By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Close associates of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian sought on Friday to downplay a bitter of war of words between the two men which has dealt a fresh blow to the unity of Armenia’s ruling coalition.
Markarian and top members of his Republican Party (HHK) have openly attacked Baghdasarian following rumors that President Robert Kocharian is about to name a new prime minister. They implicitly pointed the finger at Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party, a junior partner in Kocharian’s coalition cabinet.
In a newspaper interview this week, a furious Markarian said he has instructed all government agencies not to cooperate with several consultative councils formed and chaired by Baghdasarian, alleging that the bodies operate illegally. Baghdasarian was quick to hit back, telling another paper that the allegations are baseless and that the premier should have found “more acceptable ways” of communicating with him.
The response only added to the Republicans’ fury. Their parliamentary leader, Galust Sahakian, accused the speaker of turning the National Assembly into an Orinats Yerkir “campaign headquarters.”
But another HHK leader, deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, was keen on Friday to lower the temperature in the extraordinary row. “I don’t think the prime minister voiced harsh criticism,” he told RFE/RL.
Torosian also reproached both sides for making their disagreements public. “I don’t think this is the kind of issue over which one should make noise through the media,” he said.
Torosian added that the issue was discussed at Wednesday’s meeting between Kocharian and representatives of the HHK, Orinats Yerkir and the third coalition party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). “I don’t want to say who said what and who replied what,” he said.
“Nothing special is going on,” claimed the leader of the Orinats Yerkir faction in the parliament, Samvel Balasanian. “There are no differences between the National Assembly chairman and the prime minister.”
Still, Balasanian went on to warn the government against questioning the speaker’s integrity. “Orinats Yerkir could always find many things to criticize the government in which we have our representatives,” he said.
Relations between the two parties, which have the two biggest parliament factions, have been uneasy ever since they joined the current government in June 2003. The Republicans reluctantly agreed to elect Baghdasarian chairman of the National Assembly and resent his perceived populism.