By Astghik Bedevian
Armenia’s most radical opposition party rallied more than a thousand supporters in Yerevan on Thursday, telling them to be ready for a “democratic revolution” which it said could follow the May 12 parliamentary elections.
Launching their election campaign in the city’s southern Shengavit district, the leaders of the Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party indicated their intention to stage a popular revolt in the wake of what they expected to be another fraudulent vote.
“This is our country, people. We are its masters, people,” Hanrapetutyun’s outspoken leader, Aram Sarkisian, told the enthusiastic crowd that braved heavy rain to gather in the main local square.
Sarkisian said the choice of the starting point of his party’s campaign was not accidental, reminding the demonstrators that the Armenian opposition’s most recent attempt at regime change began with a Hanrapetutyun rally held in the same venue in January 2004.
That campaign eventually ended in failure due to poor attendance of opposition rallies and an unprecedented government crackdown on the opposition. Incidentally, the Shengavit rally coincided with the third anniversary of the key opposition protest staged near President Robert Kocharian’s official residence at the time. Its heavy-handed dispersal by security forces predetermined the failure of the regime change drive.
Hanrapetutyun leaders seem to be undaunted by that fiasco, saying that they would not content themselves with a handful of seats in the next parliament. “There can be no evolutionary change in Armenia,” one of them, Gegham Harutiunian, said in his speech. “Only a democratic revolution can change things in Armenia.”
Harutiunian warned that those opposition forces that would refuse to attend Hanrapetutyun’s post-election rallies would be publicly branded as government agents. The warning appeared to be primarily addressed to the country’s three largest opposition parties whose leaders -- Artur Baghdasarian, Artashes Geghamian, and Stepan Demirchian -- have refused to form electoral alliances with Hanrapetutyun and other parties.
The three men held separate gatherings with voters on Thursday. Baghdasarian addressed about 200 disabled people in the headquarters of his Orinats Yerkir Party, while Geghamian toured villages close to the central town of Abovian. The area is the stronghold of Gagik Tsarukian, a Kocharian-connected businessman whose populist Prosperous Armenia Party is expected to do well in the elections at the opposition’s expense.
Without mentioning Tsarukian by name, Hanrapetutyun’s Sarkisian denounced the tycoon as an uneducated “anti-hero” who embodies the values espoused by the country’s leadership. “When you tell a kid to study well [in school,] he asks, ‘Did this country’s richest man, who is now prospering, study well?’” he said.