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March 30, 2011

The Hunger Strike Ends: Raffi Hovannisian Addresses His Fellow Citizens

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”
-Mahatma Gandhi

Armed with our national tricolor, I entered Liberty Square 360 hours ago. These past two weeks of civic protest, my Fast for Freedom, I dedicate to the opening two decades of the Republic of Armenia and the Republic of Artsakh.

Right before our eyes, this civil sanctuary of Liberty has once again become—without discrimination and denomination, and above partisanship—the confluence of our fundamental values: liberty and independence, sovereignty and national unity. And if no visible change has visited the incumbent authorities, if they have not felt the weight and catastrophe of this moment in history, then surely they have seen how our people—from the disillusioned elderly to the disenfranchised youth—have awoken to a new spirit of hope and freedom. It is now time for all citizens of Armenia to acknowledge, in mind and at heart, that they are the masters of our statehood, our political agenda, and our national destiny.

In the liberty of endless debate, visitation, song, and dance, we the people demanded that power be returned us—and not just in promises, but in substance, through elections. We rejected the one-party state, and vowed to reclaim our rights: to work, to speak, to live in a clean environment. Together we began to see that our external problems are only reflections of our internal problems. They must be solved inside-out: in the Artsakh issue, through Armenia’s de jure recognition of Artsakh, with its constitutional borders; in Turkey-Armenia relations, through the withdrawal of Armenian signatures from the disgraceful, anti-national protocols; and in both cases, and beyond, through the development of liberty and democracy in this great republic.

All of this is now on the agenda. I am strengthened and reinforced by this one-level rise of public awareness, this gentle opening of the Armenian spirit.

At the same time, I was amazed and moved by my fellow citizens’ response, spontaneous and unsolicited, to my humble civic alarm. In their quantity as in their quality, the thousands of intellectuals, journalists, environmentalists, political leaders, schoolchildren, university students, and proud citizens have come not only to express their solidarity, but also to convey to me their distress and heartache. I have said before and will repeat now that my greatest pain is the knowledge that I have caused pain in others. As for me, I feel no pain or hunger.

Against the steady stream of support, suggestions, and pleas, I have kept my internal timetable, my resolve, my moral stance. Those pleas were very precious to me, but the truth is that I had not expected that any secular or spiritual leader would visit me and to urge me to end my hunger strike. My hopes have always been anchored in the world inside. I have sought to be true to the imperatives of my own soul, and only then to the compassionate requests of innumerable fellow citizens.

The examinations, the recommendations, and finally the appeals made by the physicians who cared for me—and who asserted, in their professional capacity, that an irreversibly damaging and unpredictable period for my health had begun—were invaluable. I am grateful to them, as I am proud that Armenia has such excellent physicians and specialists.

A more personal reason was added to this. Tomorrow will mark the eighteenth birthday of my daughter Shushi, the light of my life. In order that I might congratulate her, I must present an accounting to my own family. As a result of my recent activities in Armenia, I have often neglected my duties, as a father, toward Garin, Daron, Van, Shushi, and Armen. I possess a profound love—and a still unsettled debt of devotion—toward each of them, and particularly toward Shushi.

By bringing these views and emotions into harmony, and hoping that I have not given cause for the various interpretations, rumors, and slanders that corrupt our daily lives, I—and I think you, too—can finally see that the light of Armenia’s future and truth is not so far off. I cannot reach it on my own; we must take that journey together. No one alone can finish the task unfinished, or pass the road unpassed. That is the duty of us all: to find our horizon.

With his prayers, and the blessing and breaking of the symbolic bread, Father Grigor will soon close the first act of the Fast for Freedom.

That is when the true struggle will begin. Although we leave Liberty Square tonight, in the morning we begin to return again: to all the squares and lecture halls and courtyards of this wondrous land. From border to border, and in our capital, we will together confront the challenges of our country, the conduct of the incumbent authorities, the obstacles set before the opposition. With integrity and courage, we will take on the forces, visible and invisible, that are tugging us into destruction, bloodshed, and moral bankruptcy.

In this new struggle, there shall be no frontline or back seat, no leader or follower, not a single disregarded citizen. Our people of all professions and ages, and especially the youth who have so invigorated me, now move toward the righteous, noble, and lawful Armenia, which exists beyond all borders. Lets us dream that future today. Then, in concert, let us achieve it.

I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all my fellow citizens: the dedicated volunteers who worked here during the busy days; the brilliant young men who stood by me during the cold and sleepless nights; the political leaders, journalists, intellectuals, and ordinary citizens from Armenia, the Diaspora, and Artsakh, who visited me from the first afternoon to the final morning; and all those who supported me with their words, appeals, and pleas, which conveyed meaning and maturity to this great transition.

So the road continues, and we still have so many borders to cross. But we will do it together, with a new breath of freedom and an ancient dream of the Great Armenia.

Faith and Fatherland.

30 March 2011
Liberty Square
Yerevan


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  • Armenian version of the press release

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