By Ruzanna Stepanian
Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian began on Monday recruiting individual members of his new opposition alliance as part of preparations for an impending fresh campaign of anti-government protests.
Ter-Petrosian announced the formation of the Armenian National Congress (HAK) bringing together 16 mostly small opposition parties during his most recent rally in Yerevan held on August 1. He and other opposition leaders said Armenians not affiliated with any party can also join the alliance ahead of its next rally scheduled for September 5. They said it will mark the start of Ter-Petrosian’s new push for President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation and the holding of snap presidential and parliamentary elections.
“Quite serious developments, quite a serious struggle awaits us in September,” Levon Zurabian, a close Ter-Petrosian associate, told RFE/RL. “Before starting that political process we need to mobilize our support base. The membership process is part of that effort,” he said.
The focal point of the recruitment of HAK members is Yerevan’s Northern Avenue where dozens of opposition activists have been holding a non-stop sit-in since early July. Protesters and passersby were being quickly admitted into the alliance on Monday after filling out application forms laid out on a table. Those contained optional questions about whether an applicant would be available to work as an election commission member or proxy, disseminate leaflets and provide office space or other assistance to the alliance.
Iraida Minasian, an opposition activists processing membership applications on the spot, said more than 100 people joined the HAK by early afternoon.
While declaring regime change its chief priority, the HAK said in its founding declaration that it is ready to engage in a dialogue with the Sarkisian administration on “reforms aimed at the country’s democratic development” in case of the release of all “political prisoners.” “Free all political prisoners and you can sit down with us and talk about everything,” Ter-Petrosian said in a separate speech.
The Armenian authorities insist that none of more that 70 Ter-Petrosian supporters arrested in the wake of the February 19 presidential election and remaining in custody has been prosecuted for political motives. They have at the same time pledged to comply with Council of Europe resolutions demanding the immediate release of individuals jailed on “seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges.”