U.S.-born Raffi Hovannisian, who served in 1991-92 as Armenia's first post-Soviet foreign minister, has been elected chairman of the ruling board of the opposition Zharangutiun (Heritage) party he founded in 2002. The 350 delegates to an emergency party congress held in Yerevan on July 10 elected a new 10-person board, which met immediately after the congress and elected Hovannisian its chairman. Although regarded as the party's leader since its creation, he had held no formal leadership post in recent years.
Addressing the congress, Hovannisian said the Armenian leadership is incapable of implementing badly needed reforms, promoting democratization, or cracking down on corruption and economic monopolies. He said the Armenian people "want change," and that Zharangutiun is capable of bringing about that change. And he characterized
the current situation as "the run-up to early elections." The next parliamentary ballot is due in May 2012.
Hovannisian also called at the congress for "a new all-encompassing, pro-active diplomacy" to secure formal international diplomatic recognition of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh republic. A bill requiring the Republic of Armenia to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh was one of 20 draft laws the party proposed in parliament in 2009. All were rejected, faction head Stepan Safarian told journalists on December 22, Noyan Tapan reported.
Zharangutiun is one of just two opposition parties represented in the parliament elected in 2007: Hovannisian is one of its six parliament deputies.
Hovannisian threatened to resign his parliament mandate in September 2009 for reasons that remain unclear. That move triggered bitter infighting
within the party's governing board, and led to the expulsion of three senior party members.
Hovannisian subsequently withdrew
his resignation threat. He told RFE/RL last month
that he hoped the upcoming party congress would prove "a watershed" and showcase the party's "integrity, potential, new energy...and faith in the future." He offered on July 10 to reinstate the three members expelled last fall, saying they were not treated fairly.
Hovannisian backed the candidacy of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian in the February 2008 presidential election. (It was Ter-Petrossian who had invited him to Armenia in 1991 to serve as foreign minister.) But Zharangutiun declined to join the umbrella Armenian National Congress (HAK) that Ter-Petrossian launched in the summer of 2008.
Since then, Hovannisian has issued calls for "national dialogue" (in February 2009
and then, in June 2009) for the consolidation
of the country's three main opposition groups (Zharangutiun, the HAK, and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun) to create "a new opposition framework."
When those appeals met with no response, Zharangutiun spokesman Hovsep Khurshudian announced
in early August 2009 that the party "will act independently."
Then in late March 2010, Zharangutiun issued yet another appeal
to leading opposition forces to begin a dialogue on what the party termed "the most dangerous challenges" facing the country. That appeal, too, failed to elicit any response, and both Safarian and then-Zharangutiun board Chairman Armen Martirosian criticized the HAK and Ter-Petrossian personally at a news conference
in Yerevan last month.
Hovannisian for his part declared on July 10 that he considers Ter-Petrossian jointly responsible, together with his presidential successors Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian, for the problems Armenia currently faces. A declaration
adopted unanimously at the congress titled "Heritage's Front Line: A Resolution for Armenia and the Armenian People" affirms that "the nation-state notes with gratitude the services rendered by all of its presidents, civil and military officials, and rank-and-file patriots, and at [the same time] requires each of them to stand equally before the rule of law. The territories, properties, enterprises, opportunities, and human lives heretofore privatized, expropriated, or sacrificed by their abuse of power must be accounted for to the fullest extent of the very same law."
The declaration also listed as an urgent priority holding for the first time in Armenia's history genuinely democratic presidential and parliamentary elections. But it did not say whether the party will actively campaign for early elections.
-- Liz Fuller, Sargis Harutiunian, Karine Kalantarian