By Anna Saghabalian
Two prominent opposition leaders have announced the launch of a broad-based “apolitical” movement which they say will strive for the democratization of Armenia’s political system and try to boost the civic consciousness of its population.
The initiative was unveiled on Tuesday by Vazgen Manukian, a veteran oppositionist who headed the country’s first post-Communist government in 1990-91. Manukian said he and former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian helped to organize the “civic movement” in the hope of “returning power to people.”
A senior member of Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, Vartan Khachatrian, divulged more details on Wednesday, saying that the movement was launched on Saturday during a meeting in Yerevan of some 200 opposition activists, civil society representatives and even representatives of unspecified pro-government forces. He would not say whether there were other prominent oppositionists among the participants.
“This is not an [opposition] alliance that will aggressively campaign for regime change,” he told RFE/RL. “Its agenda is much broader.”
Khachatrian said the purpose of the movement is to “form and reinforce a civic base” that will allow for the protection of human and civil rights, judicial independence, freedom of speech and other ingredients of democracy. “The idea is to make courts as independent as possible by means of public pressure, to acquire media outlets or airtime which will allow us to trigger public reaction to the existing problems,” he said.
The initiative seeks to address widespread popular apathy towards politicians and politics in general which Armenian opposition leaders say seriously hampers democratic change in Armenia. Manukian has repeatedly stated that the existing mainstream opposition lack popular support and must therefore widen its agenda, largely confined to regime change, that would attract other public actors.
According to Khachatrian, the purported pro-democracy movement will not be directly involved in next year’s parliamentary elections. Opposition and especially pro-government forces have already begun preparations for the polls. Hovannisian, in particular, is reportedly looking to team up with other liberal opposition groups. Among his potential allies are Manukian’s National Democratic Union, Aram Sarkisian’s Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party as well as former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir.