By Emil DanielyanOpposition leader Stepan Demirchian claimed Sunday to be heading for a victory in next Wednesday’s presidential election in front of tens of thousands of supporters in Yerevan that gathered for Armenia’s largest anti-government rally in years. His opposition allies claimed that the outcome of the February 19 ballot is a forgone conclusion despite what they see as attempts to falsify it in incumbent Robert Kocharian’s favor.
“Our meetings in the regions and in Yerevan today give me the right to state that the regime change in people’s minds and hearts has been realized. February 19 can only formalize the people’s victory,” Demirchian declared to a huge crowd that filled a square in central Yerevan and blocked traffic on the adjacent streets.
Flanked by his two most important allies -- former Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian and former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian -- he said: “The people are demanding changes, and we must bring about those changes. As a result of them, everyone in our country will find his right place.”
The three men, who opposition sources say have already hammered out a power sharing deal in the event of their victory, held each other’s hands and waved to the jubilant crowd. Hovannisian referred to Demirchian as “the next president of the Republic of Armenia.”
“We are going to build a new Armenia where there will be nothing above the law,” he said.
Sarkisian, for his part, continued his harsh and derogatory attacks on Kocharian, the man who ousted him as prime minister in May 2000. “Mr. Kocharian, how come you hope to become president when everyone hates you?” he charged. Sarkisian again stressed that his alliance with Demirchian is tantamount to the revival of the Miasnutyun (Unity) bloc which briefly governed Armenia in 1999.
The bloc was founded and headed by Demirchian’s popular father Karen and Sarkisian’s powerful brother Vazgen. The two leaders were assassinated in the October 1999 terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament. Their relatives suspect the current authorities of masterminding the massacre.
Demirchian, however, made it clear that he is not motivated by revenge. “I am not coming to take personal revenge on anyone because I am the son of a person who was forgiving even towards his enemies,” he said.
The list of speakers addressing the rally was long and diverse. Among them were former Interior Minister Suren Abrahamian, prominent opera singer Tigran Levonian and even a Demirchian backer living in Los Angeles. Abrahamian subjected to harsh criticism Kocharian’s closest associate, Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, saying that the latter’s cronies control “70 percent of our economy.” “Kocharian is hostage to his entourage,” he claimed.
Demirchian and other speakers again warned the authorities against attempting to interfere with the voting and falsify its results. A senior member of Sarkisian’s Hanrapetutyun party, Albert Bazeyan, urged Demirchian supporters to gather outside their polling stations after they close at 8 p.m. local time on Wednesday. He said they would thus prevent a massive vote manipulation.
The organizers of the rally also urged their backers to gather in the same place on February 20 to “celebrate” Demirchian’s victory. “On February 20 Armenia will get the people’s government which will serve only the people,” Bazeyan declared.
Demirchian likewise claimed that Armenians are “undergoing a rebirth and are determined to become the masters of this country.”
Many in the crowd, dominated by middle-aged and elderly people, agreed with that conclusion. “He is an honest and intelligent person who loves the people and comes from a good family,” said Anahit Shahinian, a secondary school teacher. “He thinks only about the people.”
Many of the demonstrators came from areas outside the capital. “Demirchian has no blood on his hands; we are electing him for our kids,” said one unemployed woman from Gyumri, Armenia’s second largest city.
Some rally participants were too young to cast their ballots on Wednesday. “Demirchian can not fail to deliver on his promises,” said Tigran Karakhanian, a 16-year-old school student carrying a pro-Demirchian banner.
Opposition sources say that Demirchian has promised to appoint Sarkisian prime minister and Hovannisian foreign minister if he wins the election. The troika, the sources claim, has also approached another major opposition candidate, Vazgen Manukian, offering him the less significant post of secretary of the presidential National Security Council. Manukian has refused to drop out of the race, however.