Addressing more than two thousand people that gathered in Yerevan, Ter-Petrosian pledged to unveil a “more clear and comprehensive political program” during “a much more powerful rally” which he said will be held on March 1. It will coincide with the second anniversary of deadly street clashes between opposition protesters and security protests which were sparked by the disputed presidential election of February 2008.
Ter-Petrosian gave no details of his new plan of actions, saying only that it “can not fail to have an impact in the course of this year.” He insisted that his opposition movement remains “extremely serious” and wished its members continued “optimism and perseverance.” “We are leaving despair and desolation to our authorities,” he said.
“You are the wealth of this country,” Ter-Petrosian told the crowd before it marched through the city center to voice support for Nikol Pashinian, a senior HAK figure standing trial for his role in the March 2008 unrest. “If our country, our state has anything to be proud of and if the world sees any value in Armenia, that value is you and only you.”
Armenia -- Opposition rally in support of jailed eitor Nikol Pashinian in Yerevan, 8Jan2009
Ter-Petrosian publicly rebuked another speaker at the rally who said that the HAK will no longer content itself with “moral victories” and will do everything to ensure Pashinian’s victory in Sunday’s parliamentary by-election in a central Yerevan constituency. “What moral victories are we talking about? Where have you seen more real victories than these ones [scored by the HAK since 2008?]” he said.
The former Armenian president indefinitely suspended regular anti-government protests staged in the capital by his Armenian National Congress (HAK) alliance in September, saying that it can not topple President Serzh Sarkisian without the backing of other major political groups.
Speaking at an HAK meeting in November, Ter-Petrosian signaled his readiness to recognize Sarkisian’s legitimacy if the latter embarks on sweeping political reforms and frees all remaining “political prisoners.” He also lambasted nationalist critics of Sarkisian’s conciliatory policy on Turkey. The Armenian president has still not responded to the overtures.
Some local analysts saw a possibility of dialogue between the Sarkisian administration and the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition last month when the Armenian authorities allowed Pashinian to vie for the vacant parliament seat despite his ongoing trial. But later in December, state prosecutors demanded that the outspoken editor of the pro-opposition “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily be sentenced to two years in prison for allegedly organizing the 2008 “mass riots.”
The sentence would disqualify Pashinian from a general amnesty declared by the authorities in June. It would also invalidate his possible victory in the weekend election.
The election campaign was also marred by the beating of more than a dozen young HAK activists that urged Yerevan residents to vote for Pashinian. The HAK blamed the attack on Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and presented it as another indication that the ruling party is backing Pashinian’s pro-government rival, Ara Simonian. The latter is affiliated with another, smaller group that supports the current Armenian leadership.
Simonian has denied any involvement in the incident. Speaking to RFE/RL on Thursday, he also insisted that the HHK has not mobilized its structures in central Yerevan to strive for his victory.
Simonian went on to describe his election campaign as “very positive.” “I have grown even more convinced that our victory is unstoppable,” he said.
Ter-Petrosian and other HAK representatives claimed the opposite at Friday’s rally. “If [the number of people standing in] this square is anything to go by, I think Nikol has already won,” said the HAK leader.
Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s central office coordinator, said that Pashinian’s victory would be “a slap in the regime’s face” and that the authorities will therefore try to prevent it “at any cost.” “This is not going to be a normal election,” he said.
Simonian predicted, however, that the vote will take place “in a very normal, warm and humane atmosphere.”