By Emil Danielyan
The Armenian opposition appealed to supporters on Friday to turn out in larger numbers for its continuing demonstrations in Yerevan, saying that is vital for the success of its promised second attempt to lay siege to President Robert Kocharian’s official residence.
Opposition leaders said they will campaign across the country in the next few days to mobilize greater support for another march towards the presidential palace tentatively scheduled for May 21.
“We will solve the matter right on Baghramian Avenue [leading to the palace],” Victor Dallakian of the Artarutyun bloc told several thousand people that again defied a government ban to rally in the city center.
“Until May 21 we will be holding various activities and as soon as a critical mass of people gathers we will block Baghramian Avenue and we will achieve our goal,” he said.
“Very little remains to be done. Let’s get together, be united and [Kocharian] will be finished,” said another Artarutyun leader, Aram Sarkisian, in a characteristic fiery speech.
The opposition supporters already marched up the avenue but were stopped from approaching Kocharian’s residence by heavily armed riot police on April 12. There were still between 2,000 and 3,000 of them on the street in the early hours of April 13 when the protest was violently broken up by baton-wielding security forces using water cannons, stun grenades and, according to some eyewitnesses, electric-shock equipment. Scores of demonstrators were arrested and seriously injured in the melee.
According to another prominent oppositionist, Albert Bazeyan, the police would have failed to disperse the crowd if they had faced 10,000 or more people. The remark exposed the opposition leaders’ dissatisfaction with attendance of their most recent gatherings. Some commentators suggest that the repeated postponement of “decisive actions” promised by Artarutyun and the National Unity Party (AMK) as well as their negotiations with the governing coalition dampened their supporters’ spirits.
Friday’s rally followed the collapse of the talks aimed at discussing possible compromise solutions to the political crisis in Armenia. The opposition cancelled a planned meeting with government representatives on Thursday, saying that the authorities have failed to release all
“political prisoners” and end their reprisals against participants of the unsanctioned street protests.
“The coalition’s goal was to create a smokescreen for dialogue,” Dallakian claimed. “They were literally begging us not to hold rallies. This shows that Kocharian is really scared of the people.”
“Demands stemming from the constitution are not subject to negotiation,” Artarutyun’s most popular leader Stepan Demirchian said, referring to the authorities’ implicit pledge to halt the crackdown in exchange for an end to the opposition campaign. “I understand your impatience, but we must be prepared for a longer struggle,” he said.
Kocharian and his allies say the drive for regime change is unconstitutional, denying opposition claims that they rigged last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. They have warned that further attempts to block Baghramian Avenue will be dealt with in the same manner.
(RFE/RL photo: Demirchian, left, listens as AMK leader Artashes Geghamian addresses the crowd.)