Raffi Hovannisian, an opposition leader holding a hunger strike in Yerevan’s Liberty Square, on Friday described as a deliberate snub former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s failure to greet him during a landmark antigovernment demonstration held there on Thursday.
The U.S.-born chairman of the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party warned that Ter-Petrosian’s perceived arrogance could result in “yet another disappointment” for his supporters demanding government change in Armenia.
Hovannisian began his hunger strike in Liberty Square two days before Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) forced the authorities to let it hold its first rally there in three years. Surrounded by a group of close associates, he looked on as thousands of HAK supporters poured into the square. Some of them rushed to greet the Zharangutyun leader.
By contrast, Ter-Petrosian and other senior HAK figures pointedly ignored Hovannisian’s presence. They did not approach him or mention his name when addressing the crowd later in the evening. The snub reflected an uneasy relationship existing between the two opposition groups.
“If things were all the way around and the first president or any other politician was on a hunger strike, I would have definitely approached them and expressed solidarity, regardless of my convictions and affiliations,” Hovannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Asked about reasons for Ter-Petrosian’s behavior, he said, “I used to think that there is a lack of political culture. But he is an enlightened man, a clever politician. So I believe that was a deliberate policy.”
“If it continues, the people who gathered here will experience yet another great disappointment. I am urging [him] to spare the people yet another disappointment.”
“The people must not accept orders from anyone, whether he is on the podium or on a hunger strike,” added Hovannisian.
While endorsing the HAK demands for the holding of snap elections and the release of all “political prisoners,” Hovannisian stressed that the opposition campaign against President Serzh Sarkisian’s administration should continue in a “new format” and follow a “new formula.” He did not elaborate.
Hovannisian, who served as foreign minister in the Ter-Petrosian administration in 1992, and his party supported Armenia’s first president in the February 2008 presidential election. They also strongly condemned a post-election government crackdown on Ter-Petrosian’s opposition movement.
Relations between the two forces have worsened since then, with Zharangutyun increasingly accusing Ter-Petrosian of seeking to impose his will on the entire opposition. Hovannisian declared last year that Ter-Petrosian shares responsibility for Armenia’s political and socioeconomic problems with his two successors, Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian.
The Zharangutyun leader insisted on Friday that all three men committed “grave mistakes” while in office. “I respect him as the country’s first president,” he said of Ter-Petrosian. “I was the first foreign minister in his government and I am very proud of that.”
“I was then in opposition to him and his successors. I criticized him and I think that criticism was justified,” added Hovannisian.