Armenia’s Ramgavar chair condemns attempts to “split” party

by Tatul Hakobyan

Published: Thursday July 02, 2009

Harutiun Arakelian of the Ramgavar Party. . Photolure

Yerevan - In Van in 1885 the first Armenian political party was established. It was the Armenagan Party. Its heir in the diaspora today is the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party (ADL or Ramgavars), whose Central Executive is chaired by Mike Kharabian, and in Armenia the Armenian Democratic Liberal Party of Armenia (ADLA). The chairperson of the ADLA is Harutiun Arakelian, who was also elected vice-chair of the ADL at a recent party congress in Amman, Jordan.

In the 1890s the majority of the Armenagans were killed in massacres organized by Sultan Abdülhamit II. Some Armenagans who survived participated in a 1908 meeting that established the Armenian Constitutional Democratic Party. (Ramgavar literally means democratic.) In 1917 the Armenian People's Party was established. Its founders included former Armenagans and Constitutional Democrats. In 1918-20, the years of the first Republic of Armenia, the People's Party was occasionally part of the government. Their best-known figure, Mikael Babachanian, was part of the Armenian delegation to a number of Armenian-Turkish negotiations. In Paris in 1919 the Armenian National Liberal Union was formed. In the same year in the United States the National Democratic Union was formed. Meanwhile, there was the Reformed Hunchak Party, which had split from the Hunchakian Party in the late 19th century and had democratic liberal ideology.

In 1921 these groups came together and formed the ADL. In 1991, after Armenia became independent, the ADLA was formed as a sister party to the ADL.

The chairperson of the ADLA also considers 2008 to be a key date in the party's history. That's when three parties in Armenia, the National Rebirth, Dashink, and Liberal Progressive Parties dissolved into the ADLA.

After the merger

We spoke to Mr. Arakelian, who condemned the formation of the Armenagan-Ramgavar Party, considering it the handiwork of the Armenian government and particularly Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian.

Armenian Reporter: Could you say approximately how many members the ADLA and the ADL have today?

Harutiun Arakelian: Why approximately? As of last week, we had 20,196 members. This number includes the members of the three parties that joined the ADLA in 2008: the the National Rebirth, Dashink, and Liberal Progressive Parties. Before the merger, the ADLA had about 9,000 members.

As for how many members the ADL has, I don't have the exact number. But it's surely nowhere close to 20,000. I think it's between 8 and 10 thousand.

AR: The ADLA has not had an influential and serious role in Armenia's domestic politics. Could you mention some accomplishments of recent years, especially under your leadership?

HA: Under my chairmanship, the ADL of the diaspora for the first time began to trust and send young people to Armenia for camps. Young Ramgavars from the diaspora visit Armenia, see our sacred places, see Karabakh, break bread with Armenian soldiers. I consider this an achievement.

I also consider the merger of three parties into the ADLA an accomplishment.

We have had visitors from the European Parliament, and we brought over a senator from the United States. Since 2003, we have participated in ADL congresses. In 2003 the ADL congress took place in Paris, in 2006 it was in Athens, and in 2009 in Amman.

We cannot report about our accomplishments very effectively because we do not have media.

Ruling over "ruins"

In 2003, I inherited the ADLA in very bad shape. The party ranks were disillusioned. The daily Azg had been sold off. The Tekeyan Cultural Association alienated. We inherited the ruins of the party in 2003. In the past six years, we have made legislative proposals in letters to the National Assembly. On the issues of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia-Turkey, we have made proposals. The ADLA has formed a committee to deal with corruption in the Nairit factory. The strings lead to the government and the prime minister.

AR: You have repeatedly asserted in the Armenian press that the government stands behind the Armenagan-Ramgavar Party. Can you offer any objective evidence?

HA: This January, Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian met with ADL chairperson Mike Kharabian and he did not hide his great affection for the ADL. The prime minister said the Ramgavar Party is a treasure, but he'd like to see someone other than Harutiun Arakelian lead it. The prime minister, through his puppets, refused to provide the government hall of congresses to the ADLA congress. [Traditionally, all parties hold their congresses there. Even Levon Ter-Petrossian's antigovernment Armenian National Congress met there last year.] The prime minister sent emissaries across the ocean and to the Middle East to undermine the Amman congress. People openly speak on the prime minister's behalf. Armenian priests, ambassadors, and consuls participate in this effort to split the party.

Infringement?

AR: What issues does the ADLA have with the name of the Armenagan-Ramgavar Party?

HA: The law on parties in Armenia stipulates that new parties cannot bear the names of existing parties. That means they should not sound the same in Armenian or in foreign languages, so there's no confusion. What stopped them from giving their party a name entirely other than Ramgavar or Democratic Liberal?

AR: So why don't you file a legal protest?

HA: When they file papers with the Ministry of Justice, we will speak out. But their congress hasn't taken place yet; they've just held some sort of gathering. We have already informed the Ministry of Justice about their potential violation.

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