Sebouh Hovnanian’s return to duty at Cabinet sessions on Wednesday will only impede progress on achieving the community’s demand for a second Armenian minister, a rival MP said Tuesday.
Beirut MP Hagop Kassardjian told The Daily Star that “Hovnanian should’ve refused (his appointment to the Cabinet) at the time, because the message would have been stronger.”
“I’d like to ask if he and the Tashnak Party received a written commitment as to when a new Armenian minister would be selected, and by what method will they resolve the question of Armenian representation,” Kassardjian said.
Hovnanian’s Tashnak Party decided Tuesday to approve his return to Cabinet sessions as minister for youth and sports after his boycott since the government was formed. The party cited promising statements by top officials that the question of appointing a second Armenian minister would be resolved.
But Kassardjian, who heads the international committee of the rival Ramgavar Party, said the decision had in effect downgraded the issue “from a crisis to a mere problem.”
“If they don’t have a written commitment, the Armenian community risks losing its legitimate rights,” he complained. “We consider the Tashnak Party responsible for this matter.”
Kassardjian said that both a deadline for appointing a second minister and the method by which this would take place were left “vague.”
The MP dismissed speculation that replacing Economy Minister Basil Fuleihan, a Protestant, with an Armenian minister, was an option being discussed.
Fuleihan is an MP for Beirut who defeated Apraham Dedeyan, an Armenian Protestant, in the 2000 elections. The issue of which section of the Protestant community should receive the seat was one of the factors that torpedoed an election alliance between Premier Rafik Hariri and the Tashnak Party.
A Tashnak Party source countered that Hovnanian’s active participation in the Cabinet would mean “pressuring the government from within, instead of from outside.”
The source also rejected replacing a sitting minister with an Armenian one.
“We won’t accept such a step,” the source said. “It’s not a solution. We have no conditions for the naming of the new minister.”
Also in play is the position of the Orthodox Armenian community’s spiritual leader, Catholicos Aram I Keshishian. Kassardjian said the name of a potential new minister was floated with the catholicos, but that the figure was seen as too pro-Tashnak to gain the necessary consensus.
“We have no animosity toward this person, but he seen as an ally of the Tashnak Party, although he is not a member,” Kassardjian said.
He declined to name the candidate, although Armenian political sources identified him as former MP Andre Tabourian.
“I’ve spoken with the Catholicos and asked that he remain at an equal distance from any new minister,” Kassardjian said. “He accepted this.”
Speculation is mounting that Hagop Demirdjian, a former minister in Hariri’s last Cabinet and an ally of the premier’s, will eventually be selected to provide the necessary balance. Otherwise, the choice could go to one of the four Armenian MPs for Beirut who are members of Hariri’s parliamentary bloc.
Kassardjian emphasized that the Taif Accord in effect consecrated the Armenian community as the country’s seventh “sect,” following the “big six” of Maronites, Orthodox, Catholics, Sunnis, Shiites and Druze.