“The goal of the Congress is to enhance the popular pressure to such an extent that will enable us to force Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation and the conduct of pre-term elections,” said Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s central office coordinator.
“I am sure that if 200,000 people take to the streets, the regime will simply flee,” Zurabian told a news conference. He stressed that the HAK stands for a “smooth” change of Armenia’s leadership that would spare the country “bloodshed.”
The HAK claims to have attracted as many as 100,000 people to its most recent rally held on March 17. But according to the Armenian police, only 10,000 opposition supporters attended it.
The rally was part of a new campaign of increasingly big street protests launched by the HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosian last month. The opposition bloc is scheduled to again rally supporters on April 8.
Ter-Petrosian again claimed on March 17 that Sarkisian will eventually meet the fate of Egypt’s and Tunisia’s longtime rulers deposed in popular uprisings. But he said he will not “hasten events” and is ready to negotiate with the authorities if they free his loyalists remaining prison and promise an objective inquiry into the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan.
Ter-Petrosian issued the Sarkisian administration with a much longer list of demands at his previous rally held on March 1.
This led rival opposition groups and some media to speculate that he is maintaining behind-the-scene contacts with the authorities and is not averse to cutting deals with them. They also point to the fact that riot police allowed HAK supporters to enter Yerevan’s Liberty Square on March 17 for the first time since the 2008 unrest.
But Zurabian brushed aside this speculation as a government ploy, saying that Sarkisian is thus trying to win more time. “All of our 15 demands [voiced on March 1] as well as the demand to hold pre-term presidential and parliamentary elections remain in force,” he said.
Armenia -- Levon Zurabian addresses thousands of opposition supporters demonstrating in Yerevan, 17Mar2011.
Zurabian also acknowledged that some HAK demonstrators were disappointed with the bloc’s decision not to launch non-stop protests in Liberty Square on March 17. He estimated that they make up at least 10 percent of Ter-Petrosian’s followers and said their number is growing.
“But there are also very moderate people who are afraid of such radical steps,” said the HAK coordinator. “They want a calm, democratic course of events.”
“Our movement has grown so big that we are facing a very serious challenge to work out a strategy that would satisfy both the moderate and radical wings,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Yerevan municipality on Wednesday refused to allow the HAK to hold the April 8 rally in Liberty Square on the usual grounds that it has already been booked for “cultural and sporting events.”
“A different event is planned in Liberty Square at the same time,” Gagik Baghdasarian, a senior municipality official, told HAK representatives after considering their rally application. He denied any political motives behind the ban.
Vahagn Khachatrian, a senior HAK figure and former Yerevan mayor, condemned the decision as “illegal.” “You are executing a political order to ban us from holding a rally there,” he told Baghdasarian.
“Do you want us to do what we did on March 17? We’ll do that again,” said Khachatrian. “Do you want unnecessary tension in Yerevan? You will be to blame for that.”