By Ruzanna Stepanian
Raffi Hovannisian, Armenia’s U.S.-born former foreign minister, has begun collecting signatures in support of his demand to be declared eligible to contest the next presidential election, it emerged on Monday.
Tigran Xmalian, a film-maker and advisor to Hovannisian, told RFE/RL that some 50,000 people have already signed a petition demanding that the opposition politician be considered to have been an Armenian citizen since 1991.
Under Armenia’s constitution, only those individuals who have had Armenian citizenship and “permanently” lived in the country for the past 10 years can be registered as presidential candidates. Hovannisian received an Armenian passport in 2001, ten years after he first applied for one.
Hovannisian insists that President Robert Kocharian and his predecessor Levon Ter-Petrosian illegally blocked his citizenship applications. He says Kocharian’s decree granting him Armenian nationality should therefore be backdated to 1991. The authorities rejected this demand, preventing him from standing in the last presidential election held in 2003.
A statement appended to the petition says that the decision was politically motivated and was upheld by Armenian courts due to Kocharian’s “biased interference.” “It is clear that the first and the second presidents resorted to that step in order to make it impossible for him to run for president,” said Xmalian. “Raffi Hovannisian, who has lived with us and shared our successes and difficulties for 15 years, must have the right to contest the 2008 presidential election.”
Xmalian added that the signature collection began in areas outside Yerevan last month and will reach the Armenian capital after the upcoming constitutional referendum. He said Hovannisian’s objective is to secure 300,000 signatures. “The authorities would not be able to ignore the popular demand after that,” he said.
However, no petitions can be legally binding for the authorities regardless of the number of citizens who signed it.
Still, Hovannisian’s demands are backed by other prominent opposition figures such as Vazgen Manukian. Manukian believes that the former foreign minister was “artificially” denied Armenian citizenship for so long.
Also promising to assist in the campaign is the Hanrapetutyun radical opposition party. But Hanrapetutyun spokesman Suren Sureniants cautioned that he thinks it will not succeed as long as Kocharian is in power. “I don’t expect this issue to receive a fair solution through courts or otherwise under this regime,” he said.