By Astghik Bedevian and Irina Hovannisian
Armenia’s most radical opposition forces rallied thousands of supporters in Yerevan on Sunday, condemning what their leaders described as massive vote rigging but backing away from a confrontation with the authorities for now.
The Hanrapetutyun (Republic) and Nor Zhamanakner parties as well as the Impeachment bloc had been expected to hold non-stop street protests after Saturday’s parliamentary elections. They made no secret of their desire to use the vote for provoking an anti-government uprising in Armenia.
Their outspoken leaders delivered emotional speeches only to cut short the rally and tell the angry crowd to again gather in the city’s Liberty Square five days later. They shed little light on their planned next steps, implying only that their campaign will take longer that many of their supporters expected. Impeachment’s Nikol Pashinian said they would be wrong to think that the government can be brought down with a single rally.
“We have a lot to analyze,” Hanrapetutyun leader Aram Sarkisian told RFE/RL. “We are still trying to understand each other. There is no need to attack [the government] head-on.”
The radical oppositionists were for the first time joined by Stepan Demirchian, the leader of the more moderate People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK) which also failed to win any parliament seats. He would not say whether the HZhK will participate in other protests planned by the trio.
“We can not accept the election results,” Demirchian told RFE/RL. “They are humiliating our nation’s dignity.”
“The elections were rigged in an ugly fashion,” Pashinian charged in his speech. “What happened yesterday was not an election, but a coup d’etat led by two persons: Robert Kocharian and Serzh Sarkisian,”
“I want us to insist that we will not show mercy for ourselves and all those who will try to cover up this crime,” added the young oppositionist.
People furious with the official vote results began gathering in Liberty Square hours before the start of the rally. Many claimed to have witnessed vote buying and voter intimidation.
One woman residing in the city’s Malatia-Sebastia district alleged that voters there were paid between 10,000 and 30,000 drams ($85) to vote for the Republican and Prosperous Armenia parties. “I saw loads of cash handed out there,” she said.
Another opposition supporter said votes in his village of Avshar, 40 kilometers south of Yerevan, were bought by another pro-presidential party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). “They handed out 5,000 drams for two days before the elections in Avshar,” said the man.
“They were handing out money and sacks of food in Arzni,” claimed Anush Gabrielian, a middle-aged woman from the village 15 kilometers north of the capital.