By Shakeh Avoyan and Ruzanna Khachatrian
Two sacked government members who managed Armenia’s natural resources said on Monday they have fallen victim to fierce resistance to their attempts to fight widespread corruption in the field.
Murad Muradian, the former minister of environment who was replaced the same day by Vartan Ayvazian, leader of the Kayunutyun (Stability) parliamentary group, blamed his weekend ouster on an unidentified “mafia” which he said plunders the country. The other dismissed official who was responsible for natural resources in his capacity as deputy minister for state property said he has paid the price for his scandalous allegations of theft and mismanagement.
Vartan Ayvazian, Armenia's new environment minister
“The order to sack me came from the mafia which is active in that system by exploiting our forestry and natural resources, including water,” Muradian told RFE/RL.
Muradian was on Saturday relieved of his duties by President Robert Kocharian without any explanation. But he blamed Prime Minister Andranik Markarian for the presidential decree, implicating the latter in shady connections with unnamed “scoundrels.” He said will hold a press conference soon to publicize “names and figures.”
“I don’t blame the president,” Muradian said. “Perhaps political expediency required sacrifices, to put it bluntly, and I just was that sacrifice.”
Muradian joined Markarian’s cabinet last year as a representative of Kayunutyun, then second-largest group in the parliament. Kayunutyun leader Ayvazian has been reportedly plotting his removal for the past several months. Ayvazian accepted the ministerial job after ensuring that his shrinking faction does not fall apart in the event of his departure from the parliament.
Kayunutyun found itself on the brink of disappearance last week when one of its members, furious with Ayvazian’s ministerial ambitions, quit it in disgust. The move left the group with just ten members, the minimum number of deputies required for forming non-partisan groups.
The danger faded on Monday when two lawmakers, who had defected from the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) earlier this year, joined the troubled group renamed into the Agricultural-Industrial People’s Alliance (AAZhM). One of them, Hmayak Hovannisian, was elected its chairman immediately after Ayvazian’s appointment as environment minister. Hovannisian, who is a staunch supporter of Kocharian, said the revamped group will follow a “centrist” and “pragmatic” line.
Meanwhile, the second top official replaced on Monday dismissed as “childish” premier Markarian’s claim that he was thwarting the government’s privatization policy. Vanya Mkhitarian, a Communist Party activist who worked as deputy minister for state property, argued that his main area of responsibility was the country’s natural resources rather than privatization.
A government press release, citing Minister for State Property David Vartanian, claimed that Mkhitarian “deems totally unacceptable the government policy of privatizing state property.”
But Mkhitarian attributed the move to his earlier revelations about the “relentless plunder” of natural resources by individuals with government connections.