Armenian Town Square Named After Ukraine Opposition Leader
Friday 5, December 2008
By Satenik Vantsian in Gyumri
A town in central Armenia on Friday named one of its squares after Viktor Yanukovich, the leader of Ukraine’s main opposition party who had participated in its reconstruction after the catastrophic 1988 earthquake.
Yanukovich personally inaugurated the square in Spitak with Armenian officials as he arrived in Armenia to attend official ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of the calamity that killed some 25,000 people and left hundreds of thousands of others homeless. He had spent six months there in 1988-1989 in his then capacity as head of a Ukrainian construction company sent to the earthquake zone by the Soviet government.
The former Ukrainian prime minister traveled to Spitak from Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city that was also hit hard by the quake and has still not been completely rebuilt. He laid flowers at a Gyumri memorial to earthquake victims and prayed for them in a local church.
“I have come to bow to this long-suffering land and the Armenian people,” Yanukovich told RFE/RL. “I haven’t forgotten anything. I remember how people cried for help in clearing the rubble and rescuing people trapped there.”
“I remember seeing a crane operator dying of heart attack after noticing a woman who shielded her two children with her body,” he said.
Yanukovich met President Serzh Sarkisian in Yerevan later in the day. Sarkisian thanked him for his role in Spitak’s reconstruction. The Armenian president’s press office said the two men also discussed the current state of Ukrainian-Armenian relations and ways of strengthening them.
Yanukovich’s pro-Russian Party of Regions has the largest faction in Ukraine’s parliament and is expected to do well in the next general election expected soon.
Yanukovich Square In Armenian Town ‘Renamed’
Protesting against continuing bloodshed in Ukraine, a group of Armenian opposition activists defaced on Thursday plaques in a square in the central town of Spitak bearing Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich’s name.
The young activists mostly affiliated with Civil Contract, a new Armenian opposition group led by Nikol Pashinian, branded Yanukovich a dictator and blamed him for the vicious clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces in Kiev which have left dozens of people dead.
Photographs of the action posted on Araratnews.am showed them plastering the plaques with posters saying that the square has been named after Sergey Nigoyan, an ethnic Armenian protester who was shot dead in Kiev last month. “There is no Yanukovich square in Armenia anymore,” declared the news website run by one of the activists, Alen Simonian.
Police and local authorities did not immediately react to the action.
The square was named after Yanukovich in 2008 in recognition of his role in the reconstruction of Spitak, a small town devastated by a catastrophic earthquake in 1988. He had spent six months there in 1988-1989 in his capacity as head of a Ukrainian construction company sent to the earthquake zone by the Soviet government.
Yanukovich, then the leader of Ukraine’s main opposition party, personally inaugurated the Spitak square together with Gagik Tsarukian, the leader of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK). The naming was apparently initiated by Tsarukian, whose party was in government at the time.
As the unrest in Ukraine took a violent turn last month opposition and civic circles in Yerevan began demanding that the Spitak municipality change the square name. The town mayor, Gagik Sahakian, has rejected those calls. “We are grateful people, and we try to thank all those people who have done good things for us,” 1in.am quoted him as saying earlier on Thursday.
“I really feel bad about such tragic events taking place in friendly Ukraine,” said Sahakian. “But there are victims on both the government and opposition sides.”
The Armenian government’s official reaction to the deadly clashes in the Ukrainian capital was also cautious. “Ukraine is a friendly country for Armenia,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Tigran Balayan said on Wednesday. “We hope that the parties will resume negotiations to find a peaceful solution to contentious issues.”