By Emil Danielyan and Shakeh Avoyan
Ministers and other senior officials will tour regions outside Yerevan this month to brief their residents on the government’s socioeconomic policies and familiarize themselves with their needs, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s office announced on Monday.
The unusual move comes amid the ongoing opposition gatherings around the country that are expected to culminate in a campaign of streets protests against President Robert Kocharian this spring.
A government statement said Markarian has instructed the high-level officials to meet ordinary people to “present the government’s activities” relating to various parts of the country and spheres of life. It said the campaign will begin on Tuesday with a visit by the ministers of agriculture, social affairs and education to several villages in the central Kotayk region. They will be accompanied by senior executives from two state-owned companies managing water and natural gas supplies.
One of those villages, Garni, was the scene last week of a relatively big rally staged by the leaders of the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) bloc. They told local residents to gear up for mass protests similar to the bloodless “rose revolution” that brought about regime change in neighboring Georgia last November.
One of the top Artarutyun figures, former Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian, announced on Saturday that the opposition offensive will likely get underway “in March” as his Hanrapetutyun party rallied several thousand supporters in Yerevan’s southern Shengavit district. He said the opposition will now shift the focus of its activities back to the capital.
“We will gather here, and rest assured that our call [for protests] will be a powerful one,” Sarkisian told the crowd in a highly emotional speech.
“You don’t know that you have already resigned,” he said in a remark addressed to Kocharian.
“There will be no stability as long as power remains usurped and as long as Robert Kocharian is in office,” said another Hanrapetutyun leader, Albert Bazeyan.
The Shengavit rally was sparked by last week’s arrests of several local Hanrapetutyun activists on suspicion of illegal arms possession. The party, seen as the most radical force inside Armenia’s largest opposition alliance, claims that the crackdown was aimed at intimidating its members.
Sarkisian and Bazeyan spoke in Shengavit while their Artarutyun allies, including the most popular of them, Stepan Demirchian, met supporters 20 kilometers to the south, in the town of Artashat. In televised remarks broadcast the next day, Demirchian warned law-enforcement agencies against resorting to further “repressions.”
Kocharian has shrugged off the intensifying opposition assault, saying that his opponents lack the popular support and legitimacy to unseat him.