YEREVAN — Armenia’s Sport and Youth Affairs Minister Yuri Vartanian faced opposition calls to step down on Wednesday in connection with the recent arrest of his son on drug trafficking charges.
Davit Vartanian was detained by the Armenian police near the Iranian border more than a week ago while allegedly attempting to smuggle a large quantity of narcotics into Armenia. He was charged under corresponding articles of the Criminal Code carrying lengthy prison sentences.
Yuri Vartanian has still not commented on the embarrassing criminal case. He was conspicuously absent from the Armenian government’s question-and-answer session in the parliament on Wednesday.
Lawmakers representing two opposition parties and the opposition-leaning Prosperous Armenia (BHK) said the young man’s arrest is sufficient grounds for the minister’s resignation. Zaruhi Postanjian of the Zharangutyun party said Vartanian should quit for “moral” considerations given the gravity of the accusations leveled against his son. Levon Zurabian, the parliamentary leader of the Armenian National Congress (HAK), said that cabinet members in truly democratic states lose their jobs in such cases.
The BHK’s Naira Zohrabian echoed these calls, saying that Vartanian would have been forced to resign if he had been a member of her party led by Gagik Tsarukian, a wealthy businessman who also heads Armenia’s National Olympic Committee.
Vartanian has been at loggerheads with Tsarukian for some time, blaming the tycoon for Armenia’s poor showing in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The previous minister of sports and youth affairs was affiliated with the BHK.
The resignation calls were dismissed by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). Galust Sahakian, the HHK’s parliamentary leader, said Vartanian bears no responsibility for his son’s alleged crime. “Every minister has sons, relatives and friends. Should he resign if one of them commits a crime?” Sahakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Vartanian, 57, is a renowned former weightlifter who won the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow and several world championships for the Soviet Union. He served as an adviser to President Serzh Sarkisian before being appointed as minister in May.