By Emil Danielyan and Shakeh Avoyan
Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian stepped up his verbal attacks on Robert Kocharian Friday with an open letter that challenged Armenia’s “acting” president to publicly clarify whether he has rigged elections or killed anyone while in office.
The letter contains 21 accusatory questions to Kocharian which Hovannisian hopes will be publicly and “truthfully” answered by December 16. The former Armenian foreign minister read it out at another opposition rally in Yerevan, underscoring a radicalization of his anti-government discourse.
The rally marked another failure by the opposition to mobilize serious popular support for its efforts to force Kocharian and his government into resignation. It was visibly smaller than the previous gatherings staged by the opposition following the November 27 referendum on amendments to Armenia’s constitution.
“Did you ever murder a person or cause a person’s murder or know about a person’s murder beforehand or attend a person’s murder … during your government tenure in Nagorno-Karabakh or Armenia?” read the most incriminating of Hovannisian’s queries. “If the answer to the previous question is positive, will you state the names and ethnic origin (Armenian or other) of the victims, the relevant dates and circumstances?”
It was a clear reference to high-profile unsolved killings committed in Karabakh and Armenia in the 1990s. Kocharian is still dogged by opposition allegations of complicity in the most serious of those crimes: the October 1999 terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament.
“Do you consider yourself honestly elected?” Hovannisian continued, reminding Kocharian of fraud accusations that clouded his two electoral victories in 1998 and 2003. “Which portion of the falsifications was perpetrated at your orders and, if so, with your knowledge?”
Hovannisian challenged Kocharian’s eligibility to contest those elections in the first place when he asked, “You are a citizen of which country? Is the answer to the previous anything to do … with your decision [in 1997] to leave Artsakh (Karabakh) and come to Yerevan? The rank-and-file citizens who have not left Artsakh are citizens of which country?”
Under the existing constitution, only those Armenian nationals who have resided in Armenia for the last ten or more years can be registered as presidential candidate. The Armenian authorities invoked this provision when they refused to register Hovannisian as a candidate in 2003.
The ex-minister, who now leads an opposition party called Zharangutyun, was born in the United States and remained an American citizen until being granted an Armenian passport in 2001. He claims that he was illegally denied Armenian citizenship by Kocharian and his predecessor Levon Ter-Petrosian for almost a decade.
In his letter, Hovannisian also demanded that the Armenian leader and his family declare the assets owned by them now and in 1991. “How would you explain the difference, if any, between the answers to the two previous questions?” read his next question.
The normally cautious and reserved Zharangutyun leader has stepped up his political activities of late, joining a coalition of opposition parties challenging the official results of the disputed constitutional referendum. His “questionnaire” came ten days after Hovannisian was subjected to a brief but humiliating detention at Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport on his way to an international conference in Ukraine. Officers of Armenia’s National Security Service and customs reportedly sifted through his documents in search of “state secrets.”
Hovannisian said he will personally take the letter to the presidential palace in Yerevan. “Our struggle is long-lasting and will end in victory,” he said in an emotional speech.
One of his opposition allies, Aram Sarkisian, sought to boost the sagging morale of the most hardcore opposition supporters. Many of them are disappointed with their leaders’ continuing postponement of promised “decisive” action against the ruling regime.
“The impression is that we have fallen to the ground like a ball,” said Sarkisian. “When you hit the ground it hurts, but you always rebound after that. I do believe that we are on the rise.”
“We will constantly be holding rallies,” he said. “Do not get tired of the rallies.”