By Shakeh Avoyan
Opposition leader Artashes Geghamian indicated on Monday a possible date for a promised campaign of anti-government demonstrations as he continued to tour rural areas and make his case for regime change in Armenia.
Meeting with disaffected villagers in the southern region of Ararat, Geghamian said the Armenian opposition will likely urge supporters around the country to “rise up” against President Robert Kocharian in late April of early May.
The outspoken leader of the National Unity Party has until now avoided holding street protests or participating in rallies called by other parties, saying that they are counterproductive. But he now seems supportive of the kind of political action that has been the hallmark of another major opposition group, the Artarutyun bloc.
Artarutyun and National Unity, which had strained relations last year, have been cooperating since their joint boycott of parliament sessions that was announced two weeks ago in protest against the Armenian authorities’ refusal to hold a referendum of confidence in Kocharian. Both groups have promised to rally their supporters in Yerevan but have so far declined to elaborate on their plan of actions.
Geghamian, who has visited four Armenian regions over the past two weeks, said a campaign of rallies would not be “expedient” at this point. “We first need to meet up people and explain our agenda. Besides, there might be a need to spend several days in the streets. That is not expedient in this cold weather,” he told residents of Arevabuyr, a village about 40 kilometers south of Yerevan.
Explaining the opposition rationale for regime change, Geghamian pointed to the country’s socio-economic woes and accused the government of mismanagement. The villagers were told in particular about the what Geghamian described as an annual “British world almanac.” “It contains statistical data about 220 countries,” he said. “Armenia is in 217th place. Only Afghanistan, Eritrea and Burundi are behind us.”
Referring to Kocharian, he said: “He will never come here to visit your homes and see what’s in your refrigerators.”
Rural poverty provided fertile ground for getting the message across. “We have no money to prepare for the spring. We need fertilizers and other stuff, but we don’t have anything,” said one woman in Arevabuyr.
“We are barely getting by,” said another woman. “This is not a living, there must be a government change.”
Whether people like them will be willing to boost opposition crowds in the capital remained far from certain. According to Marzpet Markarian, a middle-aged local farmer, they will have more urgent things to do in the spring. “People are not well off, they are really poor,” he said. “But once the springs begins, they will get down to their farm work and forget about other things.”