YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Country of Law Party of Artur Baghdasarian announced on Monday that it has decided to replace yet another minister representing it in President Serzh Sarkisian’s coalition government.
Baghdasarian said Agriculture Minister Gerasim Alaverdian will have to resign because of a more than 10 percent drop in Armenian agricultural output registered this year. He acknowledged that the sharp fall was due, in large measure, to highly unfavorable weather conditions.
“But in any case, we made a political decision to recall the minister of agriculture,” Baghdasarian told a news conference. “I have also had discussions with the president of the republic related to this decision.”
The Country of Law leader, who is also secretary of the presidential National Security Council, added that the party’s governing Political Council made the decision on Sunday after he “consulted” with Sarkisian. He denied speculation that Alaverdian’s impending sacking was initiated by the president.
Alaverdian, meanwhile, claimed that he himself decided to quit and faced no pressure from his party. “Given that there is a serious decline in the economy, I submitted my resignation,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “If I am primarily responsible for the sector, then I definitely accept a certain share of the blame,” he said.
As recently as on Friday, the minister dismissed rumors about his possible resignation.
“I was thinking, pondering on Friday,” he explained. “I made a final decision by the time I submitted a report to the Political Council [on Sunday.] I didn’t make a decision until that moment.”
Alaverdian, who was appointed minister in April 2009, also insisted that he is not bitter about his dismissal and will remain “a party soldier.”
Baghdasarian’s party, which holds three ministerial portfolios, already replaced last March the Country of Law-affiliated ministers of emergencies and transport by two other individuals that had no known links with the party until then. The party leaders never clearly explained the reason for the unexpected personnel changes.
According to Baghdasarian, Country of Law will nominate a new agriculture minister by January 10, after holding “consultations” with Sarkisian. He said the party has several candidates for the vacant job but refused to name any of them, saying only that Alaverdian’s successor will be “sufficiently educated and experienced and able to move this sector forward.”
Some Armenian media outlets reported that one of those candidates is Eduard Madatian, a former transport minister who fled Armenia in late 2004 to avoid prosecution for allegedly masterminding what the authorities said was a failed attempt on the life of then President Robert Kocharian and other top officials. He returned home in August 2008 after the criminal case was dropped for still unknown reasons.
Madatian, also known to many Armenians as “Curly Edo,” recently joined Country of Law and became the head of the party branch in Yerevan’s southern Erebuni district. He lives in the area and has extensive business interests there.
Gagik Shamshian, a freelance photojournalist, quoted Madatian as telling him later on Monday that he would readily take up the ministerial post but has received no such offers yet.