Drastic Measure: Heritage Party leader goes on hunger strike “for freedom"

Heritage founding leader Raffi Hovannisian on Tuesday announced an indeterminate hunger strike as he spoke at an open forum organized by his opposition party laying down his vision of internal and external challenges facing Armenia.

Hovannisian, who served as independent Armenia’s first foreign minister in 1992, called his hunger strike “Freedom Fast” against the “intolerable and alarming situation” that has been created in the country.

The decision by the 51-year-old U.S.-born Armenian politician to stage a hunger strike in Liberty Square (the scene that has become a bone of contention between the government and the opposition since the 2008 nonstop protests organized there by ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosyan’s supporters) appeared to have taken off-guard not only his fellow party men, but also his family.

Hovannisian did not give details, he only said he would answer all questions later, but before that needed some time to spend with his family.

Remarkably, Hovannisian also looked fresh, appearing without his mustache, a change in the image that also came as a surprise to many by the big man who lost about 100 pounds over the past year. The Heritage party leader himself said, perhaps jokingly, that it symbolized “the new image of Heritage alongside changes in the country.”

In his 30-minute speech Hovannisian addressed concerns relating to domestic and foreign-policy matters. He said it was “time to gather stones together” (a popular phrase from the Old Testament).

According to the Heritage party’s founder, the state of emergency arose a month ago when the three coalition member parties renewed their commitments with a new memorandum, which, as he put it, “is a brazen attempt to usurp the power that belongs to the people that must be rejected and excluded by all means.”

On February 17, the ruling Republican Party led by President Serzh Sargsyan renewed its power-sharing deal with two junior coalition partners, Prosperous Armenia and Orinats Yerkir, with a view to enlisting their support for the incumbent’s bid for the second term in office in 2013 and ensuring that the three coalition parties “will not strive to increase their political weight through contesting against each other or changing the correlation of forces within the Coalition” in the May 2012 parliamentary elections.

Heritage, the other parliamentary opposition party Dashnaktsutyun, as well as other opposition groups and civil-society representatives were quick to condemn the memorandum as “undemocratic”.

“This memorandum, in fact, says ‘I am the state’, in all aspects,” said Hovannisian, referring to the notorious phrase ascribed to 17th-century French monarch Louis XIV who ruled long and with an iron fist.

Armenia’s ex-foreign minister also stated that “time has come for President Serzh Sargsyan, with all his positive qualities, to get down and ensure free, fair and transparent elections,” which “have been rigged since 1995.”

“We do not ask for anything, nor do we demand anything, but we expect that the de-facto refusal to fulfill state obligations shown by the authorities in both domestic and foreign-policy matters will be formalized, the government will become the people’s government, with a couple of new elections; let them decide on their pre-term nature, but for once in our life, in the lives of our children we take upon ourselves the duty and obligation to make sure the truest is elected whoever he may be,” stated Hovannisian.