Hovannisian declared the end of “the first act of the freedom fast” at a ceremony attended by members of his family and several dozen supporters of his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party.
An Armenian priest was on hand to lead a prayer service and bless a loaf of bread on the occasion. “Mr. Hovannisian, I should ask you tear off a symbolic chunk from this bread,” he said. “May God help you.”
Hovannisian, flanked by his wife Armine and older son Garin, duly obliged as the small crowd broke into applause.
The U.S.-born politician, who had served as Armenia’s first foreign minister, began the hunger strike on March 15 in protest against the state of affairs in Armenia and the government’s perceived failure to address problems facing the country. He has indicated that the holding of snap presidential and parliamentary elections is among “radical solutions” sought by him and his party.
In a short speech, Hovannisian acknowledged on Wednesday that his high-profile action has not changed “the consciousness and policies of the current authorities.” But he said he has achieved a change in “the public consciousness” that will make Armenians less tolerant of corruption and other government abuses.
Armenia -- Supporters of opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian celebrate the end of his hunger strike, 30Mar2011.
“We saw that through the freedom of debates, solidarity visits [to Liberty Square] and singing and dancing, our people demand that power be returned to them,” he said.
Hovannisian also attributed his decision to end the protest to appeals from “thousands” of sympathizers, doctors’ health warnings as well as the fact that his daughter Shushi will turn 18 on Thursday.
The Zharangutyun leader further spoke of “very serious problems of the opposition” but made no direct mention of his and his party’s relations with the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), which became even more strained during the hunger strike.
The HAK’s top leader, Levon Ter-Petrosian, controversially shunned Hovannisian as he led thousands of supporters into Liberty Square for a rally on March 17. Hovannisian deplored the snub and went as far as to question Ter-Petrosian’s opposition credentials.
Ter-Petrosian and his loyalists hit back, saying that Hovannisian never clearly formulated his demands addressed to the Armenian authorities. Some of them also openly charged that the hunger strike is a publicity stunt designed to deflect public attention from the HAK’s renewed campaign of antigovernment protests and thus boost Hovannisian’s popularity.