By Erik Ghazarian
Hrant Khachatrian, a veteran parliamentarian, stepped down on Wednesday as the leader of one of Armenia’s oldest opposition parties after failing to prevail in a bitter dispute with one of his longtime associates.
The row between Khachatrian and his deputy Hayk Babukhanian flared up into a bitter confrontation at a weekend congress of the small party called the Union for Constitutional Rights (SIM). Babukhanian was accused of weakening the party and committing serious financial irregularities in his capacity as editor-in-chief of “Iravunk,” one of Armenia’s best-selling newspapers controlled by the SIM.
Khachatrian and his allies demanded that the party oust Babukhanian from its leadership but was rebuffed by the majority of congress delegates. “My greatest political project has failed,” he declared before walking out of the gathering in protest.
“I see the following way of this situation,” Khachatrian said on Wednesday. “I resign as chairman of the SIM and promise the public not to engage in politics and other public activities.”
“In return for that, I demand that we save what the public considers a value,” he added vaguely, referring to the party’s legacy and assets.
Babukhanian has denied any wrongdoing, offering the party to investigate his financial activities and arguing that “Iravunk” now generates as much as 90 percent of the party’s revenues. He urged his erstwhile mentor on Monday “calm his emotions and return to party work.” Babukhanian also stopped short of endorsing some of his supporters’ allegations that Khachatrian secretly cooperates with the Armenian authorities.
The SIM is one of the nine opposition parties aligned in the Artarutyun (Justice) bloc. Khachatrian made it clear that despite his resignation he will continue to hold the party’s sole seat in the Armenian parliament.
(Photolur photo: Hrant Khachatrian.)