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Armenia: Outgoing Parliament Speaker Now 'In Opposition'

By Hrach Melkumian, Armen Dulian, and Anna Israelian Artur Baghdasarian (file photo) (Photolur) Artur Baghdasarian on May 22 formally tendered his resignation as speaker of Armenia's parliament. He says he and his Orinats Yerkir party have now entered the ranks of the political opposition, with an eye on the country's legislative elections in May 2007. In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Armenian Service, Baghdasarian discussed the withdrawal of his party from the ruling coalition and his political outlook for the year ahead.

YEREVAN, May 23, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Some political rivals had suggested that Baghdasarian had made a critical misstep in breaking ranks with the government coalition.

His resignation, after all, had prompted the withdrawal of between 15 and 20 members of his Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based) party -- all wealthy entrepreneurs with ties to President Robert Kocharian.

A Vital Party

But, Baghdasarian told RFE/RL his party has not lost strength. On the contrary, he called it "the largest political organization in Armenia."

"We enjoy quite weighty support inside the country and are understood outside it," he said. "Forces sharing our values system are numerous, and we will continue to follow that path."

Submitting his formal resignation to fellow lawmakers in the National Assembly on May 22, Baghdasarian said there were two paths for Armenia to follow.

He said the country can either be "part of the Russia-Belarus Union and be on good terms with Europe, or it can be part of the European Union and be on good terms with Russia."

Orinats Yerkir, he said, has chosen the second path.

Focus On Next Year's Elections

Baghdasarian announced his intention to resign on May 12, but the formal tendering on May 22 puts in motion his party's preparations for its next political challenge -- the country's 2007 legislative elections.

Baghdasarian said Orinats Yerkir has yet to decide whether it will join forces with anti-Kocharian political groups for that vote or go it alone.

"I don't rule out that Orinats Yerkir will contest the elections in an alliance," Baghdasarian said. "But I don't rule out that Orinats Yerkir will contest the elections single-handedly either."

Some members of Armenia's political opposition have taken a sympathetic stance toward the outgoing parliament speaker, including Stepan Demirchian, the nominal leader of the nine-party Artarutiun (Justice) alliance, and former Prime Minister and Hanrapetutiun (Republic) party leader Aram Sarkisian.

But other opposition members are openly distrustful of Baghdasarian, citing his long history of cooperation with Kocharian and his continued reluctance to oppose the Armenian president openly.

Into The Opposition

But Baghdasarian said he and his party are now firmly in the opposition, and will be vocal in their critique of the ruling powers.

This includes Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who has been tapped as Kocharian's likely successor -- and a possible rival should Baghdasarian opt to seek the presidential post in elections in 2008:

"Yes, we are in opposition," Baghdasarian told RFE/RL. "Within the framework of our ideas and programs, we will be criticizing both Serzh Sarkisian and Robert Kocharian and all those whose activities will be unacceptable to us. But that doesn't mean we must immediately start with personalized criticism."

It is still unclear what, precisely, led to the irreconcilable differences between Kocharian and Baghdasarian, whom the Armenian president went to great lengths to have elected as parliament speaker in 2003.

Some analysts point to Baghdasarian's April 18 interview with a major German newspaper. In it, he called for Armenia's eventual accession to NATO -- a direct contradiction of Kocharian's standing policy. He also implied that Kocharian's reelection in 2003 was fraudulent.

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

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