Senior representatives of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) condemned a fellow parliamentarian on Friday for leaving the country’s largest parliamentary opposition force led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian.
The lawmaker, Sergey Bagratian, formally notified parliament speaker Ararat Mirzoyan about his decision to quit the BHK in a letter revealed on July 23. He gave no reason for the move.
BHK representatives were careful not to comment on it until now, saying that Bagratian has not answered their phone calls or communicated with them otherwise for more than a month.
Bagratian broke his silence on Friday with a Facebook post saying that he has had unspecified “significant differences” with the BHK leadership “for quite a while.” “I have repeatedly presented my objections to key [BHK] statements,” he claimed.
Senior members of Tsarukian’s party were quick to hit back at him. Arman Abovian, the number two figure in the BHK’s parliamentary group, insisted that Bagratian has never openly disagreed with the party’s decisions. Abovian urged him to resign from the Armenian parliament altogether.
Tsarukian’s spokeswoman, Iveta Tonoyan, strongly condemned Bagratian’s statement, saying that the 57-year-old is “trampling moral principles underfoot” for the sake of preserving his parliament seat.
Tonoyan also added her voiced to media speculation that Bagratian defected from the BHK to avoid prosecution on charges of financial abuses allegedly committed in Armenia’s southeastern Vayots Dzor when it was governed by him from 2010-2012. She claimed that Tsarukian has repeatedly urged Bagratian to compensate the state for the “damage” caused by him but that he has refused to do that. Tonoyan did not give further details.
Bagratian denied these allegations when he spoke with RFE/RL’s Armenian service by phone. He insisted that he has only been questioned by law-enforcement officials as a witness in a criminal case opened recently.
Bagratian stopped making public statements shortly after the parliament allowed law-enforcement authorities on June 15 to arrest and prosecute Tsarukian on vote buying charges which the BHK leader rejects as politically motivated.
The BHK claims that Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian ordered the National Security Service (NSS) to “fabricate” the charges in response to Tsarukian’s June 5 calls for the Armenian government’s resignation. It also says that the NSS and police have rounded up scores of BHK activists in a bid to ratchet up the pressure on Tsarukian. Pashinian and his allies deny a politically motivated crackdown on the party.
Bagratian’s exit reduced to 24 the number of parliament seats held by the BHK. The party continues to have the second largest group in the 132-member National Assembly controlled by Pashinian’s My Step bloc.