By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Shakeh Avoyan
The Orinats Yerkir party of the outgoing parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian lost yet another seat in the National Assembly on Monday but drew comfort from the resignation of several senior government officials affiliated with it.
The party’s faction in the 131-seat legislature was reduced to just nine members after another defection which is widely believed to have been provoked by the authorities. The latest defector, Mekhak Mkhitarian, issued no explanations, just like the nine other wealthy lawmakers that have left Orinats Yerkir since May 5.
Adding insult to injury, all three Armenian ministers that have represented Orinats Yerkir have ignored Baghdasarian’s demands to resign, choosing instead to remain in the government. One of them, Education Minister Sergo Yeritsian, was the party’s deputy chairman until last Friday.
Also likely to defect are the governors of the two Armenian provinces, Gegharkunik and Vayots Dzor, that were controlled by Orinats Yerkir until its withdrawal from the governing coalition late last week.
One of the outgoing speakers’ remaining top loyalists, Samvel Balasanian, singled out Yeritsian for harsh criticism. “He seems to value government posts more than his and his party’s honor,” he told RFE/RL.
Balasanian was full of praise for two other prominent Orinats Yerkir figures, Mher Shahgeldian and Gagik Mkheyan, who head the parliament committees on defense and social affairs and will formally quit with Baghdasarian at the end of this month.
Orinats Yerkir has also had five deputy ministers in the coalition cabinet of President Robert Kocharian. Three of them told RFE/RL on Monday that they remain loyal to Baghdasarian and will comply with his orders.
“On Friday, after Artur Baghdasarian’s news conference, I handed the minister [of labor] a letter to the prime minister asking him to relieve me of my duties,” said Artsruni Aghajanian, deputy minister of labor and social affairs. “I am one of those individuals who participated in the party’s creation and don’t find it moral to even consider staying [in the government].”
“I have abandoned the post of deputy minister to stay with my party,” said Ara Grigorian, deputy minister of trade and economic development. “I tendered my resignation on Friday.”
Similar decisions are understood to have been made by Gagik Aslanian, another Baghdasarian loyalist who has served as deputy minister for local government, as well as at least two regional vice-governors representing Orinats Yerkir.
Party sources claimed that “numerous” other, lower-level Orinats Yerkir officials will follow suit after Baghdasarian formally ceases to be parliament speaker. The National Assembly is expected to accept his resignation without a debate on May 27.