Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian declined to shed light on his further political activities at the weekend as he rallied supporters in Yerevan for the first time since the dramatic collapse of his alliance with Gagik Tsarukian’s Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK).
Ter-Petrosian declared instead that his Armenian National Congress (HAK) has become the sole genuine opposition force in the country after a harsh government crackdown effectively drove Tsarukian out of politics.
“While understanding your natural expectation, I will refrain for now from discussing those issues (the HAK’s further actions) because the events are so fresh that they require long deliberations and a thorough analysis,” he told a smaller-than-usual crowd that gathered in Liberty Square to mark the 7th anniversary of the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan.
“I hope that you, for your part, will understand my step as you are well aware that I have no habit of making hasty judgments and decisions,” he said. “Having again remained alone in the opposition camp, the HAK needs time to ascertain its further tactic and calculate its political resources for continuing the struggle.”
“Accordingly, also taking into account the fact that the next two months will be full of various public events dedicated to the centenary of the Armenian genocide, the HAK leadership has decided to refrain from holding mass gatherings at least until April 24,” added Ter-Petrosian.
Ter-Petrosian’s right-hand man, Levon Zurabian, insisted that the HAK now stands for an “even more resolute fight” against President Serzh Sarkisian and, in particular, his controversial plans to amend Armenia’s constitution. That, Zurabian said, requires continued anti-government protests.
The relatively poor attendance at the rally highlighted the HAK’s apparent inability to single-handedly attract large crowds. Nevertheless, Ter-Petrosian gave no indications that he will now seek to cobble together a new coalition of political groups challenging Sarkisian. On the contrary, he derided opposition forces that have been critical of the HAK’s alliance with Tsarukian’s BHK and accused them of enjoying covert government support.
In particular, Ter-Petrosian attacked Nikol Pashinian, an outspoken oppositionpolitician who played a key role in his 2007-2008 movement. Pashinian has intensified his criticism of the HAK leader in recent weeks.
The HAK, the BHK as well as another major opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage), moved to make a decisive push for power after Sarkisian ordered the crackdown on Tsarukian on February 12. However, the BHK leader bowed to the government pressure just two days before their joint demonstration slated for February 20. The rally was cancelled as a result.
In a February 20 statement, Ter-Petrosian defended his strategy of close cooperation with Tsarukian’s party widely associated with Robert Kocharian, Sarkisian’s controversial predecessor instrumental in the deadly March 2008 crackdown on the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition. He at the same time spoke of “mistakes” committed by Tsarukian and lambasted unspecified “troublemakers” within the BHK. BHK representatives criticized the statement.
Ter-Petrosian raised more questions about his political future on February 17 when he unexpectedly offered to meet with Sarkisian, ostensibly to discuss Armenia’s policy on Turkey. The move came amid reports that Sarkisian and Tsarukian are holding confidential negotiations aimed at defusing their standoff.
Ter-Petrosian withdrew the proposal on February 21 despite the Armenian president’s stated readiness to meet and discuss the matter with him. The HAK leader made no mention of the offer in his speech at Sunday’s rally.