Raffi Hovannisian calls end to his hunger strike, says struggle to continue

Opposition Heritage party leader Raffi Hovannisian thanked all citizens and companions for their overwhelming support as he announced an end to his hunger strike in Yerevan’s central Liberty Square Wednesday afternoon after refusing food and staying out of home comfort for 15 days.

The oppositionist started his public action, which he called “Freedom Fast”, on March 15 in protest of the current ruling regime which his and other parties call “illegitimate” and in order “to bring power back to the people”.

In the presence of media and a crowd of Hovannisian supporters a priest offered a prayer on the site, with the Heritage party leader symbolically eating a piece of bread.

The opposition leader, however, said he would continue his struggle.

“In this struggle there will be no leaders, no outsider… All must be part of the way that will lead to a free, fair and dignified Armenia, a future Armenia. We must make that future today,” said Hovannisian.

The end of the “Freedom Fast” comes a day after a doctor monitoring Hovannisian expressed concern about his health.

Hovannisian, who has all along insisted that he would take a decision to end his strike himself, in his remarks to the public said that one of the reasons for his decision was also that he has been “a bad father” during the period of his hunger strike. The father of five said his daughter, Shushi, turns 18 tomorrow and that he wished to return to being a “good father.”

Hovannisian’s civic protest appears to have elicited a broader response among the country’s intellectuals.

In an address to citizens and the authorities a forum of Armenian intellectuals supporting Hovannisian described his Freedom Fast as a step that “makes politics inferior to morality.”

Earlier, in an appeal addressed to Hovannisian himself, a group of 35 intellectuals stated their appreciation for the politician’s hunger strike and civic protest that they said “put politics on moral grounds” and “attached a new feature to the opposition”. Without expressly calling on Hovannisian to stop his hunger strike, they still urged him “to continue civic struggle with new methods and lead the processes of future changes – from the parliament rostrum to the square, from a publicist’s work to public rallies.”

Over the more than two weeks of Hovannisian’s protest at a public bench in Liberty Square (during most of which he had to spend chilly spring nights in the open air because of the police ban on erecting a tent) Hovannisian has been visited by thousands of people of different status, political affiliations and views.

Those included Parliament Speaker Hovik Abrahamyan, other senior lawmakers representing all factions, Chief of Police Alik Sargsyan, who encouraged Hovannisian to end his strike that the 51-year-old politician and advocate for human rights had said he’d continue “indefinitely” as long as his body could take it.

Among visitors to the U.S.-born Armenian politician were also foreign dignitaries like U.S. Ambassador Marie Yavonovitch, German Ambassador to Armenia Hans-Jochen Schmidt and envoys from the European Union.

Hovannisian has also been visited by people who support Armenia’s larger opposition alliance, Armenian National Congress (ANC) led by ex-president Levon Ter-Petrosyan. Ter-Petrosyan, however, markedly refused to approach and greet Hovannisian when his supporters were allowed to gather in the square for a rally, for the first time in three years, on March 17.

Hovannisian later described it as a deliberate snub that constituted Ter-Petrosian’s political position rather than “bad manners”.

While Ter-Petrosyan’s snub and later justification of his step not to greet a fellow (rival) oppositionist (Gospel According to LTP: “Moral code” explains snub of Hovannisian) caused a few dissenting voices even among the ANC rank and file, Hovannisian still would abide by his call for unity on the opposition side of the political fence – in the face of a more consolidated government following a renewed coalition commitment made in February.