Paruyr Hayrikian, a veteran Armenian politician and Soviet-era dissident, together with his supporters began a protest near the Presidential Palace in Yerevan on Tuesday, demanding that President Serzh Sarkisian either initial the Association Agreement with the European Union at an upcoming Eastern Partnership summit in Lithuania or resign.
After talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on September 3 President Serzh Sarkisian unexpectedly announced that Armenia will join the Customs Union currently embracing Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan and will further participate in the formation of the Eurasian Economic Union, a post-Soviet integration project advocated by the Kremlin.
The decision described by many analysts and Brussels officials as a U-turn in Yerevan’s policy of European integration effectively nullified the efforts on signing an Association Agreement with the European Union that provided for the establishment of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with the 28-nation bloc.
Hayrikian, who spent a total of 17 years in prison during the Soviet times for opposing the Communist regime, led a group of several dozen supporters to the presidential compound in the Armenian capital today, declaring that they will hold daily protests there until November 29, when a bigger rally is planned in the city’s central Liberty Square timed to the day of the main proceedings at the Vilnius summit.
“We have come to remind the president that no document has been signed with the Customs Union yet and that he must take Armenia along the European way,” Hayrikian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
“Mr. President, you must go to Vilnius. If you don’t go to Vilnius, you will bring disgrace upon our nation and will not be our president,” said Hayrikian, stressing that Sarkisian ought to remain committed to his ‘and-and’ position according to which Armenia should develop its relations both with the EU and Russia.
In this view, the Armenian politician believes that Armenia should primarily respect its arrangements with the EU as the country had worked in this direction for over three years. “He should go and sign the document with the EU and then see what happens to the other ‘ands’,” said Hayrikian. “Either he goes along with the will of the people or starts the process of his own resignation.”
Hayrikian and his supporters believe that “the Kremlin-devised program” of Armenia’s joining the Customs Union imperils Armenia’s sovereignty and obstructs the South Caucasus nation’s integration with the European Union. In his opinion, Russia plays no role of guarantor of Armenia’s security as the government tries to present it.
“This is a delusion, because we see that the Russian military base in Armenia is a bunch of spongers who live here at the expense of Armenian taxpayers, show their ambitions, but bring no good to our people in terms of the mission they are supposed to be fulfilling,” charged Hayrikian.
The politician said he was not discouraged by the small number of people participating in his action. He reiterated that according to a survey conducted across Armenia recently at the request of his political party, a vast majority of Armenians are against the decision to join the Russian-led trade union.
Meanwhile, scores of citizens dissatisfied with the policies being carried out by the Armenian government in different spheres, including Karabakh war veterans, mothers of soldiers killed in the ranks, and others, also staged a protest march towards the Presidential Palace on Tuesday. They demanded President Sarkisian’s resignation over the economic, social and political failures of his administration.