On March 15, 2011 Raffi Hovannisian, the leader of Zharangutyun (Heritage) opposition party, announced, that he’s had enough with the corrupt politicians and inept bureaucrats of Armenia and went on a hunger strike to bring about change.
Hovannisian announced the “freedom fast” in a speech at a Zharangutyun conference.
“I’m not begging, asking or demanding,” he said. “But I expect that in this emergency situation the current authorities will come down and give back the Armenian people their votes and their voice. And I expect the authorities to expedite an emergency solution.”
Move appreciated, but not quite understood
As soon as Zharangutyun party’s leader announced about his hunger strike and moved to Yerevan’s Liberty square, politicians and journalists panicked.
Everybody seemed to appreciate this move: Hovhannisian, a wealthy Diaspora Armenian, a former minister and leader of albeit small, but visible opposition force represented in Parliament is going on a hunger strike…
Questions lingered, however. E.g. “What exactly are the demands?” “How long is Hovhannisian going to fast?” “Why now?” “Does he seriously think that the hunger strike will result in any change?”
Most are still unanswered, even despite a dozen interviews Zharangutyun leader has already given. Some are even joking, that Raffi Hovhannisian simply wanted to demonstrate the fact, that he has just shaved his trademark mustache.
There are also conspiracy theories. Some are saying it was a simple PR stunt. Others are saying, that by this move, Raffi Hovhannisian is trying to find a role for his small opposition party to play as social tension builds up in the country and Armenia’s leading opposition force – Levon Ter-Petrossian led Armenian National Congress (HAK) once again emerges as the leading force to carry opposition moves.
Pro-HAK newspapers, meanwhile, were full of anti-Hovhannisian and anti-Zharangutyun comments today, despite the fact, that many opposition politicians visited Hovhannisian in his hunger strike.
Media on another opposition force, Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF-Dashnaktsutyun), which often sees Zharangutyun as a competitor, had inconsistent coverage. Yerkir daily, the main Dashnaktsutyun newspaper inside Armenia, covered Hovhannisian’s hunger strike extensively and in a very balanced way, while Asbarez.com, which is the most popular ARF periodical in the Armenian Diaspora, kept surprisingly silent.
ONE ACHIEVEMENT DOWN: LIBERTY SQUARE LIBERATED
By going into the hunger strike in the Liberty square, Raffi Hovhannisian is doing a big favor both to the Armenian authorities and the Armenian National Congress.
The authorities have imposed a 3-year-long moratorium on holding opposition rallies in Liberty square, after non-stop rallies held there by Ter-Petrossian supporters back in February 2008 ended in violent break-up of the rally by security forces and clashes in Yerevan which resulted in 10 deaths.
All efforts of HAK supporters to enter the square and stage a rally, or even a minor protest action have been blocked in the past.
Ahead of tomorrow’s rally HAK supporters had announced on Facebook, that they plan to break into the square. This would inevitably result in clashes with security forces, as the police usually circulate the square and don’t let the opposition in.
Now, as Zharangutyun leader is based here and many HAK leaders, as well as general public have visited him there, the square seems to be open for the opposition once again and the authorities don’t really need to block it anymore.
More importantly, now plans by HAK to break into the square will become meaningless, because the moratorium is broken and there’s no victory in doing that.
Hence, Raffi Hovhannisian seems to have prevented likely clashes, whether he intended it or not. Which is good, because we really don’t need another “March 1” in Yerevan.