YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–A prominent member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, stepped down as chairman of the Armenian parliament’s committee on defense and security on Monday, following the party’s decision to leave the coalition government of President Serzh Sarkisian.
All ARF members holding senior positions in the executive and legislative branches of government tendered their resignations last week following the party’s decision to leave the coalition. Among them were three government ministers, four deputy ministers and two parliament committee chairmen.
The vice-ministers’ resignations were formally accepted by Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian on Monday. Three deputy regional governors affiliated with the ARF also resigned.
President Sarkisian and the three parties remaining in his government asked the ARF last Wednesday to retain the chairmanships of two parliamentary standing committees—Defense and Foreign Affairs.. The offer was accepted.
Artur Aghabekian, who previously served as deputy defense minister, was the chairman of the standing Committee on Defense and Security. His colleague, Armen Rustamian, served as the chairman of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The ARF decided to continue to control the post after its pullout from the governing coalition. But Aghabekian has chosen not to continue heading the committee, saying that he finds his continued leadership of the standing committee “not expedient.”
“But my party comrades also knew that while complying with the party’s decision, I remain of the opinion that I cannot occupy the post of chairman of the National Assembly committee on defense,” he said. “And so I tendered my resignation this morning.”
Vahan Hovannesian, the leader of the ARF faction in the National Assembly, said he respects Aghabekian’s decision. “As any citizen, he is free to express his personal opinion,” Hovannisian told RFE/RL. “And he did obey the party discipline by [initially] withdrawing his resignation. It’s now a personal matter.”
“I am one of the founders of the ARF in the Republic of Armenia,” he said. “I joined ARF in 1989 when we were clandestinely fighting against both the Azeris and those Soviet military commanders who tried to break our will. I have remained an ARF soldier.”
A native of Nagorno-Karabakh, Aghabekian commanded Karabakh Armenian army units during the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan and continued to hold top positions in the republic’s military in the following years, earning the rank of army general. He was appointed as deputy defense minister of Armenia in 2000.
Aghabekian resigned from that post about two years ago to take part in the ARF’s campaign for the May 2007 parliamentary elections. He was subsequently elected chairman of the National Assembly’s defense committee. In that capacity, he coordinated Armenia’s growing military ties with NATO and the United States in particular.
According to Hovannesian, the ARF’s governing Supreme Body in Armenia will meet soon to decide who will succeed Aghabekian as committee chairman. “There is nothing else I can say about this issue right now,” he said.