Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian described membership in the customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan as a grave threat to Armenia’s independence as he again rallied supporters in Yerevan on Friday.
Hovannisian added the Armenian government’s pledge to join the union to a list of reasons why he believes President Serzh Sarkisian should step down. He said Sarkisian “single-handedly decided to subordinate Armenia’s sovereignty to others in a humiliating manner.”
“A government that steals elections, attacks citizens, ruins cultural values, fails to solve crimes in the army and elsewhere … and takes a step in Moscow that is not anti-American or anti-European but anti-Armenian,” he told several hundred people in the city’s Liberty Square.
The Zharangutyun (Heritage) party leader, who was Sarkisian’s main challenger in the February 2013 presidential election, called for the creation of a broad-based “national renewal front” that would campaign for regime change. “If we don’t come out of our corners and create that powerful fist nobody will forgive us for the loss of statehood,” he said.
“Armenia’s independence is jeopardized,” Zaruhi Postanjian, an outspoken Zharangutyun parliamentarian, said in a speech at the rally.
Hovannisian launched what he described as a new campaign of anti-government protests late last month, shortly before Sarkisian announced his decision on the customs union in Moscow. He has failed to pull large crowds so far.
The U.S.-born oppositionist called on other opposition and civic groups to join in the campaign ahead of the latest rally. Only a handful of small groups and individual figures heeded the appeal, however. Among them was Paruyr Hayrikian, another former presidential candidate who spent more than a decade in Soviet prisons for campaigning for Armenia’s independence.
Of all opposition represented in the Armenian parliament, only Zharangutyun and the Free Democrats party have explicitly rejected Armenia’s accession to the customs union.