By Emil Danielyan
The Armenian opposition urged supporters to be “patient” and brace for more drawn-out demonstrations on Friday as it again failed to mobilize greater popular participation in its latest drive to topple the government.
Leaders of the Artarutyun alliance and a dozen other opposition groups staged another rally in Yerevan attended by several thousand people protesting against the alleged falsification of the November 27 constitutional referendum. The size of the crowd again clearly failed short of their expectations.
This was apparently the reason why the opposition leaders announced a one-week break in the their campaign of anti-government street protests. They also sought to shore up the morale of their loyalists who seem increasingly frustrated with a perceived lack of “decisive” action against the ruling regime.
“We must be patient,” Artarutyun’s Aram Sarkisian told the crowd. “I assure you that it is impossible to carry out regime change with a single rally.”
“We already tried that option. The result was April 12,” he added, referring to last year’s violent break-up of an opposition demonstration outside President Robert Kocharian’s palace.
“Keep coming to our rallies,” continued Sarkisian. “Let every rally be bigger than the previous one. Give us a little time for doing the organizational work. I ask you not to consider the next rally belated. We have an enormous amount of work to do and you will see its fruits.”
Sarkisian and other radical oppositionists had indicated during their pre-referendum campaign that the opposition will repeat the kind of action which it took on April 12, 2004 when thousands of people camped on Yerevan’s Marshall Baghramian Avenue before being brutally dispersed by security forces.
“We will again block Baghramian,” said Vazgen Manukian, another Artarutyun leader. “But not today.”
“I am not scared of clashes [with riot police],” Sarkisian said for his part. “At one point we and the authorities will meet again. I just want to make sure that the authorities flee after that meeting. That moment will not be long in coming.”
In the meantime, he said, the opposition will hold indoors gatherings in various parts of the country and collect signatures to prove that the vast majority of Armenians did not take part in the referendum.
But not everyone in the crowd was convinced. “I don’t quite agree with their tactic,” said one man. “They can’t achieve any results with it.”
Opposition leaders, however, argue that they need larger crowds to be able to replicate the successful anti-government revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. “November 27 was a slap on the face of our people, but there has been no outburst [of popular anger],” Manukian complained in his speech. “Why didn’t the people smash those ballot boxes and bring election officials to account?”
“There aren’t enough people standing here,” agreed one protester. “More of them must come here.”
Despite an unusually high turnout reported by the authorities, the referendum exposed widespread popular apathy toward the constitutional reform and politics in general. Some analysts believe that most Armenians are now cynical about both the government and the opposition.
Friday’s rally followed a meeting between opposition leaders and the Yerevan-ambassadors of several major European Union countries. “I have never seen them so angry before,” claimed Sarkisian. “They all acknowledged that the vote was rigged and that the official figures do not correspond to reality.”
The EU, which endorsed President Robert Kocharian’s constitutional changes, has not yet reacted to the Armenian authorities’ handling of the referendum and its announced outcome. Nor has there been any reaction from the Council of Europe whose representatives monitored the vote and questioned the credibility of its official results.