YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–President Serzh Sarkisian has declined to deny statements from his Diaspora Minister that he will seek to establish a second house of Armenia’s parliament where representatives of the worldwide Armenian Diaspora would be able to hold seats.
Diaspora Affairs Minister Hranush Hakopyan announced Sunday at a meeting with Armenian-Americans in Southern California at the Arbat Golden Palace organized by the Consulate General of Armenia to Los Angeles, Asbarez reported Monday.
She said Sarkisian believes that “certain changes within the governing structure of Armenia are needed to allow Diaspora Armenians to be part of Armenia’s government.”
“In assessing the issue, the president of Armenia has come to the conclusion, and is making suggestions, that yes, certain changes within the governing structure of Armenia are needed to allow Diaspora Armenians to be part of Armenia’s government,” explained Hakopyan.
Hakopyan said this would take the form of constitutional amendments leading to the establishment of an upper chamber of parliament. She did not clarify just how its Diaspora members would be elected and whether they would have to be Armenian citizens.
“The first step by the president was the creation of the Diaspora Ministry, through which substantive policies for Armenia-Diaspora relations were put forth. The second was the establishment of the dual-citizenship institution, and clearly we are taking the third step by creating the upper house through which the Diaspora Armenian will have a voice in the governing of the country and in creating policy,” explained Hakopyan.
Hakopyan’s explanation that the proposed upper house of the legislature would allow Diaspora Armenians to serve as representatives in Armenia was met with applause and excitement by the audience.
Sarkisian’s press secretary, Armen Arzumanian, did not deny this, saying that the president asked prominent Diaspora Armenians to propose ways of boosting Armenia-Diaspora ties at a meeting in Yerevan last May. “This is one of the possible proposals that deserves consideration along with many others,” Arzumanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service in a written statement sent later on Monday.
Arzumanian did not specify who is the author of that proposal. He stressed instead that Armenia’s constitution can be amended only under “a complex and long procedure.” “Naturally, there would have to be public discussions and detailed professional studies for making such a decision,” added the presidential spokesman.
“It’s a proposal that deserves attention,” Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for Sarkisian’s Republican Party, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service on Tuesday. “It once again reaffirms the fact that President Sarkisian is the leader of not only the Republic of Armenia but also all Armenians. He is doing everything to ensure that Armenia-Diaspora ties are at a high level.”
“We support the idea,” said Artyusha Shahbazian, a senior member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, an opposition party that has branches in all Diaspora communities abroad.
“But if it is not put into practice correctly, it could deal a heavy blow to the Diaspora and split it further,” cautioned Shahbazian.
The Armenian constitution can only be amended through referendums. Changes in its text must be backed by at least one third of Armenia’s 2.4 million eligible voters.
The Armenian authorities already pushed through a long list of constitutional amendments in a 2005 referendum marred by opposition and media allegations of vote rigging. One of those amendments lifted a constitutional ban on dual citizenship. It was meant to strengthen Diaspora Armenians’ links with the country of their ancestors.