By Karine Kalantarian
A major opposition party led by Armenia’s former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian was again evicted from its main offices on Friday despite winning legal action against their government-controlled owner.
The eviction came one day after the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party reclaimed the premises located in a building in downtown Yerevan housing a state-run theater. An Armenian court of first instance annulled late last month the theater management’s controversial decision four months ago to unilaterally terminate a five-year lease agreement with the party signed in September 2002.
Officials from the Armenian Justice Ministry’s Service for Mandatory Execution of Judicial Acts (SMEJA) claimed, however, that this does not mean Hovannisian and his associates can return to the offices. The officials led by the acting head of the SMEJA division in central Yerevan, Vahram Yenokian, said the court ruling does not explicitly provide for this.
“Do you have any grounds to evict us?” Hovannisian asked Yenokian as the office doors were again sealed by the law-enforcement officers. “Do you have a ruling allowing you to occupy the property?” replied Yenokian.
“You didn’t answer my question,” shot back Hovannisian. “I did,” said the official.
Zaruhi Postanjian, a Zharangutyun lawyer, argued that the party can occupy the offices until September 2007 because the court effectively upheld the validity of the lease. She said the Zharangutyun leadership will ask the judge who adjudicated the dispute to provide a written clarification of his verdict.
“We agreed that the party’s property will remain here until we get a clarification from the court as to whether or not we can occupy these offices,” Postanjian said.
Zharangutyun leaders maintain that they were forced out of their headquarters in retaliation against Hovannisian’s scathing attacks on President Robert Kocharian and his intention to challenge the ruling regime in the approaching national elections. Hovannisian charged on Friday that Kocharian personally ordered the “illegal” eviction.
The action which we are witnessing today shows that we are still far from being a democratic and rule-of-law country,” he told reporters outside his party’s closed office. “All the pre-election talk of national values, civil society is just a bubble because the real picture of our country, our state is right here.”
(Photolur photo: Justice Ministry officials guard the entrance to the Zharangutyun offices after the eviction.)