YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A delegation of the Armenian parliament suffered an embarrassment at a high-level meeting of the Council of Europe late last week after opposition deputies challenged its legitimacy in a letter addressed to the organization’s headquarters in Strasbourg.
The letter signed by the leader of the second largest Hanrapetutyun faction–Babken Ararktsian–protested the recent dismissal by the parliament leadership of the delegation’s head and what it called violations of opposition rights. The Armenian delegations at the Council of Europe were previously led by Hovannes Igitian of Hanrapetutyun–who was replaced last month with an ally of parliament speaker Khosrov Harutiunian.
The delegation’s new head–Armen Martirosian–told RFE/RL on Wednesday that he had "unpleasant feelings" after learning about the letter in Strasbourg. He said Ararktsian’s action was "inadmissible" and damaged Armenia’s efforts to become a full member of the Council of Europe.
He said that as a result–the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly put off the recognition of his delegation’s status until after a fact-finding visit to Armenia by its representatives in November.
Ararktsian–for his part–brushed aside the criticism–citing the interests of democracy in Armenia. Ararktsian–himself a long-time parliament speaker–resigned last February after mass defections of Hanrapetutyun deputies reduced his faction to a minority. It currently has 50 deputies in the 190-member legislature.
Both current speaker Harutiunian and Martirosian represent a dozen-strong Reforms group that supports President Robert Kocharian. Martirosian said on Wednesday that the Communist faction in parliament backed down from its earlier promise to condemn Ararktsian’s letter.
A member of the Armenian parliamentary delegation that attended a session of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly described as an unexpected "strike from the rear" the letter from the Hanrapetutyun faction questioning the delegation’s legitimacy.
Gayane Sarukhanian of Shamiram–the women’s party–told Yerkir daily that "as soon as we entered the building [in Strasbourg] we felt the strained atmosphere there. Everybody was asking us what is going on in our country. But we were not informed about the letter and unfortunately–our intransigent political atmosphere was visible abroad."
She added that the Hanrapetutyun faction has disregarded "state interests." But she says the move will have no consequences as the Strasbourg meeting decided that it is Armenia’s "internal affair."