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Dozens Quit Armenian Opposition Party's Youth Wing

YEREVAN -- Twenty-six members of the youth wing of one of Armenia's key opposition parties, including its leader, have resigned en masse, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Aram Manukian, the chairman of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), which is aligned with opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian's Armenian National Congress (HAK), said no one explained why they were quitting the HHSh.

"All resignation letters had the same content and were sent on the same day," he said on November 23, the day of the resignations. "I have spoken to many of them. None of them gave a reason."

Manukian downplayed the news, saying that some of those who quit are at least 35 years old, while others have been drafted into the army. "The hard core, which keeps fighting and is used to fighting in the streets and getting beaten up, is still there," he said.

Karen Karapetian, 36, was the leader of the HHSh's youth wing. He refused to explain his motives for resigning, saying only that they were political.

"All of my steps have been political," Karapetian told RFE/RL. "The resignation of the leader of a party's youth wing can't be apolitical." He also made it clear that he did not formally end his membership in the party that governed Armenia from 1990-98.

Some media reports have claimed the resignations were triggered by the choice of HHSh delegates at an international forum of the youth organizations of liberal parties taking place in Beirut. Most of the delegates are reportedly children of HHSh leaders.

Manukian dismissed the claims as "slander." Karapetian, however, did not deny them.

The HHSh was already thrust into turmoil this July after the resignation of its previous chairman, Ararat Zurabian, and his deputy, Khachatur Kokobelian. The two men were reportedly suspected by HAK leaders of collaborating with authorities. Ter-Petrossian, who maintains a strong influence on the HHSh, was said to have told them to quit.

An emergency congress of the HHSh held at the time formed a new party board that appointed Manukian as its chairman. The congress was marred by allegations of foul play made by one of the party's prominent members, Karapet Rubinian.

A former deputy parliament speaker, Rubinian quit the party in protest, accusing Ter-Petrossian of stifling dissent. The HHSh leadership strongly denied the accusations.