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Opposition Rival Visits Yerevan Tent Camp, Meets Ter-Petrosian


Armenia - Opposition leaders Levon Ter-Petrosian (R) and Raffi Hovannisian speak at Liberty Square in Yerevan, 05Oct2011.

Armenia - Opposition leaders Levon Ter-Petrosian (R) and Raffi Hovannisian speak at Liberty Square in Yerevan, 05Oct2011.

In what he called a show of support, opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian visited the site of nonstop demonstrations held by the rival opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) and met with its top leader, Levon Ter-Petrosian, on Wednesday.


Hovannisian, who leads the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, talked to HAK supporters camped out in Yerevan’s Liberty Square before approaching and greeting Ter-Petrosian. Surrounded by Ter-Petrosian’s bodyguards, the two men spoke one-on-one for about 15 minutes.

Hovannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) afterwards that they discussed “political issues.” He did not give details.

The Zharangutyun leader also said that the conversation will not have an immediate impact on his and his party’s actions.

The conversation came more than six months after Hovannisian was controversially snubbed by Ter-Petrosian during his hunger strike staged in the same square. The HAK leader and members of his entourage pointedly declined to greet him as they rallied thousands of supporters there on March 17.

Hovannisian subsequently denounced Ter-Petrosian’s perceived arrogance, warning that it could result in “yet another disappointment” for HAK supporters yearn for regime change in Armenia. Ter-Petrosian rejected the criticism.

Armenia -- Schoolchildren visit opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian during his hunger strike on Yerevans Liberty Square, 29Mar2011

The incident added to increasingly tense relations between the two opposition forces. Zharangutyun has since been highly critical of the HAK’s political strategy and, in particular, its ill-fated dialogue with the country’s leadership.

“This square belongs to all of us,” Hovannisian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) on Wednesday. “And so I have come here to talk to fellow citizens and show my support.”

The U.S.-born politician faced calls for Zharangutyun to join in the HAK’s ongoing anti-government rallies as he chatted with some of the protesters who spent the last five nights there. “Let’s sort out Armenia with one fist,” one woman told him.

Hovannisian made no such commitment, even if he expressed Zharangutyun’s readiness to fight for early elections and “any other political solution” together with the HAK.

“We need to find a new formula that would make … our struggle more inclusive,” he told Levon Zurabian, Ter-Petrosian’s chief lieutenant who approached him moments later.

“I personally have called on all sound political forces to rally around this struggle,” said Zurabian.

“Some things may and will happen without such calls,” Hovannisian replied without elaborating.

Hovannisian, who served as foreign minister in the Ter-Petrosian administration in 1992, and Zharangutyun 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 worsened in the following years, with Zharangutyun 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 presidential successors, Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian.

Ter-Petrosian took what appeared to be a jab at Hovannisian in a Liberty Square speech delivered as recently as on Tuesday. In a clear reference to Zharangutyun, the HAK leader said some opposition forces backed his 2008 presidential bid in the hope of securing high-level government posts. He said that is why they refused to join his alliance after the disputed ballot that formalized a handover of power from Kocharian to Sarkisian.
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