President Serzh Sarkisian attended on Wednesday the inauguration of a new church built by Gagik Tsarukian, making another public appearance with the former Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) leader forced out of politics earlier this year.
The supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Garegin II, personally consecrated the Church of the Holy Savior in Nor Hachin, a town 15 kilometers north of Yerevan, at a ceremony marked by unusually tight security measures.
The presidential security service, Tsarukian’s bodyguards and police prevented scores of people from entering the church during the ceremony. Journalists were also barred from attending it.
“I don’t think that the doors [of the church] should be closed, but it is obvious that the church cannot accommodate so many people,” Garegin told reporters. “There will probably believers among the persons who were invited [to the ceremony] or represent a function.”
Sarkisian and Tsarukian did not make public statements before or after the consecration that coincided with the birthday of the former BHK leader’s wife.
Their joint public appearance came more than four months after Tsarukian publicly announced that he is resigning as leader of the BHK, the largest opposition force in parliament, and retiring from politics altogether. The wealthy businessman cited the need to avoid “bloodshed” in the country.
The move was the result of Tsarukian’s defeat in a standoff with Sarkisian. It stemmed from BHK threats to topple the president with street protests if he pressed ahead with a controversial constitutional reform. Sarkisian lashed out at the tycoon, reputed to be close to his predecessor Robert Kocharian, at a February meeting with senior members of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).
Tsarukian responded the next day by calling on his supporters to take to the streets and topple “this government of evil.” Nevertheless, he bowed to the pressure several days later after reportedly holding confidential talks with Sarkisian.
In return for the political retirement, Sarkisian allowed Tsarukian to retain his strong influence in Armenia’s central Kotayk province encompassing Nor Hachin. In early April, Tsarukian’s son-in-law Karapet Guloyan was appointed as provincial governor.
Sarkisian was also conspicuously present at last month’s inauguration of a new entertainment complex in Yerevan owned by Tsarukian.