Armenian opposition head defies president

Armenian opposition head defies president

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Armenian opposition head defies president

Ex-presidential candidate Raffi Hovannisian kisses an Armenian flag during a rally as President Serzh Sargsyan swear s for a second term. The president says Armenia had offered its neighbors dignified peace. AFP photo

Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan was sworn in yesterday in the capital shadowed by an ‘alternative inauguration’ ceremony and street protest by his rival and opponents.

Raffi Hovannisian, who claims to have been the real winner of the Feb. 18 presidential election, held his “inauguration,” which he called the “inauguration of a new Armenia,” simultaneously with Sargsyan’s swearing-in ceremony for a second term as president. 

Sargsyan won February’s election with nearly 59 percent of the vote, but Hovannisian, the leader of the Heritage Party and winner of 37 percent of the vote, said the election had been rigged, went on hunger strike and led protests calling for Sargsyan to step down.

Thousands of Armenians gathered in Yerevan’s Liberty Square to support Hovannisian. “April 10 will be the awakening of Armenia,” Hovannisian told the crowd as he called the process “barevolution” – barev is Armenian for hello. “I’m breaking my connection with the unlawful government on behalf of Armenia and the Armenian people. I don’t recognize ‘liar’ political power and I won’t obey their laws. I am under the protection of the Constitution of Armenia, and I’m not afraid,” he said. 

Days before Hovannisian’s inauguration, Armenian police warned that they would use force against the opposition leader and his supporters if the latter marched toward the presidential palace in Yerevan during Sargsyan’s ceremony.

Sargsyan told Armenians that he would consider economic growth, the rule of law and strengthening of democracy the number-one priority for the upcoming five years at his swearing-in ceremony. “I swear to fulfill unreservedly the requirements of the Constitution to respect human and civil rights and freedoms, to safeguard the independence of the republic, its territorial integrity and security for the glory of Armenia and for the benefit of its people.” Sargsyan did not invite Hovannisian to the ceremony.

Touching on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, President Sargsyan said a peaceful settlement was and would remain their priority for as long as necessary to arrive at a final solution. 

Veiled reference to Turkey 

“We have never terrorized our own people with war. Moreover, we have never used this issue as an excuse to gag the opposition. However we deemed it our duty to earnestly and realistically state that such a threat does exist,” he said.

The president said they don’t want war but, at the same time, they were ready to withstand any challenge, adding that the country had offered its neighbors dignified peace, anchored to universal human values. “But the experience of recent years has demonstrated that they are not ready to accept the offer,” he said, apparently referring to Turkey.