By Ruzanna Stepanian and Armen Zakarian
Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian denied on Friday that his vocal interference in the Armenian government’s activities does not sit well with the two parties making up the ruling coalition together with his Orinats Yerkir Party.
Baghdasarian insisted that he did nothing wrong when calling for a halt to the privatization of public hospitals and did not claim credit for the parliament majority’s plans to explore the possibility of compensating Soviet-era savings, devaluated by hyper-inflation in the early 1990s, and other decisions.
“The chairman of the National Assembly, like any other citizen of the Republic of Armenia, has the right to express his opinion,” Baghdasarian told RFE/RL after a meeting with members of the National Academy of Sciences. He claimed that all of his statements were agreed with the coalition partners beforehand.
However, some leaders of the governing Republican Party (HHK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) privately accuse the 34-year-old speaker of scoring political points through populism. Dashnaktsutyun leaders, for example, argue that the coalition decided to suspend the sale of state-owned medical facilities before Baghdasarian’s extraordinary statement on the issue.
One of them, Armen Rustamian, told RFE/RL that leaders of the three governing parties should stick to the terms of their power-sharing agreement, in a thinly veiled rebuke to Baghdasarian. But Rustamian avoided openly criticizing him. He also claimed that the speaker’s behavior will not be discussed at a meeting of the coalition’s “coordinating council” which was due to take place later in the day.
The council comprises two representatives from each of the three parties. The HHK is represented there by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and deputy speaker of parliament Tigran Torosian. Rustamian said he and another Dashnaktsutyun member of the body will push for a decision authorizing emergency cabinet meetings on issues raised by one of the coalition partners. He said they will also demand discussions on the thorny subject of Turkish-Armenian relations.
The issue is potentially a divisive one, with Dashnaktsutyun making improvement relations with Turkey conditional on its recognition of the 1915 Armenian genocide. The Republicans and Orinats Yerkir, by contrast, favor a softer line on Ankara and stand for the reopening of the Turkish-Armenian border. Baghdasarian enraged the Dashnaks recently when he called for the creation of a “friendship group” of Turkish and Armenian parliamentarians.
The Orinats Yerkir leader on Friday underscored his active posture when he demanded that Armenia’s office of prosecutor-general investigate alleged embezzlement of public funds, illegal privatization and other instances of corruption in the central Gegharkunik region which have been reported by parliament’s Audit Chamber. Incidentally, the region has been governed by an Orinats Yerkir member, Stepan Barseghian, since June.
The move followed Baghdasarian’s pledge to increase the Chamber’s hitherto insignificant role. He told members of the body last month to inspect various government agencies more frequently and thoroughly.