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By Shakeh Avoyan
Authorities in Yerevan have refused to certify that Raffi Hovannisian, the U.S.-born foreign minister, has been an Armenian national for the past ten years, in what is seen as a first step towards his expected disqualification from the presidential race. The popular opposition politician condemned the move and filed an appeal to a court of law on Wednesday.

In a written statement, Hovannisian reiterated his arguments that he has resided in Armenia for over ten years and that his numerous applications for Armenian citizenship had been “unlawfully” rejected up until last year. Hovannisian was granted the citizenship in April 2001 shortly after surrendering his U.S. passport.

Under Armenian law, only those individuals who have been Armenian citizens and have “permanently” resided in the country for the previous ten years are eligible to contest presidential elections. That information must be officially confirmed by the immigration department of the Armenian Police and submitted to the Central Election Commission by a candidate’s proxies.

A document given to Hovannisian states that he has been a citizen for less than two years.

“Every single step I have taken to date has consistently corresponded with the laws of our land, and so I remain faithful to my record at this decisive moment as well,” the former minister said, expressing confidence in the “impartiality of the court.”

Opinion polls put Hovannisian among opposition leaders capable of scuttling President Robert Kocharian’s reelection. His supporters have already submitted about 40,000 voter signatures to the CEC needed for the registration. However, the citizenship document may make them irrelevant.

Kocharian, meanwhile, has secured a widely anticipated but controversial police document certifying his ten-year citizenship and residency in Armenia. The incumbent president was born and lived in Nagorno-Karabakh until becoming Armenian prime minister in 1997. His opponents say he is therefore not eligible for the Armenian presidency.
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