By Emil Danielyan
Armenia’s main opposition groups appeared late Friday to have given up their hopes of a quick ouster of President Robert Kocharian, admitting their failure so far to muster sufficient support for a popular uprising.
Only several thousand people turned up for yet another anti-government demonstration in central Yerevan. Nonetheless, the opposition leaders said they will keep up pressure on the authorities by continuing to hold such gatherings.
They promised supporters earlier that the next rally will mark the start of “permanent” actions of protest which will not end until Kocharian steps down. Those were expected to culminate in another march towards the presidential palace along the city’s Marshal Baghramian Avenue.
Albert Bazeyan of the Artarutyun alliance announced that the opposition has to take another “break” in its two-month campaign against Kocharian because it “failed to solve some organizational matters.” “We believe that we are not yet ready to carry out actions needed for achieving our final victory,” he said, publicly apologizing to the crowd.
Another Artarutyun leader, Aram Sarkisian, urged supporters to brace for a longer struggle against the “illegitimate regime.” “My dear people, believe me that it is possible to effect regime change without going to Baghramian. By gathering here we can score one victory after other,” he said in a customary passionate speech.
Sarkisian sought to put a brave face on the developments, claiming that the government crackdown on the opposition, unleashed in response the rallies, has weakened Kocharian both at home and in the international stage. “These authorities must know that they will have no respite. We will constantly hold rallies this month,” he said.
Artarutyun and its ally, the National Unity Party (AMK), scheduled the next demonstration for June 16. There was no word on whether it will be followed by promised “decisive actions.” “This issue has not yet been discussed and I can’t say anything,” AMK leader Artashes Geghamian told RFE/RL.
The first major opposition attempt to unseat Kocharian ended in violence on the night from April 12 to 13 when riot police stopped and brutally dispersed thousands of people on Baghramian Avenue, using truncheons, water cannons and stun grenades. Scores of demonstrators were arrested and injured in the clash. Artarutyun and AMK leaders have since repeatedly promised to rally more people for another siege of Kocharian’s residence.
Sarkisian openly admitted that the opposition fed its loyalists with upbeat statements to keep them in high spirits. “We really kept giving you promises, but we had nothing else to say,” he said. “We couldn’t say anything bad, we have to say that things will be alright…Once you believe, you will win. Loss of faith makes victory more remote.”
Kocharian and his allies have maintained throughout the crisis that the drive for regime change is unconstitutional and is not backed by the majority of Armenians. Kocharian claimed earlier this week that he does not even follow the opposition protests.
Nonetheless, the authorities continue to arrest and imprison opposition supporters in what is widely seen as an effort to discourage ordinary people from taking to the streets. A court in the northwestern town of Gyumri sentenced on Thursday two Artarutyun members to 12 and 15 months in prison for hooliganism, brining to five the number of opposition activists jailed on criminal charges.
The charges against the two men, Tigran Ter-Markarian and Karen Markarian, who worked as Bazeyan’s driver, stemmed from their March 29 clash with plainclothes police and Kocharian supporters who tried to disrupt an Artarutyun rally in Gyumri. Bazeyan condemned their imprisonment and repeated opposition claims that the violence was instigated by the authorities.