By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Hrach Melkumian
The Armenian opposition reaffirmed Thursday its decision to defy a government ban and hold a big demonstration in Yerevan on Friday in a bid to force President Robert Kocharian into resignation. One of its leaders predicted an easy victory for the opposition.
The municipal authorities informed the Artarutyun alliance and the National Unity Party (AMK) on Wednesday that the holding of protest meetings at Yerevan’s Freedom Square is “not expedient” because they disrupt “the city’s normal life.” The leaders of the two opposition groups say the ban is irrelevant because as members of parliament they are allowed to “meet with voters” at will.
“We will meet on Freedom Square because we and the people find it expedient,” Artarutyun’s Stepan Demirchian said at a joint news conference with his top opposition allies.
Another prominent member of the bloc, Aram Sarkisian, sounded supremely confident of the success of the opposition drive for regime change, predicting an “unprecedented” attendance at Friday’s rally. “We are going to easily and calmly realize a regime change without upheavals, in a way characteristic of the 21st century,” he said.
Sarkisian urged Kocharian to quit without a fight. “It will be best for the future of the country if he tenders his resignation one or two days after the start of the rallies,” he said.
Kocharian has ruled out his resignation and vowed to strongly fight back “unconstitutional” attempts to unseat him. He is expected to deploy hundreds of riot police in the center of Yerevan to keep opposition crowds from marching to his official residence.
The opposition leaders again refused to elaborate on their tactics, with Sarkisian saying only that the opposition campaign will be “dynamic.”
Meanwhile, parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian began on Thursday his promised “political consultations” aimed at defusing the mounting political tensions through dialogue. Baghdasarian’s first meeting was with Artashes Geghamian, the outspoken AKM leader.
“I reaffirmed our position that we are ready to hold consultations on ensuring a regime change in accordance with the letter and spirit of the law,” Geghamian said afterwards.
Demirchian likewise reiterated that the opposition is only ready to discuss terms for a “referendum of confidence” in Kocharian, an idea rejected by Baghdasarian’s Orinats Yerkir Party and the two other members of the governing coalition.
“We have repeatedly said that we consider the president to be legitimate and the issue of his resignation is not negotiable for us,” Vahan Hovannisian, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) told RFE/RL. “We believe that the president was [democratically] elected.”
“But having reaffirmed this, we say that the opposition is not our enemy, the opposition has the right to express its views and those views are very often substantiated,” he added.
Another Dashnaktsutyun leader, Hrant Markarian, criticized the opposition for describing Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian as the leaders of the “Karabakh clan” governing Armenia. “If they said ‘Robert Kocharian’s and Serzh Sarkisian’s clan’ I would have no problem,” he said.
Markarian was speaking at a roundtable discussion of the political situation in Armenia organized by Dashnaktsutyun and attended by prominent intellectuals. One of them, Suren Zolian, said the authorities should stop committing “widespread” abuses of civil rights in a bid to defeat the opposition. “The authorities should have been more prudent,” he said.
Another participant, Armenian Writers Union chairman Levon Ananian, warned that the deepening standoff has placed Armenia “on the brink of an abyss” and called for a compromise deal between Kocharian and his opponents.