The public holiday marks the 19th anniversary of a referendum in which the overwhelming majority of Armenians voted for secession from the disintegrating Soviet Union. Armenia formally declared its independence two days after the vote. Ter-Petrosian headed its first post-Communist parliament at the time and went on to become the first president of the republic in an election held shortly afterwards.
The ex-president, who now leads the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) alliance, was invited to the annual reception hosted by Sarkisian along with hundreds of pro-government and opposition politicians, public figures and other dignitaries. Predictably, he boycotted the event, highlighting a bitter relationship existing between the country’s leadership and largest opposition force.
“It’s hard to celebrate a holiday with people whose every day in office causes substantial damage to Armenia, people who opened fire on demonstrators, who hold politicians in prison as hostages for their political views,” said Arman Musinian, Ter-Petrosian’s press secretary.
“In these circumstances, celebrating Independence Day with such people would be an affront to the values of freedom of and independence,” Musinian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
The presidential administration sent the invitation to Ter-Petrosian just days after the latter renewed harsh verbal attacks on Sarkisian and again challenged his legitimacy at an HAK rally in Yerevan.
Unlike Ter-Petrosian, top representatives of other major opposition groups, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation and the Zharangutyun Party, chose to attend the reception. One of them, Zharangutyun’s Stepan Safarian, regretted the HAK leader’s no-show.
“The three [current and former] presidents of Armenia have never marked Armenia’s independence together,” Safarian told RFE/RL. “If wish they didn’t mark the holiday separately, even if they have had shortcomings as presidents or failed to bring Armenia to a level of independence we all had dreamed about.”
Robert Kocharian, Sarkisian’s predecessor and another Ter-Petrosian foe, was also invited to the celebration. A spokesman for Kocharian told RFE/RL that Armenia’s second president could not attend it because he is in Russia at the moment.