BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
On Wednesday, opposition parliament member from the Heritage Party Zaruhi Postanjian found herself in the middle of maelstrom of controversy and attack after she chose an unlikely forum to lash out at the Armenian president. This further highlights the lack of diplomatic finesse that plagues Armenian representatives as they travel the world under the banner of the Republic of Armenia.
Following Sarkisian’s speech at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe session in Strasbourg on Wednesday, Postanjian, using her pulpit during a Q&A session, chose to ask Sarkisian whether he had gambled away 70 million euros in a European casino and who had paid for his losses.
After accusing him of vote-rigging during the last election cycle in Armenia, Postanjian said: “That is why you cannot de jure represent the will and the rights of the Armenian people here. I will therefore ask you another question. Have you been to a European casino lately, and — since you are known to the public as a gambler — did you lose 70 million euros ($95 million) there and who paid for your loss?”
“Mrs. Postanjian, I am deeply convinced that I represent the Armenian people and I am proud of that,” Sarkisian responded. “I have never been to any casino in Europe, I don’t gamble, and unfortunately I don’t have 70 million euros at my disposal,” he said. “If I had such a chance I would donate part of [that sum] to you to make sure you are happy with life and do not accumulate so much malice.”
This exchange set off a firestorm with social media networks in Armenia and Diaspora lighting up with criticism and some over-the-top name calling, which is neither befitting a politician nor an elected official representing Armenia in a foreign country.
This incident also promoted members of the Republican Party of Armenia to stoop lower than usual in their rhetoric with one Republican member, Karen Avagian writing on his Facebook page, “Today Zaruhi Postanjian was more of a Turk than any Turk, more of an Azerbaijani than any Azerbaijani.”
Parliament Speaker Hovik Abrahamyan, on the other hand, has threatened to strip Postanjian of her seat in PACE, calling her remarks “slander.”
In his speech at PACE, Sarkisian made plenty of statements that could have been criticized, even by his own delegation members. For example, Sarkisian asserted that Armenia was a democratic country adhering to European norms and that people’s right to free speech and press were protected.
This and many other statements could have been easily countered given Armenia’s poor record in protecting those essential freedoms. But Postanjian, for some reason, opted to use the international forum to criticize the leadership based on street gossip and innuendo. This certainly weakened the already fragile credibility of the Heritage Party.
It was also a surprise coming from Postanjian who has been a staunch advocate of Armenia’s rights in the European forum and has garnered praise from various facets of Armenian political life for her role in advancing Armenian interests, especially as it pertains to the continued Azeri efforts to lie and use propaganda to get their feeble points across, especially at PACE.
Postanjian should have exercised more thought and diplomacy, but the entire episode is emblematic of a political system that has advanced individual aspirations of officials over the will of the people they represent.