By Shakeh Avoyan and Emil Danielyan
The leader of Armenia’s most radical opposition party claimed on Tuesday that he may still succeed in forming a broad-based electoral alliance with other opposition heavyweights, including former presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian.
Aram Sarkisian, chairman of the Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party, said he will hold more talks with Demirchian in a bid to convince him to join forces with several pro-Western opposition parties for the May 12 parliamentary elections. He confirmed reports that those include the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party of former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian and the National Democratic Union (AZhM) of former Prime Minister Vazgen Manukian. Hanrapetutyun is also in talks with the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), he said.
“The opposition must close ranks,” Sarkisian told RFE/RL. “In case of such a consolidation, it will enjoy very strong popular support. And I will save no effort to achieve that objective.”
Demirchian said last week that his People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) will likely contest the elections single-handedly, despite being courted by other opposition forces. He reportedly told the leaders of Hanrapetutyun, Zharangutyun and the AZhM that many of his supporters feel that the HZhK can do well on its own.
Sarkisian, whose personal rapport with Demirchian has until been frosty, insisted that the HZhK leader has not made a definitive decision yet. The two men were scheduled to meet later in the day.
Sarkisian is also due to meet Hovannisian and Manukian on Wednesday. The latter are hardly enthusiastic about his attempts to bring the HHSh into play, not least because of their past feuds with Armenia’s former ruling party. The HHSh and other groups supporting former President Levon Ter-Petrosian seem to remain unpopular as many Armenians continue to associate them with the economic hardship of the early 1990s.
One of those groups, Aylentrank (Alternative), highlighted the persisting lack of public support for the ex-president’s allies as it attracted only one thousand or so people to its first-ever rally in Yerevan on Tuesday. The supposedly non-partisan movement was set up late last year to campaign for the ouster of Armenia’s current leadership which it accuses of mismanaging the country and jeopardizing its independence. Its leaders hope to win over many people by offering a liberal ideological alternative to the policies pursued by the administration of President Robert Kocharian.
“We have come to this square to say that we are the masters of our country, the masters of its misery and splendor, its heroism and recklessness, its victories and defeats,” one of them, Nikol Pashinian, told the small crowd. “What we want is a homeland with citizens, a homeland which is able to protect its citizens,” he said.
Aylentrank plans to hold more such rallies in the coming weeks. It remained unclear whether the group plans to join the unfolding parliamentary race.
Sarkisian, who makes no secret of his reverence for Ter-Petrosian, spoke to RFE/RL the day after his return from a week-long visit to Washington, the second in less than two years. He said his meetings with U.S. State Department officials and think-tank analysts focused on the upcoming Armenian elections.
“The United States is a friend of Armenia not only because of its large-scale assistance but also because it assists in the development of democracy here,” Sarkisian said, emphasizing his pro-Western credentials. “I assure you that the United States will monitor these elections more closely and will react to processes more quickly,” he added.
Incidentally, Sarkisian returned to Yerevan on the same plane with Artur Baghdasarian, another pro-Western opposition leader who had a similar itinerary in the U.S. capital. He said they had a “friendly conversation” there but declined to give details. Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party has already announced that it will not join any election alliances.