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Artur Baghdasaryan

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Artur Baghdasaryan, Chairman NA

Artur Baghdasaryan, Chairman NA

Artur Baghdasaryan was born November 8, 1968 in Yerevan.

In 1985, he completed the "K. Abovian" Secondary School in Yerevan.

In 1985 he entered and in 1992 completed the Law Faculty of Yerevan State University.

In 1988- 1989 he served in the army.

From 1989 until 1993 he worked at the editorial offices of the newspaper "Avangard" as a Correspondent, Head of Department, and Deputy Editor-in-Chief.

In November 1993 he was elected the Vice-Chairman, Shengavit Community Council, Executive Committee.

From 1994 until 1997 he studied at and completed with honors the Academy of Civil Service of the President of the Russian Federation.

In 1995 he defended his Candidates Thesis and received the degree of Candidate of Legal Sciences.

On July 5, 1995, Mr. Baghdasaryan was elected Deputy of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia of the First Convocation from the Shengavit Electoral District 5.

In September 1995 he was elected the Chairman, Union of Lawyers and Political Scientists of the Republic of Armenia.

In 1997, in Moscow, he defended his doctoral dissertation and received the degree of Doctor of Legal Sciences.

In March 1998 he was elected the Chairman of the Standing Committee on State and Legal Affairs of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia.

In June 1998 he was elected the Head of the Party "Orinats Yerkir" (Rule of Law).

On May 30, 1999 he was elected Deputy of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia of the 2nd Convocation from the Shengavit Electoral District Number 21, and in September 1999 was the Head of the "Orinats Yerkir" Faction of the National Assembly.

In 2000 Mr. Baghdasaryan was chosen as the Chairman of the Board of the French University of Armenia, and in 2002 of the European Regional Academy in the Caucuses.

From 2001-2003 he was a member of the Standing Commission on Foreign Relations of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia.

On May 25, 2003 he was elected a Deputy of the Third Convocation of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia.

On June 12, 2003 Mr. Baghdasaryan was elected the Chairman of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia.

He is the author of a number of scientific monographs and more than 100 scientific and analytical articles.

He is married and has two children.

When a new party called Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law) was set up in Armenia nearly five years ago, it was widely dismissed as one of myriad political groups doomed to political oblivion. But it went on to win six parliament seats in the May 1999 elections and more than three times that number in the next polls four years later, becoming the country's second largest pro-establishment force.

The key to the party's success is its 36-year-old leader, Artur Baghdasarian, who became speaker of the current Armenian parliament and is regarded as a potential successor to President Robert Kocharian. Revered by his supporters but despised by his foes, Baghdasarian has made a spectacular career over the past decade. He has managed to adapt swiftly to the changing political environment and build a solid grassroots structure, something that no other party supporting Kocharian can boast.

A lawyer by training, Baghdasarian began his political activities in 1995 as an enthusiastic supporter of then President Levon Ter Petrosian and his Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) party. Baghdasarian made his name as the head of a lawyers association and the host of a TV program that promoted Armenia's post-Soviet Constitution, which was endorsed in a controversial referendum in July 1995. He was elected to parliament on the HHSh ticket in the parliamentary ballot held concurrently with that referendum.

Baghdasarian was among dozens of lawmakers who defected from the HHSh-led parliament majority in February 1998 and thus helped precipitate Ter-Petrosian's resignation. He has since played down his past links with the unpopular "former regime," repeatedly criticizing it in public speeches.

Orinats Yerkir contested the relatively clean 1999 elections along with scores of other small parties and blocs, most of which also had vague populist platforms and were likewise loyal to Kocharian. But Orinats Yerkir outperformed them with a barrage of television advertisements and Baghdasarian's populist appeal, its most potent weapon. It was also the first Armenian party to understand the importance of grassroots and targeting of specific segments of the population.

Orinats Yerkir currently claims to have tens of thousands of members across the country. Significantly, its structures comprise nationwide associations of small traders, teachers, doctors and other professionals. It also numbers among its members a growing number of wealthy individuals with connections to the present government.

All of this greatly contributed to Orinats Yerkir's much stronger showing in the elections held in May 2003. The party now has the second largest faction in the National Assembly, holding 22 of its 131 seats. Anecdotal evidence suggests that unlike the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), the main powerful government faction led by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, Orinats Yerkir did not benefit from the numerous vote irregularities reported by both domestic and international observers.

Immediately after he created Orinats Yerkir, rumors identified Baghdasarian as a protege of Defense Minister Serge Sargsyan, Kocharian's most powerful associate. That hypothesis was reinforced by Baghdasarian's election as parliament speaker in June 2003, to which the HHK, which has more parliament seats, agreed only under strong pressure from Kocharian and Sarkisian. In addition, Orinats Yerkir formally became a governing party, obtaining three ministerial posts in Markarian's cabinet.

Baghdasarian's growing political clout fueled speculation that he is being groomed as Armenia's next president in the event that Kocharian decides to resign after completing his second term in office in 2008, in accordance with the article of the constitution that bars any one individual from serving more than two consecutive terms. Indeed, Baghdasarian is arguably the most popular and "electable" pro-Kocharian politician in Armenia.

But observers caution that Kocharian is likely to select as his successor only someone whom he can fully trust. Sarkisian, they say, has proved a more reliable ally, especially during last spring's failed opposition campaign for Kocharian's resignation, which Baghdasarian failed to explicitly condemn. Sarkisian, by contrast, is believed to have played a key role in a tough crackdown on the Armenian opposition which quelled the street protests in Yerevan.

Baghdasarian's ambiguous stance reinforced the perception that he is inconsistent and switches sides easily. It also underscored his close attention to the popular mood, which does not seem to favor the Armenian president. Baghdasarian may have publicly campaigned for Kocharian's reelection in 2003, but he never emphasized his close ties with the ruling regime during parliamentary election campaigns.

On the contrary, Orinats Yerkir posed as a vocal opposition force, even though it has never been in opposition to the ruling regime. Baghdasarian's discourse on government corruption and the difficult socioeconomic situation in Armenia still differs very little from that of opposition leaders, except for the fact that he rarely names names. In one such exception, in May Baghdasarian publicly accused Justice Minister Davit Harutyunyan (another potential Kocharian successor) of misappropriating a $4.5 million World Bank loan designed to shore up Armenia's judiciary. Both Harutiunian and the World Bank denied the allegations, but that did not prevent Baghdasarian from scoring more points with the disgruntled electorate.

Orinats Yerkir's own track record in government has been less than impressive. Two of its three ministers were forced to step down last April under scandalous circumstances. Its third cabinet member, Education Minister Sergo Yeritzyan, is also in a shaky position, dogged by reports about persisting large-scale bribery in the admission of students to state-run universities.

The party's key 2003 campaign pledge was to compensate Armenians whose Soviet-era bank savings were wiped out by the hyperinflation of the early 1990s, but that effort is falling flat. An Orinats Yerkir bill put forward earlier this year called for $70 million in public funds to be set aside for that purpose. However, its passage was blocked by the government, which argues that it has no money to finance the scheme. The Orinats Yerkir ministers have voiced no objections to that argument.

Yet this will not necessarily lose Orinats Yerkir votes in the next elections. Its leaders, no doubt, will say that they need more parliament seats and ministerial portfolios to pull the government strings. Baghdasarian, better known for his politicking flair than intelligence, has already proved how rewarding populism can be in Armenia. (Emil Danielyan)

Armenian Speaker To Send `Evidence Of Vote Rigging' To Prosecutors
RFE/RL Armenia Report - 12/09/2005

By Astghik Bedevian

Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian insists that there were serious irregularities during last month's constitutional referendum and will present relevant `facts' to law-enforcement authorities, an aide said on Friday.

`Is there a person who says there wasn't [ballot stuffing]?' Samvel Balasanian, who leads the parliament faction of Baghdasarian's Orinats Yerkir (Country of Law) party, asked at a news conference.

`There are facts proving this,' he said. `The chairman of the National Assembly has stated that he will submit them to the Prosecutor-General's Office.'

Baghdasarian raised eyebrows within Armenia's governing coalition last week when he said that there were serious instances of ballot box stuffing during the November 27 referendum. That led Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian to ask the speaker to send him concrete facts substantiating the claims.

Orinats Yerkir's coalition partners, the Republican Party (HHK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), are clearly unhappy with Baghdasarian's statements. Dashnaktsutyun's parliamentary leader, Levon Mkrtchian indicated that Orinats Yerkir should have shared its concerns with its government allies before publicly giving more weight to opposition allegations that the vote was blatantly rigged. He said Dashnaktsutyun is unaware of the content of the letter which Baghdasarian will send to the prosecutors.

The speaker's remarks were openly criticized by an HHK leader, Galust Sahakian, last week. But Sahakian played them down on Friday, dismissing talk of a renewed rift within the presidential camp. `No relationships have been severed, and we all continue to respect each other,' he told reporters.

Hovsepian separately instructed his agency to look into newspaper reports of ballot stuffing, voter intimidation and other irregularities and see if they warrant criminal investigations. No such investigations have been announced yet.

The United States and the European Union have urged the Armenian authorities to investigate the fraud reports and punish delinquent election officials. However, nobody has been prosecuted in Armenia for electoral crimes in the past and few observers think anyone will be held accountable this time around.

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