The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) announced on Friday that it will resume on February 18 regular rallies in Yerevan aimed at unseating the country’s “illegitimate, incompetent and corrupt” government.
“February 19 is a day that carries a symbolic meaning because the [presidential] elections of both 2003 and 2008 were rigged on that day,” the HAK’s central office coordinator, Levon Zurabian, told a news conference. “We therefore decided to start our rally season on February 18.”
Zurabian said the opposition alliance will try to rally supporters in Yerevan’s Liberty Square, the scene of massive anti-government demonstrations held by its top leader, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, in the wake of the 2008 ballot. But he would not say what the HAK will do if the municipal authorities refuse to sanction the rally in that venue.
The square has been off limits to the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition ever since the bloody suppression of its post-election protests in March 2008. The Yerevan municipality repeatedly banned opposition gatherings there last year.
The HAK did not defy those bans and staged protests elsewhere in the city center. Its most recent major rally was held on November 9.
According to Zurabian, the HAK believes that the holding of pre-term presidential and parliamentary elections in Armenia, its key aim, is still possible. “A popular revolt is imminent for socioeconomic reasons,” he said. “In this situation, the only adequate approach would be radical reforms.”
“But instead of carrying out such reforms, the authorities are further escalating the situation with their convulsive actions,” added the oppositionist.
Zurabian pointed to a recent series of unpopular government decisions that triggered angry protests by street traders and other small entrepreneurs. He said the HAK backs their demands but thinks that they should “politicize” their struggle if they are to achieve any results.
Also planning a campaign of anti-government protests next month is Tigran Karapetian, the outspoken owner of ALM television that was controversially taken off the air last week. Karapetian has threatened to campaign for leadership change if the authorities fail to meet a long list of his demands by February 28. Thousands of people attended his Yerevan rallies this month.
In an apparent reference to Karapetian, Zurabian questioned the opposition credentials of other political groups criticizing the government. “If the authorities don’t block roads [leading to Yerevan] on rally days, that means you don’t deal with a real opposition,” he said. “If they block, then it’s a real opposition.”