawmakers responded with personal insults against Postanjian. Some of them branded her a “Turk,” saying that her allegations amounted to high treason.
In a statement on Friday the Heritage party condemned what it called a smear campaign against its prominent member waged by the authorities.
Meanwhile, Postanjian continues to face expulsion from the Armenian delegation at the PACE over what Parliament Speaker Hovik Abrahamian described on Thursday as her ‘slanderous’ statement. He said it was against Armenia’s Constitution and National Assembly Regulations and could cost the lawmaker her mandate as a delegate to the Strasbourg assembly.
Postanjian denounced the speaker’s move as illegal, promising an “adequate response” to it.