By Shakeh Avoyan
President Robert Kocharian said on Friday that he will not attend next week’s inauguration of his newly elected Georgian counterpart Mikhail Saakashvili and will instead send his foreign minister to the ceremony.
Kocharian said he has never been present at similar events in other ex-Soviet nations and sees no reason to change what he described as the absence of such traditions in the Commonwealth of Independent States.
The Armenian president was speaking to journalists after a visit to the Yerevan mayor’s office during which he discussed municipal affairs with the city administration. He seemed annoyed by the question about the Saakashvili inauguration, wondering why it was asked in the first place.
Kocharian has already congratulated the 36-year-old firebrand lawyer on his electoral victory. He said he will send another message to Saakashvili through Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian.
Saakashvili, who scored a landslide victory in the January 4 presidential election, is scheduled to be sworn in on January 25 in the presence of a number of foreign dignitaries, notably U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Neighboring Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev is also expected to be in attendance.
Powell’s presence will underscore Washington’s strong support for the new Westward-leaning regime in Tbilisi. The State Department welcomed Saakashvili’s electoral triumph as a major step towards Georgia’s democratization, in sharp contrast to its “deep disappointment” with last year’s presidential elections in Armenia and Azerbaijan that were criticized by international observers.
Saakashvili and his allies swept to power on the back of the November “rose revolution” in Tbilisi that toppled unpopular President Eduard Shevardnadze. The mass protests were sparked by a parliamentary election marred by allegations of vote rigging.
Kocharian faced similar allegations from his political opponents when he controversially won a second term in office last March. The Armenian opposition was clearly buoyed by the success of the Georgian uprising and is now planning a campaign of anti-Kocharian demonstrations for next month.