By Armen Zakarian
The leader of the Armenian parliament's largest faction which supports the government and President Robert Kocharian accused unspecified "superpowers" on Thursday of orchestrating the bitter political standoff that paralyzed the legislature this week.
Galust Sahakian of the Miasnutyun (Unity) faction said that the alliance of 13 opposition parties which disrupted the parliament proceedings was manipulated by external forces intent on destabilizing the political situation in Armenia. Although Sahakian refused to name them, he was understood to refer to either Russia or the United States -- the two most influential external players in the region.
"They don't need stability in the South Caucasus," he charged. "They can do what they want in Georgia and Azerbaijan, but not in Armenia."
Sahakian, who is a close ally of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, was speaking to reporters after three days of fierce political battles over opposition attempts to have the parliament consider the possibility of impeaching Kocharian. Opposition deputies seized the National Assembly's main rostrum on Monday and prevented everyone else from speaking from there, after speaker Armen Khachatrian rejected their demands to place the issue on the agenda.
Miasnutyun and other pro-presidential factions, including that of the influential Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) party, were also strongly opposed to an impeachment debate. They say that opposition claims that Kocharian has repeatedly violated the Armenian constitution are baseless and should not be even discussed.
The row specifically centered on a clause in the parliamentary statutes allowing every deputy to force a debate on any issue under some circumstances, without having to obtain the consent of at least one-third of the lawmakers. Khachatrian and the majority argued that the provision is not applicable to this particular case.
The parliament went into summer recess on Wednesday, failing to overcome the unprecedented crisis and discuss issues remaining on the agenda of its spring session.
Meanwhile, the leader of another major parliamentary group, Hayastan, claimed on Thursday that during the standoff some pro-government deputies were "instructed" by the government to stoke tensions further and try to free the parliament podium by force. Miasnik Malkhasian said it was the presence of Hayastan deputies, who are affiliated with the influential Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh war veterans, that "restrained" them.
Hayastan members backed calls for an impeachment debate, although most of them are against Kocharian's resignation. But some of them did sign an opposition petition listing the legal grounds for his impeachment.
A leading Hayastan member, Hakob Hakobian, on Tuesday shouted abuse at the parliament majority after one of its members punched an opposition deputy occupying the rostrum. The parliament appeared to be on the brink of a mass brawl on that day.
Kocharian has blamed the turmoil on the opposition and threatened to take unspecified measures to restore order in the assembly.
His stance was backed by Dashnaktsutyun on Thursday. In a statement, the nationalist party's parliament faction urged the president and the parliament leadership to "remove the causes of the existing situation and protect the country's authority against illegal actions." Its leader, Aghvan Vartanian, denied that the statement amounted to a call for dissolving the parliament.