Three leading opposition parties announced the launch of an anti-government “velvet revolution” in Armenia on Thursday as they began a joint campaign of nationwide rallies in Abovian, a town 15 kilometers north of Yerevan.
The Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), the Armenian National Congress (HAK) and the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party rallied about 2,000 supporters there as part of their preparations for a major demonstration that will take place in Yerevan on October 10.
“A liberation revolution in Armenia is starting today from this square,” the HAK’s Levon Zurabian told the crowd. “It has nothing to do with bloodshed or upheavals. We are talking about a velvet revolution that will take place under peaceful popular pressure.”
“Until Serzh Sarkisian’s regime leaves Armenia this country will have no chances of development,” he declared.
Zharangutyun leaders also called for Sarkisian’s ouster in their speeches. Ruben Hakobian, the party’s deputy chairman, urged Abovian residents to join the Yerevan rally in large numbers and help the opposition “get rid of these authorities as soon as possible.” “On October 10 we must jointly decide the fate of our country,” he said.
BHK speakers at the rally stopped short of explicitly calling for quick regime change, highlighting their party’s more cautious stance. But they did criticize the Sarkisian administration in strong terms, with former Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian deploring what he called a political and economic “monopoly” in the country. “Today everything is decided from one center and negative consequences of that are obvious,” said Oskanian
Oskanian made clear that the three parties are seeking “radical changes,” rather than the resignation of Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamian and his cabinet. “It longer makes sense to demand the government’s resignation because we know that the key problem is the system,” he said.
Despite Zurabian’s statement, it remained unclear whether the October 10 demonstration will mark the beginning of non-stop anti-government protests in the capital. The opposition trio hopes to ensure strong attendance at that rally with a series of smaller gatherings in various Armenian regions that will continue through October 8.
Abovian, the starting point of the campaign, is a stronghold of BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian, whose party controls the second largest parliamentary faction and has far more financial resources than its opposition allies. The town’s mayor, Karapet Guloyan, is married to one of Tsarukian’s daughters. Guloyan personally oversaw preparations for Thursday’s rally, a major reason why it attracted a relatively large crowd.
Tsarukian and Levon Ter-Petrosian and Raffi Hovannisian, the top leaders of the HAK and Zharangutyun respectively, did not attend the Abovian protest.