By Armen Zakarian
About a thousand supporters of the Armenian Communist Party (HKK) staged a May Day protest in Yerevan on Thursday, denouncing the government’s economic policies which they said plunge the country deeper into poverty.
The party’s leadership used the occasion to try to shore up support for the HKK which is now facing the possibility of losing its representation in the parliament for the first time since Armenia’s independence.
The protesters carrying red flags and Communist slogans marched through the city center, buoyed by a brass band that played familiar Communist tunes. The protest was a far cry from the huge government-organized demonstrations that celebrated May Day during the Soviet-era.
May 1 continues to be officially marked in Armenia as “Labor Day,” and is a non-working day. But as always, there were few visible signs of a holiday except a crowd of mainly elderly Communist supporters. This time they were accompanied by several dozen teenagers affiliated with the HKK’s youth wing. Most of them are too young to remember the Communist past. They were, nonetheless, convinced that those were better times.
“I don’t remember the Soviet times,” said one girl. “But from what our older people say, I gather that things were better then. Has this government created anything during all these years? No. All we see is bars and cafés.”
The protesters booed and chanted “Go away!” as they walked past the official residence of President Robert Kocharian. “The president of the republic has nothing in common with popular masses and workers,” Sanatruk Sahakian, the HKK second secretary declared, through a megaphone.
“These authorities consider themselves representatives of the capitalist world, but they can’t even properly exploit the Armenian people by providing them with jobs,” said another HKK leader.
The march ended in a meeting on Yerevan’s main Republic Square that saw HKK first secretary Vladimir Darpinian and other Communist leaders urge Armenians to vote for their party in the May 25 parliamentary elections. “We must consolidate and show our fists to our authorities,” Sahakian declared. “Not only show, but also punch.”
Some political analysts say that the HKK, weakened by a series of rifts in recent years, may fail to pass the 5 percent vote threshold for winning parliament seats under the system of proportional representation. Several veteran party figures, staunchly opposed to Kocharian, have recently fallen out with Darpinian, accusing him of secretly cooperating with the authorities.
But one of them, Norik Petrosian, downplayed the turmoil on Thursday. Still, he did not rule out the possibility of an HHK electoral defeat, saying that the party’s exit from the Armenian parliament would mean “defeat and misfortune” for the people.