By Astghik Bedevian
Stepan Demirchian, the top leader of the Artarutyun (Justice) alliance, announced on Wednesday his decision not to participate in further rallies to be staged in Yerevan by his increasingly estranged opposition allies.
The move underscored his lack of faith in the success of the latest opposition campaign against Armenia’s leadership.
“The struggle should not be confined to rallies,” Demirchian told RFE/RL. “We believe that at this point it is not expedient to organize rallies.”
“This does not mean we are abandoning that method. I’m sure there will be very powerful rallies,” he said without elaborating.
Artarutyun and about a dozen other opposition groups have held a series of street protests in Yerevan since the November 27 disputed referendum in an effort to stir up a popular movement against President Robert Kocharian and his administration. But they have attracted only several thousand people, hardly enough to threaten the ruling regime. Most local observers believe that the opposition drive has fizzled out.
“I don’t think it is realistic to assemble people in the next few days and carry out a popular revolution by December 31,” agreed Arshak Sadoyan, a senior member of Artarutyun.
But other prominent opposition figures, notably Aram Sarkisian and Raffi Hovannisian, want to carry on with the campaign and plan to hold another rally on Friday. Hovannisian’s office said its organizers will unveil a “program to overcome the existing situation.” In a written statement, it also urged Armenians to protest against the allegedly falsified results of the constitutional referendum in larger numbers.
Sarkisian, meanwhile, deplored Demirchian’s decision to pull out of the campaign. “I don’t think it right to stay at home, accuse the authorities of breaking the law and fail to fight against them,” he told RFE/RL.
“We will continue the process of rallies no matter how many parties are against it,” he added. “In one, two or five years’ from now those individuals who don’t fight will present justifications to their children. I am ready to pay the highest prices to avoid having to make such justifications.”
Sarkisian, Hovannisian and several other opposition leaders are currently considering setting up a new umbrella structure that would coordinate their joint actions and try to drum up greater public support for regime change. Demirchian is opposed to the idea, seeing it as a threat to Artarutyun’s continued existence.