A radical opposition group targeted by the Armenian authorities has called a halt to its campaign of anti-government rallies in Yerevan, admitting its failure so far to drum up popular support.
The Founding Parliament movement pressed ahead with the campaign last week despite the controversial arrest of its top leader, Zhirayr Sefilian, and four other senior figures. They were accused earlier this month of plotting to provoke “mass disturbances” on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey that was officially marked in Yerevan on Friday.
The Founding Parliament, which scheduled the start of its campaign for the genocide centennial, has strongly denied the charges and said that it is undaunted by the arrests and will continue fighting for President Serzh Sarkisian’s ouster. Only a few hundred people turned out for its rally held in Yerevan’s southern Erebuni district on Friday.
The Founding Parliament’s caretaker leader, Alec Yenigomshian, on Wednesday admitted the group’s failure to generate a “nationwide mobilization” against the Sarkisian administration. Yenigomshian said it therefore decided not to carry on with the campaign for the time being.
“In the absence of a mobilization, it would be irresponsible on our part to put the lives of several hundred people at risk,” he explained at a news conference.
Yenigomshian blamed the fiasco on the imprisonment of the five Founding Parliament leaders, the “atmosphere of fear” created by the authorities and his movement’s own “mistakes.” “We don’t avoid self-criticism,” he said.
“We will try to intensify the process of our internal self-organization and hold the next phase [of the struggle] in a much more self-confident and effective way,” added the oppositionist. “The key objective now is to get our comrades out of prison.”
Hayk Grigorian, another Founding Parliament activist, said in that regard that the movement plans to hold rallies in central Yerevan next month to demand the release of Sefilian and the four other detainees. Pointing to the continuing interrogations of Founding Parliament activists, Grigorian suggested that the Armenian authorities have no intention to release them now that they have marked the genocide centennial without any incidents.
Armenia’s mainstream opposition parties have disapproved of the timing of the Founding Parliament campaign. Nevertheless, they have condemned the arrests of its leaders as politically motivated.