By Shakeh Avoyan
An outspoken opposition politician who finished fourth in this year’s presidential election held Tuesday the founding conference of his new party, warning the Armenian authorities that he is prepared for the kind of action that toppled the ruling regime in neighboring Georgia.
Aram Karapetian, who swept to the political stage a year ago, warned that the Armenian opposition will stage similar mass protests if it continues to be barred from coming to power through elections. “And let nobody doubt that I and my supporters will be at the forefront,” he told several hundred members of his Nor Zhamanakner (New Times) party.
Karapetian dismissed President Robert Kocharian’s claims that the opposition stood no chance of forcing him into resignation after his controversial reelection criticized as undemocratic by the international community. He said he and other oppositionists who rallied around Kocharian’s main challenger Stepan Demirchian after the February 19 first round of voting were simply not organized enough and wanted to avoid civil unrest in Armenia.
“They are badly wrong. We were not afraid of anything,” he said.
A politically inexperienced scholar who spent much of the past decade in Moscow, Karapetian was unknown to most Armenians as recently as one year ago, at the start of the presidential race. He quickly made his name and attracted a substantial following through tough anti-government rhetoric voiced in a series of televised interviews and news conferences.
His well-funded election campaign drew large crowds in various parts of the country. Official results of the first round, rejected as fraudulent by all opposition candidates, showed Karapetian winning about 3 percent of the vote. He was a major speaker at the ensued opposition rallies in Yerevan against reported vote-rigging.
Karapetian was high on the electoral list of the Demirchian-led Artarutyun (Justice) alliance before being barred by the authorities from contesting the May 25 parliamentary elections on the grounds that he had not permanently resided in Armenia for the previous five years. The opposition denounced the move as politically motivated, arguing that he was earlier deemed by the Central Election Commission to have met the even more stringent eligibility criteria for presidential candidates set by Armenia’s election law.
Karapetian subsequently distanced himself from Demirchian and Artarutyun, deciding to form a party of his own, which he said will stand for “democracy, liberal economics and pan-Armenism.” But he was vague about the party’s foreign policy agenda.
His latest comments suggest that just like some other Armenian oppositionists, he was inspired by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze’s decision to resign in the face of huge opposition demonstrations against serious irregularities reported in the November 2 parliamentary elections.
Speaking on state television late last week, Kocharian said his political foes could not have replicated the Georgian opposition because he was the legitimate winner of the presidential vote the outcome of which was not explicitly challenged by the United States and the West in general. He said the Armenian opposition would have been in “a more deplorable” state now if it had provoked a popular uprising.
Karapetian scoffed at the remarks. “Can there be a situation more deplorable than this one?” he asked. “Did he mean that we would have been in jail? I must remind Mr. Kocharian that he who goes to prison in Armenia ends up in government.”