Speaking at the first major rally held by his Armenian National Congress (HAK) in over five months, Ter-Petrosian assured them that the administration of President Serzh Sarkisian will sooner or later resign and call fresh national elections. Frequent anti-government demonstrations would be counterproductive in this situation, he said.
“However safe the kleptocracy feels and however self-confident it pretends to be, it will crumble in one day under the burden of a growing wave of popular upheaval and issues it is inherently unable to address,” he said in a 50-minute speech. “And its leader [Sarkisian] will be ripped apart by predators from his own entourage.”
“Our duty is to be prepared for that day in order minimize the country’s losses and prevent the state from becoming unmanageable,” Ter-Petrosian told the crowd before it marched through the city center to the scene of the vicious clashes between opposition protesters and security forces that broke out on March 1, 2008.
Ten people died and more than 200 others were injured in the violence sparked by the February 2008 presidential election in which Ter-Petrosian was the main opposition candidate. The Armenian authorities say it was the result of an opposition coup attempt. The HAK vehemently denies that, saying that the authorities deliberately used deadly force to crush non-stop demonstrations staged by Ter-Petrosian in the wake of the disputed ballot.
The rally was keenly anticipated by HAK supporters, including those dissatisfied with Ter-Petrosian’s obvious reluctance to make another push for power. The former Armenian president indefinitely suspended regular anti-government protests in September, saying that the HAK can not topple Sarkisian without the backing of other major political groups.
In a landmark November speech, Ter-Petrosian expressed his readiness to recognize Sarkisian’s legitimacy if the latter embarks on sweeping political reforms and frees all remaining “political prisoners.” He also lambasted nationalist critics of Sarkisian’s conciliatory policy on Turkey. The Armenian president never responded to the unprecedented overtures from his most influential political foe.
Ter-Petrosian on Monday renewed his scathing verbal attacks on the Sarkisian administration, decrying its “criminal essence” and alleged inability to “solve any problem facing the country.” The authorities, he charged, have “never realized the need to establish an honest dialogue and national solidarity for confronting the existing challenges.” He also denounced the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement as a “humiliating process” and blamed Sarkisian for “the prospect of a disgraceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
The HAK leader went on to defend his cautious strategy against criticism from more radical opposition elements, saying that holding rallies too often only “lessens their impact.” “Nonetheless, many stubbornly do not accept this explanation and ignore or find secondary the daily, arduous and enormous work that the Congress has been doing since its formation,” he complained.
Ter-Petrosian insisted that the HAK has done its best to achieve its objectives over the past two years. “Let’s not forget that politics is, first of all, an art of the possible,” he said.
One of Ter-Petrosian’s closest associates, Levon Zurabian, likewise claimed that the Sarkisian administration will eventually have no option but to call snap presidential and parliamentary elections because of what he described as its mounting foreign and domestic policy failures. He said the fact that the authorities again seriously restricted transport communication between Yerevan and the rest of the country ahead of the demonstration shows that they are “terrified” of the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition.
The HAK’s immediate objectives declared at the rally are more modest, though. In particular, Zurabian announced that the alliance is planning to launch a class-action lawsuit aimed at reversing a controversial increase in natural gas prices approved by the authorities last week. He urged HAK supporters to sign up for the legal action en masse.
It was also announced that the HAK will hold its next major rally on April 6. Zurabian said it is timed to coincide with an international human rights conference to be held in Yerevan.