Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian continued to avoid on Monday any public statements on bitter infighting within his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party that flared up a week ago following his mysterious decision to resign his parliament seat.
Three senior Zharangutyun figures were expelled from the party ranks on Wednesday after they accused the party’s nominal chairman, Armen Martirosian, of foul play and secret collaboration with the Armenian authorities. Martirosian and his allies, which dominate Zharangutyun’s decision-making board, have rejected the accusations. They also claim that the dissidents acted on orders issued by both the government and the country’s largest opposition alliance led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
The turmoil broke out two days after the announcement of Hovannisian’s decision to quit the National Assembly. Neither he, nor other party officials have given a clear explanation for the surprise move yet. A party spokesman said on September 7 that the Zharangutyun leader will explain his motives in the coming days.
Hovannisian did not return to Armenia from a trip abroad as of Monday evening, according to some individuals close to him. Just when he will be available for comment remained unclear.
It emerged over the weekend that Hovannisian sent on Wednesday a letter to the board members in which he is said to have expressed dismay at the deepening rift within his party. The two rival camps made conflicting claims about further details of the letter.
According to Zoya Tadevosian, one of the expelled board members, the U.S.-born popular politician wrote that he is “tendering the last resignation of my political life and leaving the party.” But Hovsep Khurshudian, the Zharangutyun spokesman allied to Martirosian, described that as “disinformation.”
“Raffi Hovannisian remains a member of Zharangutyun,” Khurshudian told RFE/RL. He at the same time refused to disclose the content of the letter, saying that it was meant for the party leadership and is therefore “not subject to publication.”
Hovannisian, 50, relocated to Armenia from California with his family in 1990 and served as the newly independent country’s first foreign minister in 1992. He founded Zharangutyun in 2002 and remains its de facto top leader despite holding no formal positions in the party leadership at present.
Tadevosian said Hovannisian’s letter has made her and other expelled members reconsider their initial decision to collect signatures in support of an emergency congress of the party. She said they will now urge supporters to leave Zharangutyun “en masse.”
Tadevosian, who makes no secret of her warm rapport with Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK), also reiterated on Monday that she will not step down as a member of the Central Election Commission (CEC) representing Zharangutyun. Under Armenian law, the party is entitled to naming one member of the CEC and all other lower-level electoral bodies by virtue of being represented in the National Assembly. However, it can not recall and replace those election officials at will.
“Those who will sit on district election commissions are my friends,” claimed Tadevosian. “They are not going to obey the party called Zharangutyun.”
Khurshudian insisted, however, that most of those commission members are loyal to the current party leadership. Stepan Safarian, another party figure close Martirosian, said Zharangutyun will initiate legal amendments that would enable it to sack Tadevosian.
The infighting is also likely to lose Zharangutyun two of its seven seats in the 131-member parliament. One of the ousted dissidents, Vartan Khachatrian, is a parliament deputy, while another, Movses Aristakesian, is next in line for taking up the seat left vacant by Hovannisian.