By Emil Danielyan
Braving a bitter weather, thousands of supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian marched through the center of Yerevan on Tuesday in the latest show of force by Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s most radical election challenger.
The demonstration, the first of kind organized by Ter-Petrosian since his political comeback last September, was sanctioned by municipal authorities despite their calls for political parties to avoid staging street marches in the run-up to next month’s presidential election. The Yerevan mayor’s office argued last week that they would disrupt the already congested traffic in the city center.
The march followed a rally in the city’s Liberty Square during which Ter-Petrosian again lambasted Armenia’s “thieving and anti-popular” leadership and said he and his political allies are ready to suffer “any deprivation and sacrifice” for the sake of regime change.
“We have reached a turning point where words end and deeds take hold,” he said, describing the February 19 election as a “real opportunity to build a normal state.”
Ter-Petrosian also said that by voting for him Armenians would avenge what he described as the falsification of the results of the previous two presidential elections. “Therefore, February 19 will mark not only my victory but also the victory of Karen Demirchian, Stepan Demirchian and Vazgen Sarkisian,” he said.
Demirchian Jr., whose People’s Party is among more than a dozen opposition groups supporting Ter-Petrosian, also addressed the rally. He claimed that the ex-president can win already in the first round of voting. He also stressed that Ter-Petrosian is the only presidential hopeful who has pledged to solve the October 1999 assassination of his father and then Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian.
Despite the freezing weather, the rally attracted approximately as many people as the previous gatherings organized by Ter-Petrosian late last year. Ter-Petrosian joked that he committed a serious blunder by stepping down and forcing a pre-term presidential election in winter. “Had I resigned in April or May  you would have been in a much better situation,” he said at the start of his 20-minute speech.
The ex-president’s previous Liberty Square speeches had lasted for more than an hour. He spent much of his latest address reciting a 1920 poem by Armenian poet Yeghishe Charents who emphatically lamented the country’s woes.
Ter-Petrosian also disputed the widely held belief that Serzh Sarkisian is the clear election favorite. “Serzh Sarkisian has no support base or electorate in Armenia,” he said. “He is pinning all his hopes on administrative levers, vote falsifications, repressions and vote bribes.”
Sarkisian’s loyalists, for their part, dismiss Ter-Petrosian’s electoral chances, saying that he is not even the most popular of the opposition candidates challenging the Armenian premier.