By Emil Danielyan and Ruzanna Stepanian
The Armenian opposition kept up pressure on the authorities Saturday, again rallying thousands of supporters in Yerevan and announcing its intention to lay siege to President Robert Kocharian’s official residence on Monday.
“Monday will be the decisive day of our struggle,” Albert Bazeyan, one of its leaders and the city’s former mayor, told the crowd. “We must by all means occupy Baghramian Avenue [leading to the presidential palace].”
It was the second in a series of street protests in downtown Yerevan which the Artarutyun and National Unity Party hope will force Kocharian into resignation. About 10,000 people were in attendance this time, visibly fewer than on Friday. It was again peaceful and the organizers again decided not to march through the city center.
They said Monday’s protest will be the biggest one. According to Artarutyun’s Victor Dallakian, the opposition leaders will try to bring in more people from the provinces. Public transport communication to and from Yerevan was effectively brought to a halt by the authorities on Friday.
Baghramian Avenue will almost certainly be blocked by baton-wielding riot police, barbed wire and water cannons. The security forces were again on standby in a nearby public park while their commander, police General Hovannes Varian watched the rally with his entourage. It is still not clear what the opposition leaders will do if they are confronted with the security barrier. The standoff would be potentially violent.
Aram Sarkisian, the number two Artarutyun figure, said the opposition masses “will march in all directions” and not only towards the avenue. But he did not elaborate.
The opposition march is scheduled to begin four hours after the expiry of a de facto ultimatum to the authorities hold a “referendum of confidence” in Kocharian or face a popular revolt. The three pro-presidential parties represented in Armenia’s coalition government on Friday reaffirmed their refusal to consider the idea in the parliament which they control. They said they are only ready to discuss its “legality” in a roundtable format.
Kocharian as well as the Republican, Dashnaktsutyun and Orinats Yerkir parties insist that the confidence vote would be unconstitutional even though it was proposed by Armenia’s Constitutional Court in the wake of last year’s disputed presidential ballot. They have pledged not to give in to the opposition pressure.
“They said yesterday that the demands for a referendum of confidence do not stem from the constitution,” Stepan Demirchian, the top Artarutyun leader, said in his speech. “But what stems from the constitution? Illegal arrests or rigged elections?”
“We gave them an opportunity to resolve the problem within the framework of the law,” Sarkisian said, for his part. “But by failing to implement the decision of the country’s Constitutional Court they placed themselves beyond the law and will face the consequences.”
The rally again took place at the city’s Freedom Square where more than two hundred opposition activists continued a protest sit-in for the second consecutive day. Most of them spent a sleepless night singing, dancing listening to folk music and firing flares in the company of Bazeyan and Sarkisian. The festive mood was whipped up by periodical visits by Demirchian and his National Unity partner, Artashes Geghamian.
“Power was usurped in last year’s elections and we want power to be given back to the people,” said one male protester, echoing opposition statements.
“We will stay awake as long as it takes to remove the non-elected president,” said a 70-year-old woman who came from Abovian, 15 kilometers north of Yerevan.