Nikol Pashinian, an outspoken opposition figure controversially jailed after the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan, officially announced on Monday the creation of a new political group which he said will seek to unseat President Serzh Sarkisian and democratize Armenia.
“We will see to it that Serzh Sarkisian and his team are not in power and that power in Armenia belongs to a political team that has won a popular mandate in free, fair and transparent elections,” Pashinian declared as he presented the governing board of the organization, called Civil Contract, to the press.
Five of the board’s seven members are young civic activists who are not known to have been affiliated with any political parties until now. The two others, Pashinian and Sasun Mikaelian, are well-known politicians who played a key role in former President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s failed attempt to return to power during the February 2008 presidential election. They both went into hiding and were subsequently arrested after the deadly suppression on March 1-2, 2008 of Ter-Petrosian’s post-election protests.
Pashinian, who had for years run Armenia’s best-selling daily, “Haykakan Zhamanak,” was the main speaker at the opposition rally held on that day. He surrendered to law-enforcement authorities in 2009 and spent nearly two years in prison on controversial charges stemming from the unrest. Mikaelian, who is a prominent veteran of the 1991-1994 war with Azerbaijan, was arrested later in March 2008 and kept in jail until May 2011.
Both Pashinian and Mikaelian fell out with Ter-Petrosian last year, strongly objecting to the opposition leader’s pursuit of close cooperation with the Prosperous Armenia Party of Gagik Tsarukian. Pashinian remains nominally affiliated with the parliamentary faction of Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) despite having severed links with the opposition party.
The 38-year-old former editor, who is popular with many opposition supporters for his tough anti-government rhetoric, unveiled his new political team five months after publishing the Civil Contract’s manifesto. He said scores of Armenians have joined his initiative in the last few months but declined to give any numbers.
It is not yet clear whether the new opposition group will be a political party. The board members said that its status will be clarified at an upcoming founding conference.
Still, Pashinian made clear that the Civil Contract will actively participate in Armenia’s national elections. He did not rule out the possibility of running for president.
“I cannot exclude that the Civil Contract could have several [presidential] candidates,” Pashinian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “It is very desirable to pick one of them through primaries.”
Pashinian also stated that his movement could advocate a “velvet revolution” in Armenia if serious fraud precludes regime change through elections. “We have come out to say that this regime will not be in power,” he said. “We find it very important to not just declare this commitment but also fulfill it through consistent, patient, calculated and accurate steps.”