By Astghik Bedevian
Artarutyun’s top leader Stepan Demirchian exposed on Tuesday a potentially serious rift with his partners from Armenia’s main opposition alliance, rejecting their plans to form a new umbrella structure for continuing their post-referendum standoff with the authorities.
One of those allies, Aram Sarkisian, unveiled plans to set up an anti-government “committee” and its territorial branches that will comprise not only oppositionists but also prominent public figures. He likened them to the famous Karabakh Committee that led the 1988 movement for Karabakh’s reunification with Armenia.
The idea was publicly floated during last week’s conference in Yerevan organized by a coalition of 17 opposition parties that have jointly campaigned against the constitutional amendments put forward by President Robert Kocharian. Eight of those parties are aligned in Artarutyun. All but one of them, Demirchian’s People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK), appears to support the idea.
“We are against hasty steps,” Demirchian told RFE/RL. “The alliance must continue to operate like an alliance, which does not necessarily require the creation of some committee.”
But Sarkisian insisted that the proposed format represents a chance to mobilize greater public support for the flagging opposition offensive against the Kocharian administration. “There are many people in government whom I would love to invite to join the committee and there are many people in the opposition whom I wouldn’t invite,” he told reporters.
The HZhK leader is apparently one of them. Sarkisian and Demirchian fell out following the failure of last year’s opposition campaign of anti-Kocharian street protests. They did not appear to be on speaking terms during pre-referendum campaign gatherings jointly attended by them. Demirchian was conspicuously absent from the most recent opposition rally in Yerevan held on December 9.
Sarkisian said he and his allies will hold another rally on Friday despite their increasingly obvious failure to pull bid crowds. “Let nobody hope that the wave will ebb away,” he said, adding that the opposition leaders will present their new plan of actions to supporters.
But Demirchian insisted that nothing has been decided yet. The opposition should rally supporters only after ascertaining its next steps, he said.
Meanwhile, another prominent opposition leader, Artashes Geghamian, stood by his National Unity Party’s decision not to take part in the post-referendum protests. “We consider short-sighted those politicians who are trying to lead the struggle to change this situation only in one direction. Namely, rallies,” Geghamian told RFE/RL. “Of course, we must have that option in our arsenal but we believe that rallies are not timely in this situation.”