Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 18

Yesterday, in a 65-56 vote with 25 abstentions, the Armenian parliament rejected Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian’s request to lift Vano Siradeghian’s parliamentary immunity, which would permit Siradeghian’s arrest. Siradeghian, now chairman of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (APNM), was arguably Armenia’s most influential figure from 1994 to 1998 as internal affairs minister, reputed godfather of the shadow economy and chief of the ruling APNM’s countrywide apparatus. He now stands accused of masterminding several murders and attempted murders while in government.

The prosecutor general, in bringing those charges, is widely believed to be acting at the behest of President Robert Kocharian, whose regime replaced the APNM’s in 1998. The new authorities have arrested several of Siradeghian’s former subordinate officers, who are said to have confessed to their and Siradeghian’s involvement in those crimes. In yesterday’s parliamentary debate before the vote on lifting the immunity, an undaunted Siradeghian described the charges as politically motivated, and the effort to lift his immunity as directed, ultimately, against the parliamentary institution. He accused Kocharian of introducing the rule of a “Karabakh clan” in Armenia proper, and implied that the new authorities were themselves tainted by crime and corruption.

A flamboyant figure, Siradeghian sometimes flaunted his power and new wealth, and more than once admitted to having organized electoral fraud for the APNM. Yet in yesterday’s vote the normally supine governmental majority split, thus saving Siradeghian at least for now. Local observers tend to interpret this battle as one between rival economic and political clans (Noyan-Tapan, Snark, Respublika armeniya, January 26).

The battle lines are less than clear-cut because some of APNM’s stalwarts defected to Kocharian last year when he ousted Levon Ter-Petrosian from the presidency. Yet while violent rivalries among shadow groups have characterized Armenian politics in recent years, there are also real differences over foreign policy which separate Kocharian’s camp from the surviving APNM and other groups. Kocharian has introduced a harder line on the Karabakh conflict and toward Turkey, and a closer military relationship with Russia. Siradeghian’s and some other opposition groups, wary of Russian motives, would prefer–as had Ter-Petrosian–a Western-sponsored accommodation with both Azerbaijan and Turkey. Siradeghian clearly implied this when speaking in yesterday’s parliamentary debate. The APNM’s internal political record while in government, however, detracts from its public credibility in criticizing the current government’s policies.