By Ruzanna Stepanian and Hovannes Shoghikian
The Armenian opposition officially confirmed Monday its intention to rally supporters on March 1 on the first anniversary of the deadly post-election clashes in Yerevan.
According to a leading member of the Armenian National Congress (HAK), David Shahnazarian, the rally in the city center will be followed by a march to the site of the clashes that left ten people dead and more than 100 others wounded. He said the opposition alliance sent a relevant notification to the Yerevan mayor’s office in accordance with Armenia’s law on street gatherings.
Under that law, the municipality has three days to accept or reject the application. It banned virtually all of the street protests staged by the opposition in the summer and fall of last year. The protests went ahead despite that, with police making no attempts to disperse thousands of people attending them.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Shahnazarian said the HAK is ready to defy another government ban. “The rally will take place regardless of whether or not the authorities allow it,” he said. Failure to sanction the first opposition rally in more than four months would lay “the groundwork for instability,” he warned.
“If the authorities permit the rally and the march, they will have taken a prudent step,” said Shahnazarian. “Or else, the authorities will prove that they themselves seek instability.”
The HAK’s top leader, Levon Ter-Petrosian, suspended his year-long campaign of anti-government protests in October, saying further opposition pressure on President Serzh Sarkisian could force the latter to make more concessions to Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Ter-Petrosian has reportedly begun consultations with opposition parties aligned to the HAK on whether the March 1 rally should mark the start of a new opposition push for power.
Shahnazarian reiterated opposition claims that the Armenian police have been visiting HAK activists across the country and warning them not to attend the upcoming Ter-Petrosian rally.
That the Armenian authorities hope attendance at the rally will not be strong was indicated on Monday by a leader of Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). “The fewer people go to rallies, the better,” said Razmik Zohrabian.
“There is another side to the story,” Zohrabian told a news conference. “Television is off limits to the oppositionists, and so people go to rallies to get news.” Armenia’s government-controlled television stations should therefore air opposition views in their programs more frequently, he said.
(Photolur photo: David Shahnazarian.)