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Ter-Petrosian Warns Armenian Protest Movement


Armenia -- Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian (C) with Nikol Pashinian (R) and Sasun Mikayelian at Liberty Square in Yerevan, 31 May, 2011.

In a stern warning that seems primarily addressed to his erstwhile ally Nikol Pashinian, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian has claimed that the ongoing political transition in Armenia may be marred by a violation of the country’s constitution.

Ter-Petrosian expressed serious concern over the weekend at the resignation of two lawmakers who broke ranks during the May 1 parliament vote on Pashinian’s bid to become prime minister.

One of them, Grigor Avalian, stepped down after refusing to join fellow deputies from the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) in voting against the main organizer of massive street protests that have toppled Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. Avalian is reportedly linked to two wealthy businessmen brothers strongly supporting the protest movement.

The other lawmaker, Aghvan Vartanian, represented the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), Sarkisian’s former junior coalition partner which has also backed the protests. Unlike the six other Dashnaktsutyun deputies, he refused to vote for Pashinian’s premiership.

The Dashnaktsutyun leadership demanded that Vartanian give up his parliament seat before expelling him from the party’s ranks on Friday. Vartanian too decided to resign from the National Assembly.

Ter-Petrosian said that both lawmakers were forced to quit in breach of an article of the Armenian constitution which protects parliamentarians against any coercion by their parties or even voters. He said parliament speaker Ara Babloyan must urge both Avalian and Vartanian to withdraw their resignations.

“Failure to do that would mean that the constitution has been violated not only by the two parties but also all deputies of the National Assembly,” the ex-president said in written comments posted on Ilur.am.

“It is unacceptable for ‘New Armenia’ to begin its existence with an unconstitutional step,” Ter-Petrosian went on. “The leadership of the ongoing political movement and Nikol Pashinian personally must be first and foremost interested in [preventing] that.”

Speaker Babloyan said on Monday that both lawmakers have assured him that their resignations were the result of their personal “convictions,” rather than pressure. There has been no reaction yet from Pashinian and his allies.

Pashinian played a prominent role in Ter-Petrosian’s broad-based opposition movement that nearly brought the ex-president back to power in a disputed presidential election held in February 2008. He spent about two years in prison on dubious charges stemming from the March 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan.

Pashinian fell out with Ter-Petrosian after being released from prison in 2011. Accordingly, his relationship with Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) opposition party has been strained.

As recently as in February this year, the HAK’s deputy chairman, Levon Zurabian, scoffed at Pashinian’s plans to try to stop then President Serzh Sarkisian from extending his decade-long rule. Zurabian said Pashinian and other leaders of the Yelk alliance themselves made it easier for Sarkisian to hold on to power when they declined to campaign against his controversial constitutional changes in 2015.

Even so, the HAK voiced support for the Pashinian-led movement as it gained momentum in mid-April. It demanded Pashinian’s immediate release when he was detained on April 22, the day before Sarkisian decided to resign as prime minister.

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