Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian told the Armenian government on Thursday to reverse its controversial decision to grant him ownership of a mansion where he has lived since becoming president in 2008.
The house is part of a secluded government compound in Yerevan which has also been home to other high-ranking state officials. Former Presidents Levon Ter-Petrosian and Robert Kocharian, also lived in the compound with their family members while in office. They both were provided with free housing in other, more remote parts of Yerevan after leaving office.
The government formally approved the free privatization of the house at an April 2 meeting chaired by then Prime Minister Karen Karapetian. It gave no explanation for the decision strongly condemned by opposition leaders and Nikol Pashinian in particular. Pashinian pledged to nationalize the property in case of achieving regime change.
Sarkisian defended the privatization on Tuesday at a session of the Armenian parliament which elected him prime minister. But he made a different statement while holding the first cabinet meeting in his new capacity two days later.
“I am very grateful for that decision but today I am the head of the government sitting here on the meeting chairman’s chair,” the premier told ministers. “This is a different situation. I have therefore decided to renounce ownership rights to that house at this first meeting.”
“Now is not the time to solve the housing issue of the third president of the republic,” he said. “This issue can be addressed later on when a different prime minister sits on this chair.”
Pashinian seized up on this statement when he addressed later in the day thousands of anti-government protesters who again rallied in the city’s Republic Square, just a few dozen meters from the venue of the government meeting. “This means that Serzh Sarkisian already feels the breath of our democratic revolution,” he said.
Pashinian and several hundred protesters approached the government building during the cabinet session held amid unusually tight security. Hundreds of riot police were deployed around it.