YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian promised at his inauguration on Wednesday to heal rifts in society and move Armenia forward, one month after clashes between police and protesters left eight people dead.
With his right hand on the original copy of the Armenian constitution and a 7th century Bible, Sarkisian was sworn in as president at Yerevan’s opera house in front of an audience of hundreds including parliamentarians and foreign guests.
"May God give me strength not to disappoint my supporters, to overcome all difficulties and to find a recipe for resolving the problems of those who are disappointed and have lost hope, those who need hope, faith and optimism," he said in a live televised inaugural address before parliament.
Western observers issued an overall positive assessment of the February 19 election, but noted serious flaws, especially during the vote count.
During his speech, Sarkisian pledged to "fulfill the requiremen’s of the Constitution in an unreserved manner; to respect the fundamental human and civil rights and freedoms; to ensure the protection, independence, territorial integrity and security to the glory of the Republic of Armenia and to secure the welfare of the people of the Republic of Armenia."
Sarkisian is becoming president at a crucial moment in the country’s history, Catholicos Karekin II said during his speech.
Armenia has experienced double-digit economic growth and development for seven consecutive years, but trade is still limited by a dual blockade by neighboring Turkey and Azerbaijan, while development has centered mostly in the country’s capital, Yerevan.
"This ceremony takes place about a month after painful events, which inflicted wounds that are still fresh," Sarkisian said, referring to clashes between police and supporters of former president Levon Ter-Petrosian after 10 days of protests against the February 19 election results. "Today, I urge everybody to look forward, together, to seek and find the path of reconciliation, of development, for the future of Armenia."
Armenia cannot grow and experience true success, unless we learn lessons from the past, he explained. What happened should serve as a lesson that compels Armenia and her citizens to work with greater vigor and devotion.
The new president thanked those who voted for him and appealed to those who didn’t. It is the right of the people to vote for someone else, he said, acknowledging that he must serve everyone equally regardless of who voted for him.
"We should not create division between various parts of our people, should not disregard each other’s concerns and pains, and should not go beyond each other’s reach," he said. "Even if a wall of misunderstanding stands between us, I urge you to join us in eliminating that wall," Sarkisian stressed as he appealed for national unity.
The call for increased unity comes amid growing tensions with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. With Karabakh a major election issue in Azerbaijan’s coming presidential elections, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev has been intensifying his bellicose position over the status of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, threatening to use Azerbaijan’s military-beefed up by billions in oil revenue-to take the mountainous Armenian republic by force.
With its international image affected by the March 1 clashes and an ensuing 20 day declaration of emergency rule, Sarkisian faces many challenges as Armenia’s third president.
One such challenge is securing a viable resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Since 1997, peace talks over Nagorno-Karabakh have been conducted by the American, French and Russian co-chairmen of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Minsk Group. Negotiations are, however, in danger of unraveling as Azerbaijan tries to dissolve the Minsk Group format.
Sarkisian and the Armenian authorities have repeatedly voiced their support for a compromise solution reached through peaceful negotiations in the Minsk Group format, but many in Armenia, including outgoing President Robert Kocharian, are saying it’s time for Armenia to recognize the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh and sign a military agreement with it.
President Kocharian will occupy a special place in Armenian history, Sarkisian explained. His presidency saw years of significant achievemen’s for Armenia and the development and protection of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.
"I am confident that generations will duly appreciate his service and contribution to the development and strengthening of our statehood," he said.
Sarkisian recognized the enormous challenges he faces and pledged to do everything in his power to live up to the honor and responsibility of his new post.
"We shall build the Armenia where our citizens and families will live and realize their potential in security and dignity," the new president said. "We shall carry out a proactive foreign policy, and do everything to find a just, peaceful, and favorable solution to the Artsakh issue. We shall build a strong, proud, and democratic state of Armenia, where everyone shall be equal before the law."
Sarkisian told the nation that he will preside over an administration that builds a fatherland for all Armenia’s to unite behind, where mutual love, respect and tolerance will prevail.
"To accomplish this historic mission, I once again urge us to unite," he said. "Unity will be the platform for fundamental value creation and progress along the path of democracy and freedom."
After ceremony Sarkisian went out to Freedom Square where a military parade was underway.
The inauguration was attended by 118 members of Armenia’s National Assembly and by delegations from 58 countries and representatives of 12 international organizations.
The head of the Russian delegation, chairman of the Russian State Duma Boris Grizlov told journalists after the inauguration that it was "very important that the newly-elect president noted in his speech that international relations and relations with Russia will be among his priorities."
"Armenia is our close ally in the Caucasus and I think that it is high time for Armenia to unite to solve its issues," Duma member Konstantin Zatulin told reporters. "We must defend each other and I would like the relations between Armenia and Russia to develop further."
EU Special Representative to the South Caucasus Peter Semneby noted Armenia is facing many challenges and Sarkisian is assuming the presidency at a very important time. He underscored the necessity of dialogue in the political life of the country and said Europe will support Sarkisian in confronting the country’s challenges.
"It is a very important day and I expect that during the next days and weeks positive developmen’s will take place in Armenia," he said.
Nagorno-Karabakh Republic President Bako Sahakian expressed his belief that the coming years will be the years of success and progress for Armenia.
"Our expectations from Armenia and her new President are great, I am sure that under his leadership Armenia will achieve new heights and will prosper," he said. "Artsakh’s strength depends on the strength of Armenia," he stressed.
When asked by reporters about recent statemen’s by the outgoing President that Armenia’should recognize the independence of Karabakh, Sahakian said that the Karabakh leadership will welcome any development that has a positive influence on the negotiations process.
Following the parade, Sarkisian visited the Yerablur Pantheon to pay tribute to the memory of the people who dedicated their lives to the consolidation of Armenia’s statehood.
Sarkisian made the trip accompanied by National Assembly Speaker Tigran Torosian, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and Defense Minister Michael Harutyunian, Yerevan Mayor Yervand Zakharian, other representatives from Armenia’s power ministries and legislative and executive bodies.
As the new president of the Republic of Armenia, Sarkisian signed a decree for the resignation of the government. Its members will continue with their duties until the new government is formed, Sarkisian’s press office said.