The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) did not explicitly deny Friday that one of its senior members has been censured for backing criticism of a government minister voiced by Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of the country’s second largest pro-government force.
The HHK’s Executive Body led by President Serzh Sarkisian issued a “strict reprimand” to Vartan Ayvazian, chairman of an Armenian parliament committee on economic affairs, at a meeting held on Monday.
A short statement issued by the party said Ayvazian violated a clause in the HHK statutes that obliges all party members to comply with decisions taken by “superior bodies.” It did not elaborate.
Local commentators were quick to link the embarrassing move to Ayvazian’s effective endorsement of Tsarukian’s recent scathing attack on Trade and Economic Development Minister Nerses Yeritsian. The influential leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) questioned Yeritsian’s competence and denounced his claims that the economic crisis in Armenia is over.
Yeritsian, who joined the HHK late last year, hit back at Tsarukian, saying that he should instead evaluate the work of other ministers affiliated with the BHK. Republican leaders also dismissed the criticism.
Eduard Sharmazanov, the chief HHK spokesman, refused to be drawn on the warning issued to Ayvazian. “Why do you think should you know in detail what our party is up to?” he told journalists. “This is an internal affair of our party.”
Ayvazian, who previously served as minister of environment protection, has avoided any contacts with media since the HHK board meeting. He has told journalists contacting him by phone throughout this week that he is in a hospital and can not comment on the matter.
Tsarukian’s attack on the HHK-affiliated minister sparked fresh talk of serious disagreements within Armenia’s governing coalition. His party is widely seen as the support base of former President Robert Kocharian.
Kocharian only poured more fuel on the speculation when he criticized the Armenian government’s economic policies in a rare statement made earlier this week. Some media commentators were quick to repeat their claims that he is keen to become prime minister and eventually replace Sarkisian as president.
The HHK’s parliamentary leader, Galust Sahakian, on Thursday described Kocharian’s remarks as “not appropriate.” Still, the presidential party’s reaction to them has been otherwise very cautious.
Sharmazanov referred all questions about Kocharian’s political comeback to the ex-president’s office. “It is very natural when former presidents express their views on one or another issue,” he said. “As for whether or not Mr. Kocharian will return to politics, that’s something which only he can decide.”
Ayvazian was thought to enjoy Kocharian’s personal backing when he was in the government. That support seemingly continued even after a U.S. mining company doing business in Armenia accused Ayvazian of demanding a $3 million bribe from it in 2007.
The U.S. embassy in Yerevan expressed serious concern at the allegations, raising the matter with the Armenian government at the time. Both Ayvazian and then Prime Minister Andranik Markarian dismissed them as baseless.