By Ruzanna Stepanian
The outspoken leader of Armenia’s most radical opposition party, Hanrapetutyun (Republic), reiterated on Friday his uncompromising stance against the authorities and appealed for public support for a “revolution” in his country.
Aram Sarkisian also reaffirmed a pro-Western re-orientation of his foreign policy agenda, effectively neutralizing a party faction seen as more sympathetic to Russia.
“Armenia needs a revolution, a change of values, not [a mere] regime change,” he told hundreds of delegates at the party’s congress. “Today we have a government which wants to stage-manage regime change. But I’m telling them that it will not work.
“Robert Kocharian will have to go. He will fail to install [Defense Minister] Serzh Sarkisian or anybody else in his place.”
“I call on every citizen of the Republic of Armenia to join us,” he added. “I also address this call to non-discredited government officials. Those who stand by us today, will be in government tomorrow. Those who are scared [of backing the opposition] today, will remain scared tomorrow.”
But like other opposition leaders, Sarkisian was vague about what he thinks needs to be done to force the current Armenian leadership into resignation. Speaking to journalists, he indicated only that the opposition needs to ensure better attendance of its rallies before it can launch another drive for regime change. He admitted that the opposition failed to pull large crowds last spring.
The Artarutyun alliance, of which Hanrapetutyun is a major member, pledged to continue to fight against the “illegitimate” authorities this month but made it clear that it plans no street protests for the coming weeks. Hanrapetutyun is thought to favor more radical methods of political struggle than eight other parties making up the bloc.
Underscoring their disaffection with Artarutyun, Sarkisian and his associates began talks late last year with two other opposition groups on forming a new alliance that would have a distinctly pro-Western agenda. The talks have not resulted in agreement so far and Sarkisian was evasive in his comments on the issue.
But the politician, who briefly served as prime minister after the October 1999 assassination of his charismatic brother and predecessor Vazgen, did acknowledge a pro-Western tilt in his and his allies’ thinking.
“The situation has changed so much that we must make the right choice,” he said. “As for being pro-Western, of course we prefer democracy. I am an Armenian and am guided only by my country’s interests. And I see that in terms of their lifestyle, values and, as Serzh Sarkisian would put it, mentality, our people are closer to Europe.”
The foreign policy shift, which observers link to the success of Western-backed revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine, was reportedly opposed by a group of pro-Russian Hanrapetutyun figures, including the party’s formal chairman Albert Bazeyan and former Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian. Some expected a showdown between the two factions at the Hanrapetutyun congress.
However, neither Harutiunian nor Bazeyan spoke at the gathering. The participants accepted the latter’s resignation and elected Sarkisian as their new chairman. Bazeyan welcomed the decision.