By Hovannes Shoghikian and Karine Kalantarian
Thousands of people joined Armenia’s top government officials and politicians on Wednesday to take part in the state funeral of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, whose sudden death heightened political uncertainty in the country.
Markarian, who died Sunday of a heart attack aged 55, was buried in the national Komitas Pantheon after a lengthy funeral service that began from his Yerevan apartment in the morning.
Hundreds of cars and buses slowly moved behind his coffin, placed on an artillery caisson and surrounded by honor guard, towards the city center. The procession briefly stopped outside the headquarters of Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK) and the nearby main government building before the body was taken to Yerevan’s State Opera House where it lay in state for three hours.
Big crowds that gathered outside the building then filed past the open coffin as President Robert Kocharian and top government officials and prominent politicians took turns to stand guard over it. The ceremony was broadcast live by state television.
Markarian’s body was carried through the city center to the Pantheon after a prayer service led by Catholicos Garegin II, head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. In an eulogy read out at the burial site, parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, who is also a senior member of the HHK, paid tribute to his longtime associate.
“For our state and our people, the loss of is immense and sorrow infinitely deep,” Torosian said. “But today … we can also see that there is a lot we can draw comfort from.” “Andranik Markarian will be remembered as a remarkable statesman who distinguished himself with a unique style and pronounced personality,” he added.
Opposition politicians attending the ceremony also heaped praise on the deceased premier, saying that he tolerated dissent and always sought dialogue with his political opponents. “In my view, the most important trait of Andranik Markarian was his kindness,” said Artur Baghdasarian, the former parliament speaker whose Orinats Yerkir Party was part of the HHK-led governing coalition until last year.
Another well-known opposition parliamentarian, Arshak Sadoyan, described Markarian as a “bridge between the government and the opposition.”
The funeral service was also attended by foreign dignitaries representing over a dozen states and international organizations. “Armenia has lost its great son, and I have lost a friend,” one of them, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, told reporters.
“He felt bad for Armenia’s isolation and was confident that Armenia will be a free and democratic country,” said Russian Transport Minister Igor Levitin.
The U.S. government was represented by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza. “Prime Minister Markarian was a very good and constructive partner,” he said. “I had the honor to know him personally.”
Bryza refused to comment on political implications of the Armenian premier’s death. “It’s really difficult to make predictions, and I won’t do that because today is a very sad day,” he explained.
Wednesday was an official day of mourning in Armenia, with flags on government buildings and Armenian diplomatic missions abroad flying at half-mast and television channels broadcasting mainly somber music.