The Armenian opposition on Friday failed to muster sufficient support for an emergency session of parliament on last month’s deadly violence at a now infamous restaurant in Yerevan.
Only 21 of the 131 members of the National Assembly backed the initiative spearheaded by the Armenian National Congress (HAK), short of at least 44 signatures needed to force a parliament debate on the issue.
The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) effectively declined to throw its weight behind the opposition demand for a parliamentary inquiry into the June 17 incident. Only 7 of its 37 deputies signed up to the demand.
Naira Zohrabian, a senior BHK lawmaker, again claimed that most members of the party’s parliamentary faction, the second largest in the assembly, are absent from the country and therefore physically unable to put their signatures.
Zohrabian also distanced the BHK from the HAK initiative endorsed by the two other parliamentary opposition forces, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party. “The author of the initiative is only the HAK as both we and Dashnaktsutyun and Zharangutyun were saying that it’s not possible to collect 44 signatures right now,” she said.
But Zaruhi Postanjian, an outspoken Zharangutyun deputy, blamed the BHK for the fiasco, effectively accusing the party led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian of retaining close ties with the government. She pointed out that the BHK faction voted for a major government bill last month.
“I can also say that within the BHK faction there are individuals who have had a hand in [other] crimes, who have jeopardized people’s lives and health,” Postanjian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Why would those people come and agree [to the parliamentary inquiry?]”
Vahan Hovannisian, a Dashnaktsutyun leader, issued an implicit warning to the BHK earlier in the day, when the signature collection in the parliament was still underway. “If there is really a desire to sign up, they will find a way [of backing the opposition initiative,]” Hovannisian told journalists.
By contrast, HAK lawmakers refrained from criticizing their BHK colleagues, reflecting their opposition alliance’s new strategy of pursuing close cooperation with Tsarukian’s party. Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s parliamentary leader, said the onus is on the ruling Republican Party (HHK) to allow the creation of an ad hoc parliamentary commission investigating the fatal beating of a military doctor at the Harsnakar restaurant.
Harsnakar’s government-linked owner, Ruben Hayrapetian, resigned as parliament deputy representing the HHK last week amid street protests against his possible role in the violence. The protests continued even after his resignation, with participants demanding that criminal proceedings be also launched against Hayrapetian. The Armenian police said this week that there are no legal grounds to prosecute him, however.
Dozens of civic campaigners picketed the National Assembly on Friday to voice support for the creation of the ad hoc commission. Many of them were skeptical about the official explanation for the lack of BHK support.
“The summer vacation of the National Assembly deputies is supposed to start on July 15,” said Davit Sanasarian, one of the protest organizers. “We are demanding that if they can’t sign up before 6 p.m. today, they must come here tomorrow and themselves initiate a new signature collection.”