By Armen Zakarian
The opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance continued Thursday to meet supporters in rural areas around Yerevan, indicating that they should get ready for mass anti-government rallies similar to the bloodless revolution in neighboring Georgia.
Visiting a big village 30 kilometers east of Yerevan, leaders of the bloc again avoided setting a precise date for a campaign of street protests against President Robert Kocharian that has for months been promised by them. But they said the onslaught is not a long way off.
“We have done and are doing everything to make sure that the establishment of a legitimate government takes place without upheavals,” Artarutyun leader Stepan Demirchian told local residents. “The referendum of confidence [in Kocharian] does represent such an opportunity and the authorities must be interested in using it. Otherwise full responsibility for further developments will fall on the authorities and they will quit anyway.”
“Our patience is running out,” warned Albert Bazeyan.
Artarutyun and another major opposition force, the National Unity Party, have been jointly boycotting parliament sessions since the beginning of this month over its pro-Kocharian majority’s refusal to call such a vote. They say the focus of their activities will shift to the streets of the capital as a result of that.
A senior Artarutyun lawmaker, Victor Dallakian, elaborated on this in the Garni village, saying that the opposition plan is to “surround” the parliament building and presidential residence in downtown Yerevan with big crowds. They will “stay there until the head of the clan is toppled,” he said, evoking last November’s dramatic events in the Georgian capital Tbilisi that resulted in the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze.
Kocharian has already shrugged off the opposition threats, saying that he has sufficient control over Armenia’s security apparatus to thwart any “unconstitutional” actions. In a televised interview on February 19, he said that the Armenian constitution gives him extensive powers to “maintain constitutional order.”
But the Armenian leader’s grip on the security agencies was questioned by another top oppositionist. “Let them look at Georgia. [President Mikhail] Saakashvili’s government is not persecuting senior law-enforcement officers there,” Shavarsh Kocharian told the Garni rally. “Why? Because when matters came to a crunch police and other security bodies did not act against the people.”
Shevardnadze’s ouster, triggered by a rigged parliamentary election, was hailed as a triumph of democracy in the West -- a fact that was underscored by Saakashvili’s warm reception at the White House on Wednesday. Meeting with his young Georgian counterpart, U.S. President George W. Bush called the political change in Georgia "inspiring" to the rest of the world.
“The possibility of people taking charge of their own lives and transforming society in a peaceful way is a powerful example to people around the world who long for freedom and long for honest government,” Bush said.
Visiting Tbilisi last month, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell similarly noted that Georgia should “serve as an example to the rest of the region and the rest of the world as to what can be accomplished under democratic reform of government.”