The mayor of Spitak on Friday rejected opposition calls for a square in the central Armenian town honoring Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich to be renamed because of the bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters in Kiev.
Gagik Sahakian, who is affiliated with the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), condemned a group of Yerevan-based opposition activists for defacing on Thursday plaques in the local Yanukovich Square. He said they committed “vandalism” by plastering the signs with posters declaring that the square has been renamed after Sergey Nigoyan, an ethnic Armenian protester shot dead in Kiev last month.
“I consider that unacceptable,” Sahakian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). He made clear that the Spitak square will continue to bear the embattled Ukrainian leader’s name in recognition of his past participation in the reconstruction of the small town razed by a 1988 earthquake.
The anti-Yanukovich posters were torn off the square signs by Friday morning. The activists that posted them mostly represent Civil Contract, a recently formed political group led by Nikol Pashinian, an outspoken opposition lawmaker.
Pashinian has spent near two years in prison for his role in the March 1-2, 2008 post-election violence in Yerevan, which left ten people dead. The 38-year-old oppositionist and his loyalists have drawn parallels between that unrest and the deaths of more than 70 Ukrainians in this week’s vicious clashes in Kiev.
“I don’t think that a country that went through [the events of] March 1 should have a square named after a person who has shot at his own people,” Alen Simonian, one of the Civil Contract activists involved in the Spitak protest, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“I do know that Yanukovich had participated in Spitak’s reconstruction but we should give credit to the Ukrainian people, not a particular individual,” said Simonian.
Mayor Sahakian bristled at such statements. “Let those activists think about us before judging Yanukovich. Yanukovich was elected by the people,” he said. “A bunch of kids are too immature to call a 63-year-old man loved and respected by the people a murderer,” added the official.
Some ordinary Spitak residents were also against renaming the square. “Yanukovich helped our community a lot after the earthquake,” said one middle-aged man. “He deserved to have this square named Yanukovich.”
Yanukovich personally inaugurated the Spitak square when he visited the town about 100 kilometers north of Yerevan in late 2008, just over a year before being elected president. The local municipal council also declared him an honorary citizen.
The square was named after Yanukovich apparently at the initiative of Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), then a junior partner in Armenia’s governing coalition. The BHK, which boasts the second largest parliamentary faction, is now in de facto opposition to the government.
Tsarukian’s party on Friday refused to clarify whether it thinks the square should now have a different name. Its spokesman, Tigran Urikhanian, also declined a comment on the Ukrainian crisis. “It’s their internal affair,” he said.