court in Yerevan dealt on Thursday another blow
to Raffi Hovannisian's hopes to stand in the upcoming
presidential elections when it effectively refused
to certify that the U.S.-born former foreign minister
has been an Armenian citizen for the last ten
The widely anticipated verdict came in response
to Hovannisian's appeal against the presidential
administration's refusal to backdate his citizenship
to 1991, when he first applied for it.
The presiding judge, Saro Aramian, rejected Hovannisian's
arguments that his repeated applications were
unlawfully turned down by the current and former
authorities until 2001 when he finally received
an Armenian passport. He announced the decision
after a long speech by Artashes Kakosian, a lawyer
representing President Robert Kocharian.
Kakosian claimed that there are no official documents
in the state archives proving that Hovannisian
applied for Armenian citizenship in 1991. He said
the first such application was properly filed
only in 1997.
The ex-minister, who would be a major candidate
in the February 19 elections, deplored the court
ruling, saying that he will appeal it at a higher
court. The latter is unlikely to overturn it,
Under Armenian law, ten-year citizenship and
residency in Armenia is a key requirement for
the registration of presidential candidates by
the Central Election Commission. Hovannisian's
failure to secure an appropriate official document
would almost certainly result in his exit from
the presidential race. In that case, he will likely
endorse another major opposition contender.
Hovannisian maintains particularly close ties
with two of them, People's Party (HZhK) leader
Stepan Demirchian and Hanrapetutyun party leader
His election disqualification would also lead
the opposition to raise more questions about President
Robert Kocharian's eligibility to contest the
ballot. Kocharian, a former president of the unrecognized
Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, moved to Armenia in
1997 after being appointed Armenian prime minister.
Immigration authorities have nonetheless certified
that he has permanently lived in Armenia in the
last 10 years.