By Shakeh Avoyan
Aram Karapetian, a maverick opposition politician who has vowed to stage a “revolution” in Armenia, blamed on Thursday an unspecified “government wing” for violence that disrupted his rally in the central town of Sevan on Wednesday.
The incident was condemned as an anti-democratic “provocation” by two major Armenian parties, including the governing Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun).
The rally, attended by about 1,000 people, descended into chaos after some participants angrily took issue with Karapetian’s pledge to effect regime change in Armenia.
“Mr. Karapetian, where have you been in those years?” one of them, who identified himself as a veteran of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, asked. “We were building a state while you were making money.”
“What do you want now? What revolution are you talking about?” he added before threatening to “cut your ears.”
Karapetian told the crowd to remove the man from the square and scuffles between various groups of people followed. At least one person was hospitalized as a result.
Speaking at a news conference the next day, Karapetian refused to name forces which he believe orchestrated the “provocation.” “Very bad processes are going on in the Armenian political arena,” he said. “Everyone talks about democracy. But during every democratic process armed gangs are sent into action.”
Karapetian claimed that the authorities are worried about a series of nationwide demonstrations which his Nor Zhamanakner (New Times) party began this year as they are putting an end to “the atmosphere of fear” in the country. He said he will meet leaders of other, more established opposition parties for urgent “consultations.”
One of those parties, Hanrapetutyun (Republic), issued a statement accusing the Armenian authorities of orchestrating the violence in Sevan in order to prevent “meetings between political forces and the population.” “The current authorities are pursuing a single goal: to keep the public in an atmosphere of fear and instill in them the legend that the regime is invincible,” the statement charged.
Dashnaktsutyun, for its part, blamed the incident on “shadowy apolitical forces” disinterested in democracy and pluralism. “This is a challenge to the republic’s political forces which aims to prevent a civilized struggle based democratic values and principles from taking root,” it said in a statement.
The party, represented in Armenia’s government, vowed to wage an “uncompromising struggle against such manifestations” and demanded that law-enforcement authorities track down and punish “the organizers of the incident.”
According to Karapetian, police have opened a criminal case in connection with the fracas but have not yet made any arrests.
An obscure scholar who spent much of the past decade in Moscow, Karapetian was unknown to most Armenians until the run-up to the 2003 presidential elections. He quickly made his name and attracted a substantial following through tough anti-government rhetoric.
Karapetian endorsed the most popular opposition presidential candidate, leader Stepan Demirchian, for the March 2003 run-off with President Robert Kocharian. But he and his party subsequently distanced himself from Demirchian’s Artarutyun alliance. He pointedly refused to endorse or join in the Artarutyun-led effort to topple Kocharian with a campaign of street protests last year, sparking opposition allegations about his secret ties with the ruling regime.
A recent congress of Nor Zhamanakner was boycotted by Armenia’s mainstream opposition. Speaking at the congress, Karapetian announced the start of his own attempt at “revolution.”