Vahan Hovannisian, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and one of the country’s most prominent post-Soviet politicians, died at the age of 58 early on Sunday.
Hovannisian, who has also served as Armenia’s ambassador to Germany over the past year, was pronounced dead at a hospital in Berlin where he received treatment for cancer.
The Armenian government was quick to set up a special commission tasked with organizing his state funeral. The commission headed by Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian said on Monday that Hovannisian will be laid to rest on January 3.
President Serzh Sarkisian on Monday offered his condolences to Hovannisian’s family and paid tribute to the Dashnaktsutyun leader, describing him as a statesman, “true intellectual” and “brilliant orator.” “Vahan Hovannisian’s death is a big loss for not only the Armenian Revolutionary Federation but also all of us,” Sarkisian said in a statement.
An archeologist and historian by education, Hovannisian rose to prominence in the early 1990s as one of the leaders of Dashnaktsutyun’s branch in Armenia re-established after decades of Communist rule. The nationalist party was in opposition to then President Levon Ter-Petrosian and was controversially banned by the latter in 1994. Hovannisian and dozens of other Dashnaktsutyun figures were subsequently arrested and imprisoned on coup charges widely regarded as politically motivated.
They were set free shortly after Ter-Petrosian’s resignation in 1998 followed by a re-legalization of Dashnaktsutyun’s activities in Armenia. The party, which is particularly influential in the worldwide Armenian Diaspora, was a major political ally of Ter-Petrosian’s successor, Robert Kocharian, throughout his decade-long rule. Some of its leading members held senior positions in the executive and legislative branches.
Hovannisian, for example, served as deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament. He stepped down in February 2008, citing his poor showing in a disputed presidential election. Official vote results, which gave victory to Serzh Sarkisian, showed him winning over 6 percent of the vote.
Dashnaktsutyun joined a new coalition government formed by Sarkisian only to quit it in 2009 in protest against his policy of rapprochement with Turkey. It also refused to endorse the current Armenian president’s 2013 reelection. But that did not prevent Sarkisian from appointing Hovannisian as ambassador to German exactly one year before his death.
In a private conversation with an RFE/RL correspondent earlier this month, Hovannisian spoke of his gratitude to Berlin-based Armenian diplomats, government officials in Yerevan, fellow Dashnaktsutyun members and friends. He said they have supported him throughout his grave illness. The veteran politician also expressed regret at his inability to complete initiatives relating to German-Armenian relations and the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey to be marked in 2015.