By Emil DanielyanArmenia’s main opposition alliance led by Levon Ter-Petrosian announced a renewed campaign of daily anti-government protests late Friday as thousands of its supporters marched through central Yerevan four months after the violent suppression of their post-election demonstrations.
Several dozen protesters began a non-stop sit-in near the city’s Liberty Square cordoned off by hundreds of riot police. Opposition leaders said they will stay there around the clock as part of preparations for Ter-Petrosian’s next, “decisive,” rally scheduled for August 1.
Addressing the boisterous crowd before the march, Ter-Petrosian accused President Serzh Sarkisian of continuing his predecessor Robert Kocharian’s crackdown on the opposition launched after the disputed presidential election of February 19. He stressed the fact most of more 100 opposition members and supporters arrested in the wake of the vote remain in jail.
“We gave the authorities time and an opportunity to think seriously over our proposal to start a constructive dialogue which is conditional on the release of all political prisoners,” said Ter-Petrosian. “But they failed to understand or wrongly assessed motives for our move, apparently figuring out that by holding the political prisoners hostage they will force us to deal only with that issue and to deviate from the goals of the [opposition] movement.”
“Therefore, we are going to somewhat change our tactic by seeking to achieve a maximum mobilization of the public this month,” he said, adding that the opposition will hold “mass and non-mass” street protests in and outside Yerevan to “properly prepare” for the August 1 demonstration. During that rally the opposition will sum up Sarkisian’s 100 days in office and come up with a “program of our further actions,” he said.
In Ter-Petrosian’s words, those actions will primarily depend on whether “political prisoners” will have been released by then. Armenia’s first president also demanded that the authorities prosecute Kocharian and other officials which he said are responsible for the March 1 break-up of his post-election protests which left at least ten people dead.
Ter-Petrosian also presented a list of top state officials whom we wants to be sacked this month. Among them are Deputy Prime Minister Armen Gevorgian, Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian and Hovik Abrahamian, chief of Sarkisian’s staff.
“We have no right to leave the streets as long as our comrades remain in prison,” said another opposition leader, Levon Zurabian. He said the August 1 rally will be “decisive for our struggle.” Zurabian declined to elaborate, saying that the opposition “can not fully disclose our tactic” to supporters because it wants to retain “the element of surprise” in its actions.
Another close Ter-Petrosian associate, David Shahnazarian, also spoke of the start of “decisive actions” as he addressed some 10,000 people who gathered outside Yerevan’s Matenadaran museum of ancient manuscripts.
As was the case during the previous opposition rally held on June 20, the police initially tried to prevent the crowd from entering the hillside area, saying that the gathering was banned by municipal authorities. The police relented after brief negotiations with Zurabian and Shahnazarian. They also did not attempt to stop the ensued march through the city center which ended on Northern Avenue, the scene of the announced sit-in.
Major-General Nerses Nazarian, the deputy chief of the Armenian police, indicated that security forces will not break-up the sit-in as he and other senior police strolled along the pedestrian boulevard leading to Liberty Square. “We don’t consider it legal but have no such plans [to disperse the crowd,]” Nazarian told RFE/RL. “Things are going peacefully and, as you can see, there is no need for that. We understand each other.”