By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Gevorg Stamboltsian in Prague
Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian’s surprise passionate speech earlier this week at the scene of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution should not be construed as a call for similar change in Armenia, one of his allies said on Thursday.
Visiting Ukraine at the head of an Armenian parliamentary delegation, Baghdasarian addressed hundreds of thousands of people who gathered at Kiev’s famous Independence Square to celebrate the first anniversary of their Western-backed uprising. The event featured speeches by Ukrainian politicians and foreign dignitaries.
Speaking before a see of orange flags, Baghdasarian described the imposing square as an “embodiment of the energy and courage of the Ukrainian people” and called the dramatic events of November 2004 a “revolutionary resurrection.” “Democracy and liberty, solidarity and progress: these are the values which we have fought for and will defend in the future,” he said in a speech delivered in Russian.
“Democracy is a right to choose and the Ukrainian people made their choice one year ago,” he added. “We must do everything to ensure that the rule of law, free speech and a free market become the chief priorities in the development of our countries and societies.”
“Long live Ukraine and the Ukrainian people!” he concluded in Ukrainian, drawing cheers from the huge crowd.
Hovannes Markarian, who leads the parliament faction of Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party, said not much should be read into the fact that the 36-year-old speaker thus became the first Armenian official to openly welcome a revolution sparked by a reputedly rigged presidential election. He said Baghdasarian’s trip to Kiev simply coincided with the official celebrations of the revolution anniversary.
“Naturally, as parliament speaker, Mr. Baghdasarian had to participate in the event,” Markarian told RFE/RL. “This is a pure coincidence.”
In an interview with the Russian Regnum news agency, Baghdasarian similarly argued that he was asked to speak at the gathering by Victor Yushchenko, Ukraine’s current president who led the revolution. “It would not have been polite to turn down an invitation extended for three times,” he said.
Interestingly, Armenia was among the few countries that recognized official results of a Ukrainian presidential election that gave victory to Yushchenko’s pro-Russian rival, Viktor Yanukovich. President Robert Kocharian sent a similar congratulatory message to Yushchenko after the vote was rerun and won by the latter.
The Armenian authorities have watched with alarm a wave of anti-government revolts that swept away ruling regimes across the former Soviet Union. Buoyed by the success of the 2003 Rose Revolution in neighboring Georgia, the Armenian opposition tried unsuccessfully to topple Kocharian in the spring of 2004. Opposition leaders in Yerevan plan another attempt at regime change, having drawn inspiration from the Ukrainian experience as well.
Baghdasarian, who never explicitly endorsed Kocharian’s controversial 2004 crackdown on the opposition, admitted that his appearance and speech at the Kiev rally will raise eyebrows in Yerevan. “Some in Yerevan will criticize this step, while others will on the contrary find it positive,” he told Regnum.
Baghdasarian, 36, is widely regarded as a potentially strong candidate in the next Armenian presidential election due in 2008. His party made a strong showing in the 2003 parliamentary election, capitalizing on his populist appeal.
Observers note in this regard that Baghdasarian has essentially avoided public involvement in the Armenian authorities’ campaign for a “yes” vote in Sunday’s constitutional referendum. Orinats Yerkir’s participation in the campaign has also been barely visible apart from the fact that the “Yes” campaign is nominally managed by one of its leading members, Mher Shahgeldian.
But Orinats Yerkir’s Markarian denied that the party, which has the second largest faction in the Armenian parliament, is distancing itself from the constitutional reform and the ruling regime in general. “As a co-author of these crucial reforms, our parliament faction and the Orinats Yerkir Party in general are actively participating in the process,” he said after a campaign meeting with teachers of a secondary school in Yerevan.
(Photolur photo: Artur Baghdasarian.)