This week, Armenia’s ruling Civil Contract party abruptly scrapped a power-sharing deal with another party in Gyumri, and ousted an opposition mayor in Alaverdi. Critics have accused the government of political pressure and blackmail in the regions.
On Wednesday, the ruling party announced that they had terminated a shared governance agreement with the Balasanyan Alliance in Gyumri, the second-largest city in Armenia.
The announcement claimed that the city council had a ‘shadow governance’ that was in violation of Armenia’s legislation.
It also stated that two of the ruling party’s councillors in Gyumri, Artur Papikyan and Vahagn Mkrtchyan, would step down as deputy mayors.
Civil Contract only holds 11 out of 33 seats in the Gyumri City Council compared to the Balasanyan Alliance’s 14. They stated that the party would hold a press briefing next week to reveal their plans for the city.
The dissolution of the governance agreement between Civil Contract and the Balasanyan Alliance has led some to believe that the ruling party is moving to consolidate its hold over Armenia’s cities and regions.
Levon Barseghyan, a former councillor from Gyumri and president of Asparez, a rights organisation, told RFE/RL that the ruling party could not come to terms with not being in power in Gyumri.
He additionally connected what had happened in Gyumri to Civil Contract’s ousting of an opposition mayor in Alaverdi on Tuesday.
Despite having only 13 out of 27 seats in the Alaverdi City Council, Civil Contract was able to gather 14 votes to oust Arkady Tamazyan, of the Country to Live party, and install Davit Ghumashyan, who belongs to the ruling party’s faction, in his stead in a secret vote.
Country to Live, an opposition group backed by billionaire Ruben Vardanyan, who served as Nagorno-Karabakh’s state minister in 2022, also has 13 seats in the Alaverdi City Council.
Tamazyan came to power as mayor in Alaverdi after his party formed a coalition with the Armenian National Congress’s only member of the council.
However, the council in Alaverdi has been in deadlock since the summer, with sessions failing to meet quorum; in late July, Civil Contract began boycotting the sessions, as did Simon Zakharov, an independent councillor who was formerly part of Country to Live.
An ‘illegal’ vote of no confidence
On Tuesday morning, a heavy police presence was reported around the Alaverdi City Council, with Hetq reporting that opposition members were prevented from entering the premises during the vote, while Zakharov and Civil Contract’s council members entered the building escorted by riot police.
Tamazyan, councillors from his party, and other members of the Armenian National Congress gathered outside to prevent Civil Contract and Zakharov from entering the Alaverdi City Council.
He denounced the vote of no confidence as ‘illegal’ and threatened to challenge his ousting in court.
Levon Zurabyan, deputy chair of the Armenian National Congress, accused Civil Contract and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan of using the police to pressure elected officials.
‘This is Nikol Pashinian’s idea of democracy’, said Zurabyan. ‘Pashinyan brags about his democratic achievements, but what happened in Alaverdi testifies to the opposite.’
He claimed that Pashinyan aimed to depose other opposition mayors in the country in a similar fashion.
Several rights organisations on Tuesday issued a joint statement condemning the government’s ‘anti-democratic interference’ in Alaverdi’s local government.
In their petition, the organisations stated that the authorities had previously violated the ‘legal interests and rights’ of council members and citizens in other towns and cities.
‘An expression of no confidence in the head of a community by councillors is a legal measure, albeit an extreme measure, but it cannot be done through pressure, blackmail, or obstruction of rights’, read the statement.
In 2021, Civil Party toppled Yerevan’s then-mayor, Hayk Marutyan, citing his exit from the party and his non-adherence to its municipal electoral program.
Marutyan, an erstwhile ally of Pashinyan’s, ran against Civil Contract in the Yerevan City Council elections of September 2023, but both the ruling party and the opposition fell short of winning a majority.
Civil Contract secured mayorship of Yerevan in October after allying with the centre-right Hanrapetutyun party.
This article was amended on 8 December to include the information that opposition members were reportedly prevented from entering Alaverdi city council on the day of the vote.