The Armenian National Congress (HAK) pledged to step up its nonstop street protests in Yerevan on Tuesday in response to the government’s refusal to unconditionally resume negotiations with the opposition alliance.
“Starting from today, we will intensify our struggle,” Levon Zurabian, the number two figure in the HAK leadership, told thousands of supporters demonstrating in Liberty Square for the fifth consecutive day.
A separate statement issued by the HAK likewise spoke of a greater “mobilization of the people” and described as “pointless” renewed dialogue with President Serzh Sarkisian and his three-party ruling coalition. It was not clear, however, just how the HAK will try to ratchet up pressure on the authorities.
Its top leader, Levon Ter-Petrosian, offered to resume talks with the coalition without preconditions on Friday just as his loyalists set up a tent camp in Liberty Square to demand early elections and other government concessions.
The talks began in July but were suspended by the opposition bloc in late August in protest against the controversial arrest of one of its activists.
Members of a coalition team that negotiated with HAK representatives this summer effectively rejected Ter-Petrosian’s proposal late on Monday. In a joint statement, they said the dialogue could resume only after the end of the ongoing “illegal” demonstrations.
The HAK rejected this precondition. “At this juncture, the Armenian National Congress considers any dialogue with such authorities pointless and sees the achievement of our objectives only in the mobilization of the people and the intensification of our mass actions,” said its statement read out by Zurabian.
The statement said at the same time that the dialogue could resume if the authorities “appeal to us with a corresponding request.” “We would discuss that appeal and decide whether or not to grant that request,” it added.
Neither the statement, nor Zurabian and other opposition figures specified what further actions the HAK will take to heighten the pressure on the Sarkisian government.
The opposition campaign, modeled on Ter-Petrosian’s massive 2008 demonstrations, has clearly failed to gain momentum so far. Attendance at the HAK’s evening rallies has remains modest, with only several thousand people turning up to hear speeches by Ter-Petrosian and his associates.
News reports say that transport communication between Yerevan and the rest of the country has been severely restricted in recent days. The HAK says the authorities are thus trying to keep more people from joining the protests.
Ter-Petrosian did not comment on his further steps as he addressed the demonstrators later on Tuesday. Instead, he poured scorn on Sarkisian over the mysterious closure of public toilets near Liberty Square which coincided with the start of the HAK campaign.
“Serzh, please open the toilets,” he said, sparking laughter and rapturous applause from the crowd. “Serzh, prove to these people that there is one problem that you can solve.”
The HAK has for months insisted on the holding of fresh presidential and parliamentary elections, saying only they can end lingering political tensions in Armenia. Still, Ter-Petrosian hinted late last month that his opposition movement is ready to drop this demand in return for “reasonable” concessions from the authorities. The latter have not yet responded to this offer.