By Ruzanna Stepanian
The Armenian opposition announced on Thursday the launch of a broad-based “civic movement” for regime change but shed little light on its next actions against the authorities.
Opposition leaders guard against expectations of a quick “revolution” among hundreds of activists who gathered for a conference in Yerevan. They at the same time assured supporters that they will not wait until the 2007 parliamentary elections to make a “decisive” push for power.
Vazgen Manukian, a veteran oppositionist, said if the opposition loses the latest battle with the authorities, provoked by their controversial handling of the November 27 referendum, it will stand no chance of ever unseating them. “You can’t lose to criminal mafia structures,” Manukian told the audience. “If you lose once, they will trample you underfoot.”
“They don’t care about democracy. They don’t even understand what that means,” he said.
Manukian and other speakers called for the creation of an anti-government umbrella structure comprising not only politicians but also prominent public figures and other civil society representatives. Aram Karapetian, the leader of the Nor Zhamanakner party, said it should resemble the famous Karabakh Committee that led the 1988 movement for Karabakh’s reunification with Armenia. Incidentally, Manukian was one of the leading members of that committee.
“We need a coordinated serious struggle,” said Karapetian. “We need an organized force led by an organized body. That our path is a revolutionary one is beyond doubt.”
Most opposition leaders agreed on the need for a single structure coordinating their activities but have yet to agree on how it should be formed and operate. Opposition sources said they will try to reach agreement in the coming days.
The indoors gathering took place in advance of the opposition’s next unsanctioned rally in Yerevan slated for Friday. The previous rally held a week ago did not end in what many opposition loyalists hoped would be a march towards the presidential palace. Opposition leaders indicated that the upcoming gathering will likewise have no immediate continuation.
Opposition leaders told several thousand people who gathered in the city center last time to prepare for a prolonged campaign of street protests against Kocharian. The most radical of them, Aram Sarkisian, assured supporters on Thursday that they will soon camp outside Kocharian’s residence but did not elaborate.
“Our task simple: to have the official referendum figures annulled,” Sarkisian said. “We will pursue this issue to the end. We are not going to retreat.”
“Do not demand any time frames [for regime change] from us,” pleaded Karapetian. “We now need a coordinating body and a drawn-out struggle.”
The post-referendum opposition rallies have so far failed to attract a substantial number of protesters that would seriously threaten the ruling regime’s hold on power. Nonetheless, the authorities have exposed their persisting worries by regularly detaining opposition activists in Yerevan and nearby regions.