The Orinats Yerkir Party of Artur Baghdasarian said its governing board decided at a meeting on Saturday to “recall” Emergency Situations Minister Mher Shahgeldian and Transport and Communications Minister Gurgen Sargsian from the government.
In a short statement, the party said it will ask President Serzh Sarkisian to replace them by Armen Yeritsian, a deputy chief of the Armenian police, and presidential adviser Manuk Vartanian respectively. Vartanian previously headed Armenia’s State Cadastre Committee.
“Mher Shahgeldian and Gurgen Sargsian will continue to serve in the Orinats Yerkir Party leadership with other duties,” the statement added without elaborating. It did not specify why the two men will lose their ministerial posts, saying only that Baghdasarian, who is currently the secretary of Sarkisian’s National Security Council, will explain the surprise development at a news conference on Tuesday.
Heghine Bisharian, Orinats Yerkir’s parliamentary leader, was also vague about its reasons, citing the party’s current “tactics and strategy.” “From now on, Mher Shahgeldian will deal with the party’s political activities and strengthen our political work, while Gurgen Sargsian will be in charge of the party’s economic package on the basis of the party’s pre-election programs,” she told RFE/RL.
Shahgeldian is a deputy chairman of the party and Baghdasarian’s longtime close associate. Neither his, nor Sargsian’s replacement is known to have had links with Orinats Yerkir until now.
Some Armenian parliamentarians, speaking privately, suggested that the ministerial reshuffle is aimed at further strengthening President Sarkisian’s positions in the government. Bisharian claimed in that regard that Yeritsian and Vartanian are Baghdasarian’s “friends.” She said they both joined Orinats Yerkir immediately after Saturday’s meeting of the party board.
It is not clear, however, if Yeritsian, who has the rank of police general, resigned from the police by that time. Armenian law bans serving law-enforcement officials from joining any party.
Representatives of Orinats Yerkir’s two senior coalition partners downplayed the development. “In any case, the main political burden rests on our shoulder and I don’t want to differentiate between our ministers and our ministers nominated by us [and other cabinet members,]” said Galust Sahakian, the parliamentary leader of Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
“I don’t understand the fuss surrounding this personnel change,” said Naira Zohrabian of the Prosperous Armenia Party.
But Armen Martirosian, a leader of the opposition Zharangutyun party, called the Orinats Yerkir move “illogical.” “The widely accepted practice in the world is to promote loyal party cadres, who have strong organizational skills, and give them government powers,” Martirosian told RFE/RL.
Baghdasarian and his party joined Sarkisian’s coalition government after challenging him in the disputed presidential election of February 2008. The former parliament speaker has endorsed and defended the Armenian authorities’ post-election crackdown on fellow opposition presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian and his loyalists.