Parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian reaffirmed on Tuesday plans to oust an opposition lawmaker from the Armenian delegation at the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) for branding President Serzh Sarkisian a chronic gambler during his recent visit to Strasbourg.
“I have not changed my intention,” Abrahamian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) in Brussels when asked about the fate of Zaruhi Postanjian of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage).
Abrahamian announced his decision to punish Postanjian for “slander” on October 4, two days after she lashed out at Sarkisian during his address to the Strasbourg-based assembly. She effectively accused the president of gambling away $95 million at a European casino recently. Sarkisian laughed off the allegation, saying that Postanjian is driven by “malice.”
France - Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian addresses the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg, 2Oct2013.
Senior members of Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) reacted furiously to the embarrassing exchange on the PACE floor, with some of them resorting to personal insults. One senior HHK figure, Deputy Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs Khachik Asrian, went further, saying last week that Postanjian deserves to be “burned alive.” He compared the 41-year-old mother of four to an infamous Azerbaijani army officer who hacked to death a sleeping Armenian colleague in Hungary in 2004.
Asrian clarified afterwards that he spoke figuratively and did not mean to call for Postanjian’s execution. This did not keep the opposition parliamentarian from asking for police protection of herself and her family. The Armenian police agreed to provide her with armed bodyguards but stopped short of launching criminal proceedings against the official notorious for his extreme nationalist rhetoric.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the Zharangutyun leadership accused the Armenian authorities of continuing to “persecute” Postanjian for her controversial statements made in Strasbourg. Armen Martirosian, a deputy chairman of the opposition parliament, said Abrahamian’s plans to strip her of her PACE seat are also part of that campaign. “The political persecution of Zaruhi Postanjian is unacceptable,” Martirosian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Postanjian already warned Abrahamian against acting on his threats earlier this month. She said she has complained to the PACE leadership and received assurances that the Armenian speaker cannot single-handedly throw her out of the Council of Europe’s legislative arm.