YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—Yerevan’s new Mayor Tigran Avinyan sparked strong opposition criticism on Thursday after it emerged that a lavish inauguration ceremony organized by him last week cost taxpayers over 87 million drams ($220,000).
Avinyan, who is allied to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, was sworn in on October 13 almost one month after municipal elections in which the ruling Civil Contract party made what many observers see as a poor showing.
The party led by Pashinyan won 32.5 percent of the vote, falling well short of an absolute majority in the city council empowered to appoint the mayor. It managed to install Avinyan thanks to a power-sharing deal with a pro-establishment party and the effective backing of another group led by a controversial video blogger wanted by Armenian law-enforcement authorities.
Despite the obvious election setback, Avinyan’s inauguration, attended by Armenia’s top state officials but boycotted by opposition groups, was held with unprecedented pomp that raised eyebrows in the country.
The municipal administration revealed the cost of the ceremony in a written statement to RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. It said half of the money was spent on decorations evoking the ancient kingdom of Urartu whose 8th century BC ruler Argishti I is considered the founder of Yerevan.
Avinyan was greeted by men dressed as Urartian warriors as he made his way into the inauguration hall. The 34-year-old put his hand on a replica of a cuneiform inscription left by Argishti as he took the oath of office.
Avinyan defended the unusual event staging when he spoke to reporters afterwards. He said it was meant to remind Armenians of “the origins of Yerevan.”
But his political opponents saw extravagance, waste of public money and poor taste. Izabella Abgaryan, a newly reelected city council member representing former Mayor Hayk Marutian’s party, the election runner-up, said Avinyan exposed his “sick vanity.”
“In my view, this was a real disgrace given the current state of our country,” Abgaryan told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service. “Now that we are receiving refugees from Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) I see a serious problem with morality in such a pompous and costly ceremony.”