By Hrach Melkumian
Several thousand female supporters of defeated presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian took to the streets of Yerevan Saturday to denounce alleged widespread fraud in this week’s election, in a protest timed to coincide with International Women's Day.
Chanting “Demirchian! Demirchian!” and singing songs, they marched to the tightly guarded presidential palace in the capital to demand the resignation of Robert Kocharian, the controversially reelected incumbent.
“We want fair elections,” said Knarik Aramian, a middle-aged woman. “They stole our votes and that’s why we are here,” concurred another, much younger protester.
As it walked toward Kocharian’s official residence, the crowd led by female opposition activists supporting Demirchian stopped by the U.S. embassy to hail Washington’s strong criticism of Yerevan’s handling of the election. One of the organizers of the rally read out a petition which said: “Armenian women express their deep appreciation to the U.S. embassy and government for the objective assessment of the presidential elections in Armenia and the exposure of disgraceful irregularities.”
In a statement issued Friday, the U.S. State Department said it is “deeply disappointed” with the reported serious irregularities, questioning the legitimacy of the two-round elections and giving more weight to opposition allegations of vote rigging. The Kocharian campaign insists, however, that the violations were not significant enough to affect the poll outcome.
The protesting women booed and chanted “Shame!” in Russian as they reached the Russian embassy also located in the city center. They protested against a Russian-led election monitoring mission’s description of the election as democratic. In a separate message, they also denounced Russian President Vladimir Putin for congratulating Kocharian.
“Your untimely congratulations give us reason to believe that the leadership of the Russian Federation is making every effort to bolster Robert Kocharian’s illegitimate regime,” it read. The Kremlin’s continuing support for Kocharian, the statement claimed, “poses a danger to the centuries-old Russian-Armenian friendship.”
The demonstration, not sanctioned by the city authorities, was the latest in a series of rallies held by Demirchian and his opposition allies in protest against the official vote results. Some of them have said the opposition will rally its supporters “every day” until the authorities declare Kocharian’s reelection invalid.
March 8 is marked around the world to highlight women's struggle for equality and justice in the workplace, home and society. It is a non-working day in Armenia where men traditionally give presents to their wives, mothers and other loved ones on the occasion.
But many of those women who demonstrated in Yerevan were not in a festive mood. As one of them, school teacher Ovsanna Gabrielian, put it: “How can we celebrate when there is so much injustice in our country?”