A new political group led by Nikol Pashinian, an outspoken opposition figure, accused Armenian opposition heavyweights on Monday of misleading the public with their ongoing anti-government demonstrations, saying that they are not aimed at toppling President Serzh Sarkisian.
Pashinian and senior members of his Civil Contract movement claimed that former President Levon Ter-Petrosian and Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) leader Gagik Tsarukian are keen to cut power-sharing deals with Sarkisian, rather than force him to step down or call snap elections.
Pashinian claimed that Ter-Petrosian for years fed his supporters with false promises of impending fresh elections after the 2008 post-election government crackdown on his opposition movement. “As you know, I was part of that process, and I admit my share of responsibility for that,” he told a news conference. “I’m sorry, but repeating the same thing is not right, to say the least.”
Pashinian, 38, was a key backer of Ter-Petrosian’s 2008 bid to return to power by scuttling a handover of power from outgoing President Robert Kocharian to Sarkisian in a disputed presidential election. Like dozens of other oppositionists, the former newspaper editor went into hiding following a deadly suppression of Ter-Petrosian’s post-election street protests in Yerevan. He subsequently surrendered to law-enforcement bodies and spent nearly two years in prison on controversial charges.
Pashinian fell out with Ter-Petrosian in 2012, strongly objecting to the ex-president’s pursuit of close cooperation with Tsarukian’s BHK because of the latter’s alleged links to Kocharian. He remains nominally affiliated with the parliamentary faction of Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) despite having severed links with the opposition party.
Pashinian, who is popular with many opposition supporters for his tough anti-government rhetoric, officially set up Civil Contract late last year with the stated aim of achieving “regime change” and democratizing Armenia. Five of the seven members of its governing board are young civic activists who were not affiliated with any political parties in the past.
“I can say things about Serzh Sarkisian and his clan that would make you get goose bumps,” Pashinian said on Monday, commenting on anti-government statements made by leaders of the HAK, the BHK and Zharangutyun, a third opposition party involved in the ongoing protests. “But that’s not what matters. What matters is to make good on your promises after saying such things.”
“We will be moderate in giving people promises. But we will fulfill each of our promises,” he added.
Pashinian and his associates announced in that regard that Civil Contract will seek to cobble together an alternative anti-government alliance genuinely committed to “regime change.” They said they will embark on consultations with other opposition forces, civic groups and individual activists for that purpose soon.
As well as criticizing the HAK, the BHK and Zharangutyun, Pashinian said Civil Contract will back the opposition trio if it explicitly demands Sarkisian’s immediate resignation.