By Emil Danielyan and Astghik Bedevian
The Orinats Yerkir party of former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian
demanded on Tuesday an official inquiry into what it described as an ongoing government-sponsored “smear campaign” against its ambitious leader.
In a written statement, Orinats Yerkir condemned several regional television stations for broadcasting advertisements allegedly “discrediting” Baghdasarian and his allies. It said the attack ads have been aired in various regions of Armenia where Orinats Yerkir leaders have held indoors gatherings with voters over the past month.
“According to our information, [the campaign] was organized by certain high-ranking officials who have also banned TV companies from disclosing the names of those who pay for the ads,” the statement said without naming names. It urged Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian to identify and punish the “individuals discrediting the party and tens of thousands of its members.”
A senior Orinats Yerkir lawmaker, Heghine Bisharian, clarified the allegations in parliament later on Tuesday, saying that the alleged campaign was ordered by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, the two top leaders of the governing Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). The verbal attack sparked bitter recriminations between HHK and Orinats Yerkir deputies on the parliament floor.
Hamlet Harutiunian, a Republican legislator, charged that Baghdasarian used to be sponsored by Sarkisian and must thank the latter for his dazzling political career. “Everyone knows Serzh Sarkisian’s role in his growth as a political leader,” Harutiunian said.
Incidentally, one of the TV stations in question, which is based in the northern town of Vanadzor, was reportedly paid by Orinats Yerkir to interview Baghdasarian during his recent trip to the area but avoided airing the interview at the last minute. Orinats Yerkir officials said that the Lori channel was forced to do so by the local government. Lori denied the claims.
The 37-year-old ex-speaker also claimed earlier this month that his party is now having serious trouble renting government-owned conference halls for its gatherings with supporters across the country.
Orinats Yerkir, which was forced out of Armenia’s governing coalition last spring and is now in opposition to President Robert Kocharian, signaled last month the start of its preparations for next year’s parliamentary elections with a fiery speech delivered by Baghdasarian in the National Assembly. Risking fresh accusations of populism, Baghdasarian accused the Armenian authorities of artificially strengthening the national currency to pocket a large part of multimillion-dollar cash remittances sent home by Armenians working abroad. He also vowed to fight for the reduction of electricity prices and other utility fees.
Baghdasarian, whose party did well in the last parliamentary elections, has not ruled out the possibility of forming alliances with other major opposition groups ahead of the 2007 polls.
(Photolur photo: Artur Baghdasarian.)