By Aghasi Yenokian
A fugitive opposition figure who played a key role in the massive post-election protests in Yerevan insisted Thursday that democratic “revolution” is the only way to effect change in Armenia and that President Serzh Sarkisian has done nothing to prove the opposite.
Nikol Pashinian, the 33-year-old editor of the “Haykakan Zhamanak” daily, was one of the most passionate and popular speakers during the non-stop protests organized by opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian in the immediate aftermath of the disputed February 19 presidential election. Pashinian was among several prominent opposition members who managed to avoid arrest and go into hiding following the bloody suppression of the protests on March 1-2.
His whereabouts have not been known since then. Pashinian has continued to regularly write for his paper and closely monitor the political situation in Armenia, while claiming to be traveling around the world with a fake foreign passport.
In an interview with RFE/RL, he maintained that the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition has not failed in its bid to topple a government which it accuses of rigging the election and deliberately killing opposition protesters on March 1. He also shrugged off the Sarkisian administration’s stated efforts to address Armenia’s socioeconomic and other problems that led tens of thousands of its citizens to take to the streets in the wake of the presidential ballot.
“In my view, nothing bad happened to the revolution,” Pashinian said. “Quite the opposite. The last nine months have demonstrated that all non-revolutionary means of restoring the rule of law, constitutional order and the people’s power are exhausted.”
“The popular movement has refrained from tough actions [since the post-election unrest] to give the authorities a chance to prove that it is possible to establish the rule of law, restore civil rights and ensure free economic competition without revolution and regime change. But the authorities have only proved with their actions that revolution is the only way to accomplish that,” Pashinian said. He pointed to recent local elections in and outside Yerevan which the opposition says were tainted with serious fraud.
The outspoken editor stressed that the opposition believes that revolution should be “bloodless and peaceful.” “But that depends not so much on the opposition as the authorities,” he added.
Like other well-known Ter-Petrosian associates, who remain in prison or on the run, Pashinian was charged with plotting to “usurp state power” and inciting opposition supporters to build barricades and clash with riot police on March 1 for that purpose. The Armenian authorities hold them responsible for the deaths of eight civilians and two security personnel in those clashes. The deadly violence followed the break-up of non-stop opposition demonstrations in Yerevan’s Liberty Square.
Pashinian dismissed the accusations as “absurd.” “Not only have the perpetrators of those murders not been identified but they are being carefully disguised by the prosecutors,” he said. “Because the revelation of the real murderers will make clear that the slaughter was ordered and organized by the Robert Kocharian-Serzh Sarkisian duo.”
Pashinian went on to justify his decision to go into hiding, saying that he may still willingly return to Armenia and go to prison. “I have remained underground for so long because I think that my appearance on a rally podium at some point could be very necessary for the popular movement,” he said. “If I see that the possibility of such necessity is exhausted, I will choose prison without hesitation.”
Pashinian said he also wanted to demonstrate that Armenia’s police and other security bodies are not capable of waging an “intellectual struggle.” “So if people hear one day that I have been arrested they must know that I wished so, that I myself wanted to continue my struggle in prison,” he said.