By Heghine Buniatian and Narek Galstian
Leaders of the Armenian opposition reaffirmed their intention to use the upcoming constitutional referendum for another attempt at regime change as they took their “No” campaign to areas west of Yerevan on Friday.
Representatives of 17 opposition parties toured local villages and towns in a motorcade of some 70 cars, honking their horns, waving yellow flags and handing out leaflets that urged voters to reject constitutional changes put to the November 27 referendum.
The most radical of the opposition campaigners, Aram Sarkisian, again claimed that a falsification of the referendum results would spark an anti-government revolt. “We will be living in a new Armenia on November 28,” he declared at a rally in the town of Yeghvard, urging local residents to prepare for massive protests in Yerevan.
For some opposition supporters such statements are not radical enough. “You are sleeping and don’t want to awake the people,” an elderly man in the nearby Zovuni village told Sarkisian.
“We, for our part, expect you to say no to this constitution on November 27 and come to the capital,” responded the opposition leader.
But the man was still unconvinced. “I’m worried that you will flee again as I limp and can’t run,” he said bluntly, referring to the violent break-up of an April 2004 opposition demonstration in Yerevan. Sarkisian and other oppositionists spent several days in hiding after that.
The opposition leaders again avoided detailed discussion of the constitutional amendments which President Robert Kocharian’s administration and the West say would speed up Armenia’s democratization and European integration. They instead accused the authorities of repeatedly violating the existing constitution and laws.
Local residents opposed to the proposed changes cited dislike of the government as their key motive. “Nothing will change with a change of the constitution,” a woman in Yeghvard told RFE/RL. “It’s those who are supposed to implement the constitution that must be changed.”
“Democracy requires a political will, rather than a constitution,” said a man in Ashtarak, the capital of the central Aragatsotn region. “I don’t think, for example, that this constitution does not prevent [General] Manvel Grigorian from using troops in Echmiadzin during elections.”
The umbrella structure campaigning against the amendments comprises members of the Artarutyun alliance and a dozen other opposition parties. It was announced on Friday that the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party of Armenia’s U.S.-born former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian has decided to join the coalition. “This constitutional draft is full of legal traps,” an aide to Hovannisian told a rally in Ashtarak.
In Yerevan, meanwhile, Kocharian’s chief constitutional lawyer, Armen Harutiunian, campaigned for the draft a meeting with the faculty and student leaders of the State Agricultural Academy. Its rector had earlier promised that the vast majority of his 10,000 students will vote for the amendments.
Another government campaigner, parliament deputy Ruben Hovsepian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), was scheduled to hold a similar meeting with students of the State Cinema and Theater Institute. However, only several students turned up for the meeting and it was cancelled. “A very small percentage of the students cares about the issue,” one of them told RFE/RL. “Probably because they lack a sense of responsibility.”
“This was not supposed to be a family talk,” Hovsepian said before leaving the institute’s conference hall.
(Photolur photo: Aram Sarkisian.)